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Decentralised Energy Canada: The Little Association that Could

DEC Board of Directors and Management Team from left to right: Danny Way, Ana Medina, Brent Harris, Anouk Kendall, Christine Schuh, Randy Thompson and Rafal Krzywicki. Missing: Raymond McKay, Dominic Roser, Jan Buijk, Garth Frizzell, Michael Ross, Cindy de Peuter and Sharada Gollu.

In 2001, when Anouk Kendall returned to Canada after seven years in the U.K. conducting post-graduate research into opportunities for renewable energy and implementing residential energy conservation programs for U.K. local government, she realized something: Europe was eons ahead in developing a low carbon economy and she was trained in areas no one was pursuing at home. While she tried to figure out what to do for work, she was invited to participate in a workshop about whether Alberta needed an industry association dedicated to decentralised energy (DE), that is energy that is produced, managed and consumed close to the end user.

“Nearly 100 energy professionals attending the workshop unanimously agreed, yes. It’s important. It’s the future,” says Kendall, founding president of Decentralised Energy Canada. “I put my name in the hat for the job and the rest is history.”

That workshop marked the beginning of an industry movement that has been challenging yet rewarding. What triggered the conversation about a DE association in the first place was the deregulation of electricity markets in 2001. This created an opportunity for decentralised energy solutions to reduce energy costs, emissions and system losses while at the same time diversifying Alberta’s economy. A group of stakeholders seized this opportunity and established the industry association in 2002. Decentralised Energy Canada (DEC) connects and supports DE businesses and accelerates the paradigm shift from a carbon-intensive, centralised energy to low-carbon, decentralised energy.

Kendall discovered that in fossil fuel-rich Alberta, this was a tough sell.

“Alberta had the skills and expertise and knowledge to drive this nascent decentralised energy industry but there was no pressure to do it,” she says.

Industry was unfamiliar with small energy generation (less than 50 MW) and little attention was paid to emissions in the province. So what was initially an Alberta-based association was expanded nationally to leverage the efforts of other provinces in areas like feed tariffs, net metering and standard offer programs. While many DEC members are in Alberta, the association has active members in six other provinces and territories.

For 15 years, DEC has built an impressive network and a foundation of industry knowledge and expertise. To meet industry needs, DEC brings together all of the players involved in the industry, from technology developers to customers and investors. It offers general member benefits including networking events, industry information and government briefings as well as specialized support to help mitigate project risks and commercialization challenges.

To offer this level of knowledge and expertise, the association has a team of leading authorities that can advise on project viability, climate regulations, carbon markets and project economics. There are nine people involved in running DEC but it’s a 3.5 full-time equivalent running on a budget of only $300,000 per year. One-third of the revenue comes from membership fees, one-third from fee for service and one-third from metric-based program funding. Receiving no core funding from governments means DEC is a lean entity that has to think outside the box.

“With our limited budget, we have to be creative about how we achieve our objectives so the collaboration piece is really important,” Kendall says.

DEC has 22 collaborative partnerships sharing resources on various joint initiatives. It enjoys a seamless flow of information and client sharing between the National Research Council’s IRAP staff, CETAC-West and Alberta Innovates. This one-stop support makes it possible to help more DE companies succeed without breaking the bank.

The association has also benefited from internships and temporary placements. These professionals shoulder some of the workload in exchange for experience in the industry and exposure to DEC’s network. To further protect the meagre budget, Alberta Innovates provides DEC with office space, McInnes Cooper provides legal services, and a partnership with CTV Two provides an affordable platform for DEC members to share success stories on prime-time television, reaching 98 per cent of Alberta homes.

After all, there is a lot to talk about. DEC’s 65 members represent more than $25.7 billion of revenue and amounts to a network of more than 10,000 businesses, suppliers and professional service providers. Members range from large utilities like ENMAX and EQUS REA to post-secondary institutions like Lakeland College, University of Calgary and SAIT to end users like the City of Edmonton and the Town of Black Diamond. Not surprisingly, more than half of the members are SME technology providers and project developers like Eguana Technologies, NuEnergy, Kineticor and EPS AB Energy Canada. Access to such incredible companies is truly a benefit of membership.

“Our network is our most valuable asset,” says Ana Medina, director, stakeholder relations and communications.

DEC offers networking for members to connect and discuss challenges and opportunities in the industry through informal get-togethers as well as large conferences and initiatives. Nearly 2,000 people attended the 2011 Global Clean Energy Congress in Calgary while nearly 10,000 people attended 200 sustainable energy project tours at the 2016 Green Energy Doors Open in Ontario, Alberta and B.C. DEC understands that it is part of a greater whole and by collaborating with the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association (OSEA) and the British Columbia Sustainable Energy Association (BCSEA), the association has leveraged these combined resources reaching new markets and energizing the industry.

DEC has helped build serious industry momentum. In recent years more focus on sustainability and affordability has shone a light on the merits of decentralised energy. Government is seeking input about how to move forward in the area, and DEC is happy to oblige. With the help of its members, DEC submitted five industry briefings to federal and regional government with recommendations related to training and retooling for a transitioning workforce, improved access to information about the benefits of DE, promoting shovel-ready projects, creating an enhanced export market policy, and establishing standardized DE regulations.

“This year is going to be a big year for us. Huge growth, lots of projects and different challenges and opportunities,” says Kendall.

With changes in market structure and regulations and burgeoning investment opportunities, DEC is in a great position to continue to advise government and assist members with projects that will further advance the decentralised energy industry in the years to come.