As the largest municipal electricity distribution utility in Canada, Toronto Hydro is making a name for its self. Founded in 1911, the Company has maintained longevity by continuously investing in new products and infrastructures, as well as top notch customer service, helping it become a world-class leader in the utilities market. Toronto Hydro serves approximately 719,000 customers in the city of Toronto and distributes an estimated 19 percent of the electricity consumed in the Province of Ontario, employing 1,500 people and generating nearly $3 billion in revenue annually.
As innovators in electricity distribution, Toronto Hydro is constantly pioneering new programs and initiatives. The Company is working on a variety of new ideas including a pilot program with Tollgrade to analyze power signatures to more efficiently locate and fix power problems for customers. Toronto Hydro is working with General Motors to repurpose old car batteries for extended life cycles and storage solutions.
“Utilities have to innovate. While it’s not the bleeding edge of R&D, it’s in the application edge of innovation,” says Ivano Labricciosa, Vice President of Asset Management for Toronto Hydro. “There are good solutions out there. There are manufactures and product developers developing good products, but they’re missing the ability to apply them in a solution-oriented fashion. Utilities need to be encouraged to innovate.”
Clare Copeland Station
The Company broke ground on the Clare R. Copeland station last May; a $195 million project that has been decades in the making and will result in one of the first underground stations in North America. The station has a dual purpose: reliability and capacity. As the population and infrastructure in the downtown core continues to grow, the growth is placing a load on the current stations. Those stations are aging and due for investments and upgrades. Toronto Hydro has to move the load somewhere to allow the company to refurbish nearby downtown stations. Eventually with enough load climbing, the second driver is load increase. The need for increased capacity is growing each day.
“The completion of Copeland Station is set for 2014 and, in early 2015, we are going to need the station to take on the load that will have grown in the area. The station moves from serving as a back up to nearby Windsor Station while refurbishments are completed there to online capacity within the first year. This stepping stone is preparing us for the future,” says Ivano.
Toronto Hydro brought in IBI Group to help determine the design of the new station, as the planning for the station was done internally; leaving the design work to IBI.
Ivano explains, “Once you determine the need for a station, the next question is where to put it. We are working with a federally heritage designated site. The site was one of the few train station roundhouses that was built at the turn of the century and the only space we could actually install the station. The real estate was put aside years and years ago for this site because alternate options were almost non-existent.”
Toronto Hydro relied on the IBI Group to help preserve the heritage designation. There are a lot of aesthetic preservation requirements it had to adhere to, while at the same time getting the best design for high density in a small footprint that meets all the requirements.
“It was a huge challenge. We needed a space that worked and we had very few choices about where to put it. And add to that, putting together a design that minimized the cost while providing us with the best design possible for the rate payers,” explains Ivano.
Toronto Hydro is working on a variety of new technologies to stay ahead of the game, including working together with Tollgrade to create and implement a pilot program that will locate, document, and analyze power signatures to find the root cause of power problems. This innovative technology will work as a power line monitor, continuously collecting data from the electricity system and wirelessly transmitting the data back to the company. This program allows the Company to monitor and analyze the cause and location of outages and system disturbances, helping to save on time and labour hours.
“From an asset manager’s perspective, this technology will allow us to know immediately if it’s a small problem that is easy to fix, or if it’s a serious problem that requires a capital investment,” explains Ivano.
The new monitoring system will become a factor in improving the company’s response as it can pinpoint the location of a problem in a matter of minutes. When an outage occurs, rather than patrolling up and down the circuit, Toronto Hydro will be able to know exactly where the trouble is and how to fix it. Toronto Hydro currently has 96 units installed collecting data from overhead power lines.
Toronto Hydro is also working on a couple of projects involving electric vehicles (EVs), including studies to learn as much as possible about EVs, their clustering effect, adoption rate and variability of equipment.
According to Ivano, “This is one market we want to be more aggressive with. We are the biggest city in Canada and many vehicles are used extensively for short journeys across the city. With EVs, it’s not one size fits all. Cars behave differently, people behave differently and peoples’ habits change over time, so we’re learning and studying their use.”
Current studies the Company has conducted show customers who first bought electric cars were charging them almost every night. However, within three months that number went down to two to three times a week and after six months they were charging every five to seven days. The importance of this information is grid and transformer overloads. If everyone in Toronto drove an EV and charged it at the same time at night, the odds of outages happening would balloon and become out of control.
Toronto Hydro is making sure to do a thorough analysis on EVs and how they affect its grid.
As for future projects, Toronto Hydro is also working with General Motors to repurpose old car batteries for use as electricity storage systems.
“We’re working on federal grant funding to identify this project and it’s a win/win for everyone. We receive a grant support option and General Motors gets to divest themselves of the liability of disposing the batteries. We get a grid support solution and the industry gets an inexpensive alternative to managing and controlling power,” says Ivano.
Along with innovative ideas, Toronto Hydro is constantly working on maintaining its excellent record of safety. The company recently surpassed a record for no time lost due to accidents and recorded its lowest level of incidents in its history.
“One of our focuses is to identify and promote the discussion of near misses and incidents, and to develop the learning and identify key recurring themes,” says Ivano. “Our study of on-site job inspections that focus on accountability resulted in some of the improvement we received.”
While Toronto Hydro continues to be an innovator, it’s leading by example by finding new and efficient ways of putting these applications to use.