Future of Renewable Energy (Panel)
As a Senior Planner at the Independent Electricity Systems Operator (IESO), Bernice Chan works with municipalities, Indigenous communities and local utilities to develop long-term electricity infrastructure plans for a number of regions across Ontario, including York Region, Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge-Guelph, Parry Sound-Muskoka, and parts of Northwestern Ontario. She focuses on facilitating community-level energy planning activities and integrating community-based energy solutions, smart technologies and distributed generation in the design and planning of the provincial electricity grid. Recently, she was involved in a study that looked at the cost and feasibility of implementing residential solar-storage and virtual power plant technology in York Region. She is passionate about using technology and policies to help build healthy, affordable and sustainable communities in Canada and around the world.
Bernice received her engineering degree from the University of Waterloo and also completed her graduate studies in Public Health. Her passion for international development and social change has inspired her to take part in an initiative with the World Bank to reduce air pollution in Mongolia and to provide pro-bono consulting services to non-profit organizations in the Greater Toronto Area.
When people talk about renewable energy, we often think about the physical parts like solar panels, wind turbines, and electricity grids. But the renewable energy industry, like any other large-scale infrastructure, relies heavily upon the expertise, skills, and resources of a number of industries. It’s with the help with of people like Jen Aitchison that Ontario’s renewable energy industry has been well-served in that regard.
Jen had worked in the insurance industry for more than 5 years before she ventured into renewable energy. At that point in her career, she was growing frustrated with risk management insurance, and wasn’t sure she saw the “point” – she wanted to be more proactive in making a positive change in the world. Jen had grown to love and appreciate nature after spending time on Canada's west coast; she wanted to play an active part in giving back by adding value to the sustainable industry movement.
Jen started identifying the obstacles, opportunities, and risks for solar energy development, and looked for ways to knock down barriers for these projects, and to help solar developers successfully finance their projects. Jen focused on developing policies and shared knowledge with other insurance companies to help them understand these new project types, how to manage risks, price effectively, and provide adequate coverage.
We asked Jen what it was like to “feel out” a brand-new space in an industry and some of the challenges associated with it. From an insurance perspective, Jen explained that determining how to price out the risks and having insurance industries understand how to do it came with a learning curve. For example, leasing rooftops for solar panels was a big challenge for the industry at the time. No one had previously understood or developed leases or covenants related to risk management techniques for roof space. Another unique challenge related to risk management was the fire risks associated with a solar panel installation. This was new territory for firefighters, so Jen’s team created a fire safety manual to close the knowledge gap between firefighters and industry professionals. Working together with the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs, the manual has been rolled out provincially, and there is now official training in place for firefighters. This was the culminating success of bringing two very different industries to the table, by having both firefighters and technical staff understand a new emerging partnership in risk management.
With a direct involvement in this process, the insurance industry is able to establish rates with a good understanding that balances between risk and feasible pricing. With insurance, project developers and building owners can move forward knowing their potential risks are mitigated, that the project is safe, and will be maintained properly.