How Policymakers Can Help Energy Distributors Plan for Outages

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Electricity, natural gas, and thermal energy distributors across Canada are working to improve the resiliency of their energy distribution systems to withstand and recover more rapidly from outages caused by extreme weather events, according to a new report from QUEST that I had the pleasure of contributing to. In my previous post, I outlined five […]

Electricity, natural gas, and thermal energy distributors across Canada are working to improve the resiliency of their energy distribution systems to withstand and recover more rapidly from outages caused by extreme weather events, according to a new report from QUEST that I had the pleasure of contributing to.

In my previous post, I outlined five recommendations for how distributors can adapt their operations, infrastructure and organizational structure to improve resiliency of the systems. These recommendations are half of the equation. The other half are the policies at the federal, provincial, and local level that can drive, or act as barriers, to adaptation.

More than 20 policy recommendations are offered in the report, and here are three that are critically important.  

Federal

  • Clarify what data distributors can and cannot share.

The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act defines the rules for the sharing and use of utility data on energy consumption data and internal operations, such as mutual assistance information. The law currently does not permit utilities to share information on energy consumption. Distributors would benefit from receiving clarity about what information can be shared with key strategic stakeholders, like local governments, to understand where the energy system is most vulnerable, and to help distributors improve recovery procedures following extreme weather events.

Provincial

  • Encourage technologies such as smart meters.

Provincial governments have the authority to require energy regulators to implement technologies that may improve their ability to predict and respond to smart outages. For example, in July 2004 the Ontario Minister of Energy directed the Ontario Energy Board to develop an implementation plan to install electricity smart meters for every customer in Ontario by 2010. One of the goals was to automate all meter reading and reprogram read periods using two-way communication within a region with multiple distribution service areas.

Local

  • Review bylaws to identify opportunities to enable greater uptake of distributed energy resources.  Local bylaws and regulations should be reviewed to determine how they can enable greater uptake of distributed energy resources. For example, the City of Toronto implemented a Renewable Energy Bylaw which permits energy production and distribution using renewable energy and cogeneration devices on properties, thereby reducing demand on high greenhouse gas generating energy sources.

All levels of government have policies in place, but the degree to which they act as drivers or barriers to adaptation vary greatly. The recommendations outlined in this post will help policymakers at the federal, provincial, and local levels to enhance policies that encourage greater uptake of adaptation efforts among distributors.

This is the third and final article in my series on the “Resilient Pipes and Wires” report. Here are links to the other two pieces:

  1. Is Your Utility Equipped to Handle a Power Outage?
  2. Five Ways Energy Distributors Can Plan For, and Respond to, Outages

Tom Crawford is the Smart Grid Lead for Capgemini’s utility sector and he is based in Toronto. He can be reached at thomas.crawford@capgemini.com. Connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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