MTL Vehicle-Sharing Service Adds Electric Cars to Fleet

Fuss-free Auto-mobile pilot project promotes EVs, taps into province’s renewable energy supply – parking included.

Québec-based car-sharing service, Communauto, has announced that it has expanded its Montréal fleet to include 20 electric cars as part of a pilot project that will run until the end of October.  The project, called Auto-mobile, will promote emissions-free driving while it taps into a local energy grid powered primarily by renewable energy.

Organized car sharing is now a global phenomenon.  According to research compiled by the University of California Berkely`s Transportation Sustainability Research Center, as of last October, such programs counted 1,788,000 members across 27 countries.  Communauto was founded in 1994 and currently operates out of Montréal, Sherbrooke, Québec (City) and Gatineau in the eastern Canadian province.  Members are billed monthly for mileage and the time they spend with each vehicle, and pay a fee that entitles them to borrow cars, when and where they are available, from lots and parking spaces scattered across the city, on a reservation basis.  Membership also comes with free maintenance, insurance and even gas.

With Auto-mobile, Communauto members will have access to the same benefits as before, but with the new project, when a car is parked at a lot and not reserved, the member may simply take it on the spot, spontaneously, after briefly checking in via his or her smartphone or other internet connection.  In addition, Auto-mobile facilitates one-way trips by allowing members to return vehicles to any station in the area – not just back to where they picked them up – and, thanks to participation from the city, they enjoy universal free parking while using the fleet’s cars.  This model is similar to that used by the North America-wide Bixi bike-sharing service.

City Uniquely Well-Suited to Squeeze “Green” Out of EVs

From an environmental standpoint, Montréal and other cities in Québec are uniquely well-suited to electric vehicles (EVs).  While a common criticism of EVs is that they are only as “green” as the power sources that charge their batteries, which in many cases is coal, the province produces 98% of its electricity from hydro-electric generating stations, which provide a source of power that is renewable and therefore, in principle, more sustainable than fossil fuels.

Although the pilot project is the first program in Québec to offer casual curbside EV pick-up, the province is no stranger to this gasless technology.  As of early last year, public-private partnership The Electric Circuit had installed EV charging stations at dozens of locations across the region, including a number of high-profile hotels.  Auto-mobile represents another significant effort to bring EVs to the public and the next few months will help Communauto and other interested parties get a sense of what works and what doesn’t.  The project will run in Montréal’s Plateau-Mont-Royal neighbourhood until mid-fall, after which time the company can evaluate the results and determine its next steps toward greening up the streets of Canada’s second-largest city.

“We want to know the effects of such a project on Montréalers’ travel habits,” comments  Daniel Bouchard, head of campaigns at the city’s Conseil régional de l’environnement (Regional Council for the Environment).  “The environmental gains could be very significant on our greenhouse gas effects and air contaminants, if this service replaces gas-powered vehicle trips.”

by Ryan Robert Hallett

Copyright © 2013

New DC Circuit Breaker a Boon to Solar, Wind Power Advocates, Industries

Breakthrough enables incorporation of high-voltage power lines into grids, mitigates problems of fluctuating energy production, loss.

Proponents of solar and wind power who are tired of defending the merits of their preferred renewable energy technologies may soon receive help in the form of a high-voltage direct current (HVDC) circuit-breaker, which promises to ease certain limitations on power produced using these fluctuating sources and to enable utilities to conserve electricity while transmitting over long distances.  With the creation of its new breaker, the ABB Group (ABB) has solved a problem that, to date, has prohibited utilities from incorporating DC power into grids, and in turn presents the potential to bring “green” energy a step closer to the mainstream.

Founded in 1833, the ABB Group is a Switzerland-based global leader in power and automation-based technologies that maintains operations in approximately 100 countries.  “ABB pioneered HVDC transmission nearly 60 years ago and accounts for half the world’s HVDC installed base,” writes the group’s Technology Manager for grid systems, Magnus Callavik.  “It is befitting that the company that commissioned the world’s first 800 kilovolt UHVDC systems … now writes the next chapter in the history of this technology and marks an important milestone in the legacy of electrical engineering.”

