The provincial agency that operates Ontario’s power grid is working on initiatives to help address electricity usage and pricing for the local greenhouse industry.
The Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) said it is seeing significant growth in the vegetable and cannabis sectors in Essex and Kent Counties: "The Kingsville-Leamington area is experiencing unprecedented demand growth – approximately 900 MW of new load requests to Hydro One in 2018 alone – driven by rapid expansion in the indoor agriculture and cannabis industries. The recent interest in retrofitting and installing artificial lighting to enhance greenhouse production is driving a large increase in electricity demand in the Kingsville-Leamington area", it says.
Growth of the industry
"An understanding of the economic and technological drivers of this
growth is important to both manage the build-out of infrastructure reinforcements, and to evaluate potential demand-side options. Additionally, indoor agriculture loads are significantly different from other industrial, commercial, and residential loads in the province. Their unique characteristics, which are described in greater detail below, offer both opportunities for greater efficiency and challenges for the electricity system.
The concentration of indoor agriculture in Windsor-Essex owes much to the region’s natural advantages. Its proximity to the Windsor-Detroit border crossing is ideal for supplying both the Canadian and U.S. markets, and its southern latitude and climate provide optimal conditions for agricultural activities. Windsor-Essex also hosts an established ecosystem of support industries and partners, including agriculture research and greenhouse fabrication facilities, which further encourage greenhouse growth in the area.
In recent years, economic factors such as rising consumer demand for year-round local produce and supply disruptions in other markets, have paved the way for an extension of the crop growing season into the winter months. This has led to the proliferation of artificial horticulture lighting, the primary driver for electricity demand growth in Kingsville-Leamington. Rapid local expansion of the cannabis industry, which typically requires energy-intensive lighting and HVAC systems, following legalization has coincided with the agricultural industry’s winter lighting growth.
High-pressure sodium (HPS) lamps are the dominant artificial horticulture lighting technology in agricultural applications driving this load growth. Typical lighting intensity requirements result in an energy intensity of approximately 0.5 MW per crop acre with some variation between crops. Non-lighting loads, such as motorized equipment, make up a very small share of the overall electricity usage. LED lamps have seen limited adoption in agricultural and cannabis applications. Typical cannabis energy intensity is approximately 1 MW per acre and includes significantly higher non-lighting loads such as HVAC and other climate control systems."
Mitigate market barriers
The report suggests that a combination of NWAs and wires options is required to address the significant near-term customer supply needs
identified in this area, including a call for innovative projects. "The greenhouse load characteristics in the Kingsville-Leamington area are fairly homogenous but differ significantly from other typical system loads. As a result, they have the potential to fit with demand-side options to manage greenhouse related load growth. Through the KingsvilleLeamington Local Advisory Committee (LAC), a number of potential demand-side solutions were identified, including energy efficiency and demand response (DR). However, a number of factors (i.e., frequency, duration, and magnitude of demand reduction and corresponding impact to crops) pose barriers to their adoption. As a result, the Working Group recommends that the IESO consider a targeted call for applications through the Grid Innovation Fund (GIF) for Q4 2019/Q1 2020. To identify and mitigate market barriers, or otherwise accelerate the adoption of competitive cost-effective solutions to rising electricity demand associated with the growth of indoor agriculture. The call should solicit projects that validate the performance and business case of promising new technologies, practices, and services across the province. This should leverage the work already performed for demand-side options in Kingsville-Leamington and LAC discussions to help scope parameters of the targeted call. The lessons learned from these projects will be applicable across the province, starting with areas such as Dresden and Niagara, which are experiencing significant growth in indoor agriculture."
Other of their solutions include provincial energy efficiency and monitoring the local generation. The agency said old assets and infrastructure are being replaced with new technology to ensure power supply needs and reliability are met. It also includes a new switching station at the Leamington Junction by 2022.