Gathering the Wind

Summerside, PEI has transformed their energy usage with a wind farm, planned sunbank, and home-based electric thermal energy storage

by Susan MacVittie

Wind Turbines | Photo ©Eddie

In 2005, Summerside city council released an ambitious strategic plan that included a goal to create a green electrical utility. It was a big, bold idea for the little oceanside city in Prince Edward Island, and one that has transformed not only their power supply but the broader community — generating benefits for customers, taxpayers, businesses, and the environment. Putting the plan into action was made easier because the city owns its electrical utility, Summerside Electric.

The first phase was building the Summerside Wind Farm in 2009 – a four-turbine, 12-megawatt project that generates nearly half of the city’s power. Another nine megawatts of wind power were secured under contract from the wind farm at the western tip of the Island in North Cape.

This transformed Summerside’s electrical grid almost overnight. The city realized it could produce wind power for five cents per kilowatt hour, around one-ninth of the price of diesel power. (The Summerside Diesel Generation Plant generates 12.5 megawatts of electricity at times when needed). Summerside, which used to import most its energy from New Brunswick, now has one of the highest integrations of wind in North America with 46% of its energy created by wind power.

In PEI, wind energy has a high capacity factor, up to 50% – but at times there is too much wind power and at other times, too little. City of Summerside staff saw what Nova Scotia Power was doing with Electric Thermal Storage (ETS) and in 2011 designed their own program, Heat For Less Now, using Steffe ETS systems.

The excess energy from the wind farms is collected using ETS in the form of specially-designed appliances that consumers can buy. The appliances are electric home heating devices such as water heaters, furnaces, and space heaters that contain ceramic bricks with an electric heat element between the bricks. The element heats up the bricks, the bricks store the heat, and later the heat gets released into the appliance. The system helps lower heating costs by storing heat when electricity costs less, and then releasing the heat throughout the day.

Example of an electric thermal storage heating system | Image source: Steffes

To avoid exporting the excess wind to the bulk grid at unfavourable prices, an innovative smart grid program for active control of thermal energy storage systems was designed and implemented. The heart of the system is an optical fibre network through which the local electric utility can precisely monitor consumption and help control local energy demands.

The Heat For Less Now program offers a rate incentive to customers who use renewable energy to heat their hot water and homes. Subscribers pay eight cents per kilowatt-hour versus 14 cents for those not in the program.

Approximately 451 ETS units are being used in households and businesses throughout Summerside, and that number may get a whole lot bigger in the future. The rise of heat pumps across the province (enticed by a provincial rebate program) has increased electricity usage in Summerside, because they are replacing oil or wood. The city is now working with Stash Energy and experimenting with ETS heat pumps.

Work is also underway to expand the city’s solar capacity with the Summerside Sunbank Project – a partnership with the federal and provincial governments and Samsung Renewable Energy, to build a $69-million, 21-megawatt solar power farm, with an attached 20-megawatt hour capacity battery system.

When it is in operation, Summerside will get 60% of its electricity from renewable sources, putting the city in line with the province’s goal to be net zero by 2040.

Susan MacVittie resides in PEI and is the Sentinel’s east coast correspondent.

Related Posts

Watershed Sentinel Original Content

5 Issues/yr — $25 print; $15 digital