Opening Ontario’s grid to innovation means reaching out to the world

Opening Ontario’s grid to innovation means reaching out to the world

Note: This blog was co-written with Jon Dogterom, the Cleantech Practice Lead at MaRS.

Last week, the MaRS Future of Energy summit took on a big challenge: how do we position Ontario to have a shot at global leadership in the emerging smart grid market? The world will spend trillions over the next couple of decades on smart energy networking, sensors, communications, energy storage, automated demand response, self-healing grids, and so on. We’ve got a strong networking history and talent. Now we need to work with Ontario’s regulators, utilities and large corporations to leverage our grid as an asset. If we do it right, we’ll soon be selling smart grid technology into an enormous global market.

The Ontario Green Energy and Green Economy Act can turbo-charge our chances of success in the export market. It’s put lots of wind and solar power on the grid, which some don’t like – it can make the grid unstable and is a pain to manage. But good engineers are paid to avoid that instability! And that’s precisely where the opportunity lies. We can view these hot spots as problems to solve, and use our solutions to refine the expertise and technology that we’ll soon be exporting to the rest of the world.

But we don’t just need new technology: regulatory and financial innovations are also part of the puzzle, and were a big part of the discussion last week. How do we build a rational market that encourages the adoption of new technology, protects the rate payer and brings stability to a changing grid?

MaRS CEO Ilse Treurnicht speaks at the Future of Energy Summit

Everyone in the room could sense the momentum. We’ve got great up-and-comers in storage (Hydrostor, Temporal Power, Electrovaya), home energy networking (MMB Networks), grid networks (ENBALA), electricity-to-gas plays (Hydrogenics), and more. The large corporations, utilities and regulators were also at the table and really rolled up their sleeves last week: Enbridge, Hydro One, Siemens, GE, the Ontario Energy Board, Toronto Hydro, and more. The Ontario government showed their support with Smart Grid Fund announcements, and upped the ante by tasking MaRS with building a Clean Energy Institute to keep the work going.

Opening our grid to clean energy was a risk. Opening it further to innovation is another. But it’s a risk we need to take, and MaRS is taking the lead on making sure that all the stakeholders are heard.