“There are distinct advantages to having diverse fuels,” explains Kim Warren, VP of Operations and Chief Operating Officer at The Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO). “No system operator likes to see all of their eggs in one basket because every fuel has its advantages and disadvantages, and behaves differently in certain seasonal or weather conditions.”

Ontario’s willingness to promote a diverse fuel and technology policy has meant that the province has never been overly dependent on one source of energy supply. “It means that you’re more robust and resilient, and that you can manage extreme events reliably and efficiently,” says Warren. “That, ultimately, has a positive benefit for rate payers.” 

Working towards a renewable future 

The landscape of Ontario’s energy supply mix has changed considerably over the past decade. In excess of 12,400 megawatts (MW) of fresh supply has been added to the province’s grid, mainly consisting of renewable resources like wind, hydro, nuclear, and solar. Renewable infrastructure is being created and renewed, while coal generation is close to being completely phased-out.

“Ontario has moved forward in a clean way for a variety of reasons,” says Warren. “It’s to do with issues around the environment, health, and the economy; those are the three main drivers.”

We are starting to see some monumental changes in Ontario. Over recent years, 9,000 MW of coal-powered energy have been successfully retired in a controlled manner, with no loss or interruption of service. Warren notes the impact of the Atikokan biomass facility in Northern Ontario — the biggest such facility in North America — and two similar Thunder Bay units which will soon be operational.

“Ontario has moved forward in a clean way for a variety of reasons,” says Warren. “It’s to do with issues around the environment, health, and the economy; those are the three main drivers.”

“We’ve added about 1,000MW to our system in the last three months, which is huge,” says Warren. “Just this past week we set new records when we saw wind outputs in the province of greater than 2,300 MW. Ten years ago it would have been two or three MW.”

Clean homes, clean businesses 

The way that energy is distributed to our homes and businesses has also changed in recent years. In the past, much of the supply was far removed from load centres and had to be transported to urban hubs over long transmission lines. Today, we’re seeing more practical and efficient dispersal methods. 

“Wind and solar does that by its very nature, but we’re also seeing generating stations being based closer to load centres, in urban areas,” says Warren. “We’re getting a more dispersed fleet that is not as heavily reliant on transmission as it was in the past.”

The groundwork for the future of the province’s energy supply has been put in place but, for Ontario’s push towards a sustainable tomorrow to have a true chance of success, homeowners and business owners must understand and embrace the importance of energy conservation. 

Smart about energy 

Warren believes that the emergence of smart homes and home automation could make a significant impact in helping homeowners reduce their electricity consumption. “It’s going to be huge,” he says. “People will be able to make smarter decisions because the traits of their consumption will be known by their appliances. You’ll be able to program your lifestyle into your consumption needs.”

Ellen Pekilis, Executive Director of Energy Exchange, thinks Canada needs to build energy literacy and that, currently, the country is experiencing fragmented energy leadership, unrealized economic wealth, diminished energy conservation, and less than optimized energy efficiency. “The cumulative impacts of low energy literacy are telling,” she says.

Pekilis also feels that, “as citizens, we share responsibility to meaningfully engage in dialogue around thoughtful stewardship of Canada’s vast and diverse energy endowment.” She believes that we should be “demonstrating global leadership in the responsible development, distribution, and productive use of Canada’s energy.”

For Ontario, the future looks bright. As the majority of the feed-in tariff projects that were signed a few years ago start to come online, our capacity to produce clean energy will continue to increase. “We’re starting to see the fruits of our labour,” says Warren.