The kīsikāw pīsim solar farm at EPCOR’s E. L. Smith Water Treatment Plant in Edmonton is an undertaking that tells us much about our past, present and future.
Located on former reserve lands of Enoch Cree Nation, the Cree name was gifted to EPCOR by the Nation, and means “daylight sun.” Today, the site is used as both a resource for the community and place of ceremony for the Nation.
The renewable energy solar farm and battery system help power one of two plants that provide Edmonton and more than 90 communities and counties with clean potable water.
The project is also a glimpse into the future.
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EPCOR’s Distributed Energy Resource Management System (DERMS) is an innovative way to manage electrical energy. Solar panels produce energy, but where that energy goes depends on the needs of the moment. It first needs to be collected, converted, and then conveyed. When the plant needs power, the energy is directed there. When there is surplus power and battery capacity, the batteries can be topped up. If the plant and batteries don’t require solar energy, the surplus can go to the provincial grid.
EPCOR’s DERMS-enabled system acts as an air traffic controller overseeing water plant operations, solar generation, battery storage and the grid. DERMS directs electrical traffic in real-time, managing supply and need.
Chris Chapelsky is EPCOR’s senior manager for grid transformation. “At its heart, DERMS is a computerized control system,” he says. “We can model, monitor, forecast, and leverage distributed energy resources across our entire grid.”
Trina Manning is senior manager of sustainability with EPCOR, and adds that: “What’s innovative is how the pieces of the system talk to one another and how decisions are made. DERMS changes the way the grid functions in directing electricity to the plant, to batteries or to the grid. And it happens every second of the day.”
Nathaniel Papay, an electrical engineer, has been with EPCOR his entire career, the last decade as a project manager. What makes DERMS unique, he says, is the integration and coordination. The solar farm and battery are technically twin systems arranged side by side, allowing for critical redundancy.
“There are two electrical cables coming into the water treatment plant,” he says. “We basically have two solar farms and two systems. So, if one cable fails, we can still run the plant.” This helps protect Edmonton’s primary source of clean drinking water, while also supplying it with clean energy.
DERMS controls it all not just for EPCOR, but as part of the larger system. “We use it to monitor distributed generation across the grid,” says Papay. “It can ‘see’ how much power we’re using, storing, and sending to the grid, but it also allows for us to be integrated with the entire regional system.”
Solar, wind, and other carbon-free energy sources are a big part of our energy future, but having many different systems across the grid means a more complex flow of energy. Making the most of what is available, DERMS is key to grid transformation and how we are going to manage our energy future.
The day will come, says Manning, when people will be generating their own electricity to supply their own battery systems. “DERMS is going to play a really important role. When everyone plugs their car in at the end of the day, how do we shift loading to where it’s needed? It’s not just about one water treatment plant, it’s about millions of people.”
DERMS is a way to make sure the switch flip of the future produces electricity. EPCOR’s goal is to be a net-zero entity. That means doing the technical work, but also bringing people along for the ride.
“Helping people see that a new system is more reliable is going to be critical,” says Manning. “We have a vision for rethinking utilities to reduce our environmental footprint, but we have to be patient, too. Different perspectives are important. Community engagement is how everyone benefits.”
“DERMS is really all about what’s next,” says Papay.
Which in some ways is the point. Yes, DERMS oversees the regulating, storing, and directing of electricity. But it’s also a tool to help us prepare for the future.
Discover more about EPCOR’s sustainability journey at EPCOR.com/esg
This article was published in Environmental Science & Engineering Magazine’s October 2023 issue. Click here to see the digital edition.