Long-Awaited Development Allows Utilities to Better Manage Renewable Resources

ABB’s breakthrough has implications not only for DC transmission overall, but also for green energy in particular.  One of the headaches utilities face when they try to integrate solar and wind into their regional grids is the problem of fluctuating power.  Both of these technologies are subject to at-times unpredictable output variability, which can include spikes and their associated potential to damage the broader network.  In addition, solar and wind farms require more space to produce a given quantity of electricity than do more conventional systems like those that utilize coal or nuclear, and thus, they are usually situated some distance from the markets they serve, making HVDC the ideal transmission medium.  Until recently, however, the scant and costly switching technologies available prevented the efficient integration of DC lines into grids, which would better facilitate load balancing, energy conservation and networking with existing AC systems. ABB’s recent breakthrough provides a reliable and less expensive breaker solution that will increase utilities’ range and potentially pave the way for broader adoption of green energy technologies worldwide.

As communities and industries look for sustainable solutions to help them lessen their ecological footprints while they otherwise maintain business as usual, companies like ABB push technological boundaries to come up with innovations that solve these problems and bring the world’s energy infrastructure into the 21st Century.

by Ryan Robert Hallett

Copyright © 2012

Alleged International Trade Foible Unleashes Ray of Sunshine on China’s Domestic Solar Market

Foreign tariffs imposed over alleged dumping; global giant looks inward to boost renewable energy sales, offers free grid connections.

American and European criticism of China, which they allege has been dumping its solar technologies on foreign markets, as well as subsequent sanctions imposed by the US have persuaded the world’s most populous country and driver of lower global renewable energy prices to look for ways to better integrate its PV products domestically.  The nation’s most recent effort was announced on October 26th by its largest state-owned power utility, State Grid Corporation (State Grid), which, beginning November 1st, will offer free grid connections to operators of solar installations that sit in close proximity to populated areas.

State Grid, according to its website, was created in 2002 as a “government-owned enterprise approved by the State Council to conduct government-authorized investment activities.”  The corporation has constructed and operates power networks across 26 Chinese provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities, and since 2011 it has quadrupled the amount of solar power it has integrated into the grid, to 2.71 million kW, according to Executive VP Shu Yinbiao.

Citizens Take Part in Green Revolution

The United States and European Union both allege that China has undercut those regions’ solar industries by selling its PV technologies cheaper on foreign markets than on domestic.  In response, the US has attempted to correct the perceived imbalance by imposing tariffs on the Chinese goods.  The Asian superpower has felt the pressure and in an effort to save its own solar industry, has engaged in efforts to enable its citizens to take part in the green revolution, the up-front costs of which have previously proven prohibitive.

According to the Deputy Director of China’s National Energy Administration, Shi Lishan (paraphrased at ChinaDaily.com), the country aims to “provide an electricity sales service for users that will be as simple as buying an electric appliance in a store.”  State Grid’s efforts are directed at increasing the country’s distributed solar generation, which emphasizes multiple smaller producers spread over wider areas as opposed to fewer larger installations.  This helps solves the problem of lost energy associated with long-distance transmission from a central source and affords the Chinese greater control over their energy futures as well as a measure of long-term independence from the price fluctuations and spikes associated with more conventional and finite fossil fuels.

by Ryan Robert Hallett

Copyright © 2012

High-Profile Renewable Energy Agreement Marks Firsts for Google, OK Utility

PPA solidifies southern state’s commitment to “green” power, ensures company’s access to reliable wind energy from a single source.

Oklahoma’s Grand River Dam Authority (GRDA) has recently entered into its first ever wind energy power purchase agreement.  The customer, internet giant Google, has agreed to purchase 48 MW of wind power from the utility’s Canadian Hills wind project in order to supply  one of its Oklahoma data centres with “green,” renewable energy.

