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Second annual NESTNet Week puts energy storage in the spotlight

By: Kiki Cekota
August 17, 2017

Left to right: Michel Losier, executive director of energy efficiency at NB Power; Sunita Chander, director of distribution and agency policy at the Ontario Ministry of Energy; Robert Wilhite, managing director of Navigant.

This year’s NSERC Energy Storage Technology Network (external,NESTNet) week-long event series, hosted by the Centre for Urban Energy, explored the future of energy storage and solutions to the ever-increasing demand for clean energy. The week ran from June 19 to 23 in various locations on Ryerson’s campus and was comprised of three main parts: a summer school for students of the network, a two-day technical conference for all network researchers and partners across Canada, and Friday’s Leading the Charge conference, which was open to members of the public. The week’s events had over 100 attendees in total, with participants representing both Canadian and international universities, and industrial and governmental organizations.

Summer School

Twenty-seven postdoctoral fellows and students from across Canada and 11 from the UK attended our summer school, which ran for the first two days of NESTNet week. It featured several guest speakers and tours of the Toronto Hydro and Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) control rooms.

Day one opened with remarks by Bala Venkatesh, academic director of CUE, welcoming the attendees. This was followed by a presentation from Bob Singh, an IESO distinguished research fellow of the CUE, who touched on energy planning in transition.

Singh compared energy planning in the past to now to what it could be like in the future, benefits of smart technologies for consumers and utilities and new technology ‘game changers’, like microgrids and DC transmission and distribution. He also discussed what’s needed to better plan and operate energy distribution.

Aaron Lampe, principal at Southcott Ventures, then continued with his experience about flywheels and getting energy storage on the grid.

The tour of Toronto Hydro Monday afternoon was led by control centre supervisor Sammy Elias. He discussed what Toronto Hydro does, the regions of Toronto they serve and the layout of the control room.

“It was really interesting to see the Canadian aspect of energy storage and how the electricity network operators actually work here in comparison to the UK,” said Andreas Georgakarakos, a postgraduate research student at the University of Sheffield.

Day two started with a presentation by Tom Chapman, the senior manager of market development at IESO, who explained how “solving energy storage is like solving a Rubik’s cube” – both are complex but the more we learn about them the easier they get to solve. Chapman looked at six different challenges energy storage faces, as well as how energy storage is integrated into markets and what the future of energy storage technologies looks like.  

Omid Alizadeh, a CUE research fellow, continued with a presentation about the application of battery storage systems in improving power quality. Alizadeh also spoke about voltage sag and power interruption, two of the most common power quality events. The day convened with a tour of the IESO control room.

Yasin Ali, a master’s student at UOIT, said this year’s summer school helped him to understand how things in the energy sector operate in a more practical way as opposed to learning about it in theory at university.

“It’s given me good exposure to life outside studying, and to the industry,” said Ali. “How everything that we’re learning and researching about is being applied in the real world.”

Technical Conference

The two-day technical conference on Wednesday and Thursday gave updates from project leaders on progress that’s been made in the second year of their research projects. The NESTNet is made up of four different research themes: energy storage technologies, power electronic converters, power systems integration and economics and policy. The theme leaders are Handan Tezel of the University of Ottawa, Liuchen Chang of the University of New Brunswick, Claudio Canizares of the University of Waterloo, and Miguel Anjos of École Polytechnique de Montréal, respectively.

The first three themes were presented on the day one of the technical conference. The second day of the technical conference focused on the fourth and final theme, economics and policy. This was followed by the Research Steering Committee meeting and the Board of Directors meeting.

There was significant progress made on several of the external,projects throughout the year, like that made on project 1.2, led by Marc Secanell and focused on the fabrication, mathematical modelling, design and testing of flywheels. The participants have now completed construction of an enclosure for flywheel testing.

Project 1.6, which designed a pole-top energy system and was led by CUE’s own Bala Venkatesh, and funded in part by Ontario’s Smart Grid Fund, has been completed. The unit was installed in August 2016 and successfully field tested until February 2017.

Another major development was seen by project 2.5, led by Lukas Swan, which is examining control systems for second-life batteries for grid-scale energy systems. The team has acquired training and batteries for testing and completed a battery array concept.

Project 3.2 was also led by Venkatesh and has now been completed. It looked at optimal planning of energy storage in distribution systems considering feeder investment model, and all parts of it have been finished.  

A keynote was given on the second day by Christopher Jones, lecturer at the University of Sheffield and acting director of its energy storage post-doctorate program. He described the energy research being done at the university, with topics varying from batteries to cryogenics to energy storage for transportation.

“NESTNet and our Centre for Doctoral Training in Energy Storage and its Applications share a number of common objectives. While the UK and Canada present different contexts for advancing the research, development and deployment of energy storage technologies, there is much that we can learn from one another,” said Jones.

This year’s technical conference saw much more networking and many partnerships being fostered, university to university and university to NEST partner, as described by Jones: “We view this initial visit to the Centre for Urban Energy to be a first step along a long and productive road of future collaboration.”

Leading the Charge Conference

The final event, Friday’s Leading the Charge, boasted three notable keynote speakers: Ontario Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Glen Murray, MPP Bob Delaney and Mark Henderson, senior vice-president of energy solutions and services for Alectra Energy Solutions. There were also three panel discussions throughout the day about innovation in the energy sector, challenges and opportunities in energy storage and use of new language in the innovation agenda.

Panelists included Michel Losier, executive director of energy efficiency at NB Power in New Brunswick and Robert Wilhite, managing director of Navigant in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The day began with introductions from Bala Venkatesh and Steven Liss, Ryerson’s vice-president, research and innovation.

“From energy storage to sustainable homes to electric vehicles, the Centre for Urban Energy is developing real solutions for issues with sustainable green energy in cities,” said Liss.

Murray stressed the need for immediate action on climate change in his address.

“We are probably living in the most difficult time in human history. Climate change is changing our culture, the way we live and think about ourselves. It is hard for us to talk to each other about managing the change,” said Murray. “We have to decarbonize our electricity system, retrofit our buildings and our homes – we can do that.”

Carmen Suchorab, director of facilities management at Canada Post and a first-time Leading the Charge attendee, said she enjoyed the event.

“It was really interesting to hear different perspectives and considerations that need to be made in order to properly implement energy storage solutions,” she said. “I also loved Minister Murray’s speech – he’s a very passionate speaker.”

Overall, week was interesting and informative, and provided valuable networking opportunities for the attendees. We look forward to next year's NESTNet Week which will take place June 18 to 22, 2018, following another 365 days of progress from our researchers.

Kiki Cekota is a third-year Journalism student at Ryerson University.

"Everything that we’re learning and researching about is being applied in the real world."