Sustainability Through the Pursuit of Technology

By: Vinay Sharma (c) 2021

The view from leading LDC London Hydro’s CEO, Vinay Sharma, P.Eng., Ph.D.

Globally, we are at a point of no return from the calamitous climate change. We all have to pivot now to become increasingly net-zero and sustainable by reducing our personal and corporate footprints to save our beautiful planet earth.

London Hydro, a traditional electrical utility, has taken an innovative approach to the net-zero energy and sustainability paradigm with a single-minded focus on minimizing its corporate footprint on the environment and assist its customers to reduce their energy consumption to achieve carbon reduction through the use of technology. A focused approach to managing environmental footprint might seem like a very challenging task; however, after having been at this exercise for the last 10 years, London Hydro is now reaping the cumulative benefits from a myriad of steps it has taken: from managing air emissions, waste management, energy and water usage, to helping customers manage their energy and creating new technologies that will make energy management easier and more convenient. By adopting innovative technology and best practices, London Hydro has been achieving continual improvement of its sustainability performance. The company has been optimizing its environmental impact: From where we work; the way we work; the way we move; and the way we green. 

Some ways in which London Hydro has reduced its environmental footprint is by directly investing in ½ MW solar generation and assisted 423 customers to install about 70 MW of rooftop/ground-mounted solar, net meters and bio-fuel generation. There has also been investment by the company in 19 electric vehicle charging stations. 

(Left) 10 kW Solar at London Hydro Head Office                           
(Right) 350 kW Rooftop Solar 

Presently, London Hydro is installing a large-scale net-zero community comprising 9 MW of solar generation, facilities for electrical vehicle charging, a utility-scale microgrid with 1 MW battery storage, and a community net metering (virtual net meter) system. This is Canada’s first large-scale net-zero energy community. Through this project, there will be a community of 2,000 residential units together with several commercial operations, which, through traditional methods, would have resulted in 5-6 MW of electricity demand on the grid. Through community net metering and solar electricity generation, we would be able to avoid large electricity demand from the grid as well as reduce nearly 30 MWh of energy usage annually while offsetting about 20 Mt of CO2 over a 10-year period. With battery storage and the microgrid system, there would be some islanding capabilities during grid outages as well as provide for management of surge electricity demand for a fast-charging system without impacting the grid. This is a win-win-win business model for the environment, developer, and utility. 

Large-scale Net Zero Energy Community

Above all, London Hydro is very proud of having developed a new energy data standard and technology commonly called Green Button systems. The ideation behind the Green Button system is to standardize the format of consumer energy consumption data (for gas, electricity and water), thereby creating enabling technologies with ease and economic efficiency to help customers manage and conserve their energy footprint across all utilities. London Hydro is a globally leading entity in this innovation. Through a pilot project with the OEB, London Hydro used this innovation to successfully demonstrate how electricity demand and consumption can be easily managed for small and large consumers. London Hydro is leading another innovative project in conjunction with Enbridge Gas to demonstrate the use of Green Button technology to further improve energy efficiency and reduce the carbon footprint from space heating. Under this project, a hybrid heating system comprising of a high energy efficient furnace and electric air source heat pumps that can switch automatically between the two fuels (electricity and natural gas). The entire system is regulated by an integrated controller based on London Hydro’s Green Button technology. Such a system was established to reduce a home’s greenhouse gas emissions by about 30%, thereby also reducing the homeowner’s cost for heating. Indeed, this is leading-edge technology.

London Hydro’s innovative energy data management system has also been implemented and deployed at five other Ontario utilities. Moreover, London Hydro’s proven technology has led the province to expedite the adoption of the Green Button standard across the entire utility sector for both gas and electricity. In all of this, London Hydro recognizes assistance from both the federal and provincial governments; not only direct funding for research and development, but also providing tax benefits through the SRED program. Besides the pilot project with Enbridge, London Hydro is also developing a blockchain technology system in collaboration with several Canadian and UK companies, again based on the Green Button energy data standard, to facilitate the exchange of local renewable electricity generated between prosumers and small local consumers. This project, funded by Natural Resources Canada, is called PowerForward Challenge.

Hybrid Heating System and Controller
An app to rate and monitor energy use, which makes it easy to see how much a customer has saved.

As a traditional electricity utility, London Hydro recognizes its important role in ensuring a highly reliable and safe distribution of electricity to the community. London Hydro’s innovation in developing resilient and robust infrastructure through distribution automation and redundant main feeder routes is exemplary. In the last two years, London Hydro has invested $29M in installing a flexible distribution network in Downtown London to enhance the contingency of supply and a near self-healing distribution network. This ensures a continuation of supply to businesses in Downtown London even in the case of a malfunction of the system. Combined with its robust efforts in reducing its own corporate footprint and developing technology so that customers can adopt energy management initiatives with ease, London Hydro is not only becoming more sustainable itself but is investing in its customers to adopt more sustainable business practices. London Hydro has diverted its waste from the landfill by 32% over five years and continues to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions as given below.

True to our value as “… a trusted energy services provider …”, London Hydro truly lives out its purpose and vision in everything it does. Our next frontier is to continue on our current path of sustainability and also invest in resources that help our customers not only become more sustainable, but also help them adapt to manage the challenges arising from climate change. London Hydro is a local hometown utility and will continue to invest to help its community in achieving more sustainable solutions for itself and its customers.