GRDA is a state-run, revenue-funded agency whose mission is to “provide low-cost, reliable electric power and related services to (its) customers.”  The utility recently added the Canadian Hills project to its roster of hydro-electric and fossil-fuelled facilities, which collectively provide power to 24 counties in the southern state.  The 295 MW wind facility, located in Canadian County, OK, is operated by Atlantic Power Corporation, who sells all of the electricity the site produces to GRDA and two other utilities under 2+ decade-long power purchase agreements.

Google is a California-based multi-national company whose Google.com search engine and popular homepage has ranked as the world’s most-visited website.  While the company collectively maintains a green power supply of 260 MW, its agreement with GRDA, who proposed the deal to Google in February of this year, represents its first direct relationship with a single utility for the purpose of purchasing renewable energy.

The high profile agreement between GRDA and Google is just one of a long and steadily lengthening list of companies who are “going green.”  While such efforts are billed as attempts to reduce businesses’ ecological footprints, they are also good for the bottom line, as ecological impact reports are now standard practice in all sectors and have become a measure of a company’s long-term viability.

by Ryan Robert Hallett

Copyright © 2012

Community-Owned Solar Generation Gets Boost in Nation’s Capital

Ottawa co-op allows residents to take part in Ontario’s incentives for renewable energy, earn money while they help reduce city’s carbon footprint.

Ottawa residents were formally invited to attend a presentation last Tuesday regarding a new project that enables citizens of the Canadian capital to invest in solar energy and reap the rewards of Ontario’s generous feed-in tariff (FIT) for renewable power.  Nearly four dozen people packed into a small meeting room at The Hub in the city’s downtown to hear about how the Ottawa Renewable Energy Co-operative (OREC) can help them turn a profit while they benefit both the environment and the local economy over the long term and boost community ownership of energy resources.

OREC is a for-profit co-operative that, with the help of grants from the Community Energy Network, the Ottawa Sustainability Fund and the Co-Operators Co-Op Development Fund, rose from the ashes of the Sustainable Ottawa co-op (currently on indefinite hiatus).  OREC’s goals are to facilitate local investment in renewable energy and to allow citizens to participate.  Attendees of Tuesday night’s event heard from OREC President Roger Peters, who explained how the co-op works and how they can become involved.

To join, participants must first purchase a one-time $100 membership share, after which they may then purchase $500 preference shares (minimum 10) in local renewable energy projects.  Preference share ownership entitles shareholders to RRSP options beginning in September and dividends for 2013 rolling out the following year.  Capital returns start in 2018.  However, in order to begin investing and bringing in revenue, OREC must first raise a minimum of $500K.

“Risk-Averse” Investments Protected by 20-Year FIT Contracts

When asked about OREC’s vision, Peters espoused the idea that “every home can be an energy producer and an energy consumer.”  He also assured the audience that the co-op expects investors to enjoy competitive returns on investment of approximately 5%.  OREC secretary, Dick Bakker, who was also on hand to answer questions, went further to say that such an investment was “risk-averse” due to the group’s exclusive investment on FIT-approved projects.

The FIT was created by the Ontario Power Authority in 2009 to encourage investment in renewable energy and to help boost a flagging economy.  The program pays owners of solar, wind, hydroelectric and biomass installations above-market rates – locked into (typically) 20-year contracts – to feed the energy they generate into the provincial power grid.  In order to qualify, projects must use set percentages of Ontario-sourced parts and labour, which are determined by type and size of project.  The FIT has been on hiatus for close to a year but the province expects to begin accepting applications for phase two of the program sometime in August, using an adjusted pricing scheme.

Target projects for OREC’s first share offering will include only installations within Ottawa and which were approved in the first phase of the FIT.  Future offerings will take account of any relevant changes to the program.  The co-op will continue to offer shares until August 27.  If it meets its minimum target, construction on the first project, a 10 kW system on the roof of a housing co-op, will commence immediately.  The group will refund all preference shares it sells in the event that it fails to reach its initial funding goal.

by Ryan Robert Hallett

Copyright © 2012