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Canadian and international experts collaborate on energy storage at third annual NESTNet Week

By: Kiki Cekota
July 30, 2018

New in 2018, summer school students competed in an energy storage design challenge.  

From June 18 to 21, the Centre for Urban Energy (CUE) hosted its third annual NSERC Energy Storage Technology Network (NESTNet) Week, with over 180 attendees from across Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States and Brazil gathering at Ryerson University’s Mattamy Athletic Centre, the historic former home of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The week saw collaboration between students during a one-day summer school, an overview of progress on the network’s four themes during a two-day technical conference, and engaging keynote addresses from industry leaders as the week climaxed with Leading the Charge, a conference open to everyone with a stake in energy storage, from electrical utilities and technology providers to government, academia and the wider public.

Winners of the energy storage design challenge, from left to right, Christian Richard (University of New Brunswick), Valerie Provost (Polytechnique Montréal), Chris White (Dalhousie University) and Yong Shi (University of New Brunswick). Not pictured: Reza Vatani (Ryerson University). 

Day one: Summer school

Kicking off NESTNet Week on June 18, this year’s summer school brought together students and postdoctoral fellows from across Canada to collaborate on a unique energy storage design challenge to be presented to a judging panel at the day’s end.

The day opened with remarks from CUE’s academic director Bala Venkatesh, and a presentation about intellectual property by Ryerson’s applied research and innovation advisor Suraj Shah.

Mark Winfield, professor at York University and facilitator for the day, set the stage for the challenge, where the goal was to “design innovative solutions to present-day or near-future challenges in the energy sector.” Attendees were strategically assigned to one of five teams, with each team having representatives from across the different universities and diverse themes of the network.

Teams raced against the clock to complete the challenge before taking a short walk to CUE where they pitched their ideas to a panel of expert judges made up of Carter Li, CEO of SWTCH, Warren Navarro, cofounder of Actual Energy Solutions, Geoff Osbourne, a manager at NStor, and Marcelo Sarkis, a senior patent agent at Prima IP.

Chris White, PhD candidate at Dalhousie University said that “the design challenge involved some mayhem along the way, but it was a lot of fun.”

“Getting to know our teammates from different universities with different skillsets, we had to collectively bring our expertise together,” White said. “A big part of it was about regulation and policy, which I don’t have a lot of experience with, but my teammate did. So it worked out well.”

White was part of the winning team for the design challenge, and also won the poster contest, staged as part of day and day three’s technical conference, along with Mark Elliot, a Master of Applied Science candidate at Dalhousie University.

Attendees of this year's technical conference at Mattamy Athletic Centre. 

Days two and three: Technical conference

June 19 and 20 were dedicated to an overview of the progress that has been made this past year on the 24 projects contained within the four NESTNet research themes of energy storage technologies, power electronic converters, power systems integration, and economics and policy.

Jennifer MacInnis, senior legal counsel and senior director of applied research and commercialization at Ryerson, who acts as chair of NESTNet’s commercialization and outreach committee, got proceedings underway.

One of the conference highlights was a presentation from Jacqueline Edge, energy storage research manager at Imperial College’s Energy Futures Lab, who shared her perspective on energy storage research in the UK.

“In terms of grid-scale installations in the UK, we have two liquid air energy storage installations, which is a very new and promising technology,” Edge said. “There’s also one pumped thermal project, looking specifically at electricity provision, not heat.”

Those in the audience benefited enormously from the knowledge being shared.  

 “The presentations were really engaging. The technical information being presented was very informative of what’s happening right now,” said Xavier St-Onge, a graduate student from the University of New Brunswick. “Research-wise, it’s always nice getting different perspectives on energy problems. In New Brunswick, we don’t have issues with power generation; we have issues with the environment interfering with power distribution. It’s good to see other sides of the problem,” he said.

Ian Rowlands, professor at the University of Waterloo and internationalization leader of the NESTNet, said that the progress project leaders have made in the past year is impressive.

“It’s clear from the conversations we’ve had in this room over the past few days that these individuals have made a lot of significant achievements. Achievements in the work they’ve done has impacts for both research and society,” he said.

The technical conference also encompassed a poster session that doubled as a networking opportunity for students, a welcome dinner where award recipients were announced, and AGMs for NESTNet’s board of directors and research steering committee. 

California ISO's Jill Powers addresses a packed house at Leading the Charge conference.

Day four: Leading the Charge conference

A packed house gathered for NESTNet Week’s final day, which was filled with distinguished speakers from different parts of the energy sector in Canada and the US, who provided a wide range of outlooks on energy storage.

The morning began with welcoming remarks from Neetika Sathe, vice president of Advanced Planning at Alectra Inc. and chair of NESTNet’s board of directors, and Sean Conway, honorary fellow at CUE and public policy advisor at Gowling WLG. The first keynote of the day was from Scott Hoyte, managing director of Distributed Energy Solutions at GE Power based in Atlanta, Georgia.

“The grid is getting more and more diverse. We’re seeing high renewable energy generation, we’re seeing energy storage come into play with more distributed systems being able to localize solutions,” Hoyte said.

Jill Powers, an infrastructure and regulatory policy manager at the California Independent System Operator based in Folsom, California spoke about energy storage at the transmission and distribution level in the state.

“The California ISO is very much an independent organization, but we work closely with state regulators. Our key function is to use advanced technologies to balance supply and demand on a second by second basis, operate markets and do transmission planning,” Powers explained.

Following her keynote, Powers said she found the conference to be informative.

“It’s always great to learn about international collaboration and hear about what others are doing in this area of energy storage,” she said. “I really appreciated the day and the ability to give some perspective on what’s happening in California, and to hear what’s happening throughout our country as well as internationally,” Powers said.

The stellar lineup of speakers and panelists also included:

  • Michael Maiello, vice president of energy storage systems at Schneider Electric
  • Leonard Kula, COO and vice president of planning, acquisition and operations at the IESO
  • Jane Kearns, a senior advisor with MaRS Cleantech
  • Daniel McCormick, vice president of sales at Constant Power Inc.
  • Matthew Sachs, COO of Peak Power
  • Hari Suthan, chief strategic growth and policy officer at Opus One Solutions
  • Claudio Cañizares, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Waterloo
  • Liuchen Chang, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of New Brunswick
  • F. Handan Tezel, professor of chemical and biological engineering at the University of Ottawa

As the week wrapped up, Lukas Swan, professor at Dalhousie University, explained the importance of NESTNet.

“The energy market is shifting fast, and there are lots of new players being involved. It’s important that everyone becomes educated as decisions are financially significant. NESTNet is educating that next round of people,” he said.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to a successful week of events marking year three of the network. CUE is already looking forward to another year of collaboration among researchers, culminating in a discussion of progress at next year’s fourth annual NESTNet Week, which will take place from June 17 to 20, 2019. Mark your calendars.             

NESTNet Week by the numbers

 4 days

 186 attendees

 65% academia / 23% industry / 12% government

 26 cities represented

 17 universities represented

 37 speakers

 You can check out photos from this year's summer school, external linktechnical conference, external link and Leading the Charge conference, external link via Facebook. 

Kiki Cekota is a fourth-year journalism student at Ryerson University.

"It’s always great to learn about international collaboration and hear about what others are doing in this area of energy storage. I really appreciated the day and the ability to give some perspective on what’s happening in California, and to hear what’s happening throughout our country as well as internationally."

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