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Is there such a thing as too much wind power? The small city of Summerside, located on Canada's Prince Edward Island, is home to approximately 15,000 people and 21 MW of wind energy. However, sometimes the city does not need all that power and is forced to sell the excess to neighboring regions. A novel pilot program using electric heating and smart grid solutions aims to keep the wind power - and its associated benefits - within the city.

In 2003, the city's municipal government worked on a strategic plan to make its community greener, and the city ultimately decided to build and own its own wind power project. Aptly named the Summerside Wind Farm, the 12 MW project was commissioned in 2009 and comprises four Vestas 390 3 MW wind turbines.

Under the city's general fund, the taxpayers own the wind farm and sell the power to the municipal utility, Summerside Electric, which services about 7,000 customers and is contracted to buy all of the project's energy. In addition, Summerside Electric purchases another 9 MW of wind power from West Cape Energy, a company located on Prince Edward Island, for local use. Combined, both sources give the utility 50% wind integration.

But there is a problem: Summerside Electric has a peak load of 23 MW, a minimum load of 11 MW and an average load of 18 MW. With a wind capacity of 21 MW, the utility often has to sell surplus wind power to entities outside the city’s borders.

So why build and purchase so much wind energy in Summerside? Greg Gaudet, director of municipal services for the City of Summerside, explains that it makes more sense for the utility and community to have a proactive, rather than reactive, approach to power needs.

“When we looked forward, we said we’re not going to have this excess forever. Our load and community are going to grow,” Gaudet tells Renew Grid. “We could’ve either built just enough for what we currently need - which, in my opinion, means we would have been starting out already behind - or we could build for the future and have a little excess now. That will lead to more opportunities.”

Nonetheless, Summerside Electric has to export about 7.5 million KWh of excess wind power every year, and the municipal government wants to keep the energy within its borders. That, Gaudet says, is where Summerside’s smart grid project came in.

Smart heat
The city taxpayer fund had originally allocated C$30 million for the Summerside Wind Farm, but in the end, the municipality committed only C$28.5 million to develop the project. In August 2011, the city council voted to use the C$1.5 million that was leftover and “go to the next step of greening,” explains Gaudet.

Ultimately, the municipality developed the Heat For Less Now program: an initiative to install advanced electric heating units, as well as supportive smart grid solutions, at residents’ homes. By incentivizing its residents to heat their houses and water using electricity rather than oil or gas, the city believes the program will increase the local consumption of surplus wind energy.

Gaudet says the overall idea of the program is to offer consumer savings for the electric heat. Currently, residential customers in Summerside pay C$0.12/KWh for electricity, and the utility sells the excess wind power for C$.04/KWh. In order to interest both residents and the utility in the program, the municipality offers the electricity used by the heating appliances at C$0.08/KWh - meaning that for every kilowatt-hour sold, the utility receives four extra cents and customers receive a four-cent rebate from what their existing electrical rates are. These new rates are locked in for five years. After that point, Gaudet adds, the municipality will offer a 30% savings gap against average furnace costs.

At the heart of the Heat For Less Now program are Steffe’s product line of electric thermal storage heating systems, which are Ethernet-capable. As part of its smart grid initiative, the city has been installing a fiber-optic network and advanced technologies that allow the utility to read and control the heating units in order to have the appliances react to wind variability. In fact, the project’s automated demand-response capabilities are a key concept of the program.

“It’s what I consider a down-up solution: We’re going to the consumer end and controlling their load for them to the benefit to the generation of the utility,” Gaudet says. “With this type of system, a utility can maximize the utilization of the infrastructure so it’s not losing overhead.”

In addition, the project uses supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) and has installed Tantalus smart meters, which allow the utility to monitor power usage inside the entire home.

“If our control system tells the heating units to turn on and charge to seek energy, we know with feedback from the meter that the appliance is working correctly because of the spike in energy use,” adds Gaudet. “At the same time, the customer doesn’t see anything different in their lifestyle. They still have the heat and hot water they need without having to wake up at three in the morning to turn anything on or program timers - we do that. They don’t see any change but savings.”

Proving the solution
The Heat For Less Now program and the associated smart grid efforts are only in their infancy. It took about six months to get one-tenth of the community fiber-wired and a year and a half to get the Heat program off the ground. The beta pilot phase of the project was supposed to reach 100 homes, but the project has only installed 103 electric thermal storage units on 54 premises and 115 smart meters on 56 premises thus far.

“We didn’t quite get there,” Gaudet says. “We’re still pretty basic.” He adds that the utility and current participants seem satisfied with the program and that the city plans to continue its PR efforts in order to get the word out about the project. So far, the city has been promoting the Heat program through local newspapers, radio and word of mouth, and the municipality also has a retail presence in the community’s wellness center.

Going forward, the goal is to get electric heaters to 500 homes and then call it a proven beta system. Right now, 90% of Summerside Electric’s customers still use sources other than electricity to heat their homes and hot water. Also, the city plans to eventually expand its wind farm and become an even greener community, which Gaudet says is the only way the Heat program can prove environmentally successful in the long run.

“The electric heat is only of value if it is powered with renewable energy, because if you use regular, old electric power on the grid, the greenhouse-gas emissions aren’t getting better - they might get even worse,” he notes.

Photo credit: The City of Summerside

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