March 14, 2019

Potential 'game changing' renewable power micro-grid to be built at UCalgary

Micro-grid one of eight projects awarded Canada Foundation for Innovation leadership funding
A PV panel, wind simulator, micro-grid, and battery pack; all elements of the hybrid micro-grid for distributed power generation to be built on the University of Calgary's campus.

the hybrid micro-grid for distributed power generation to be built on campus.

In fall 2019, one very visible new example of the University of Calgary’s energy innovation efforts will be easy to spot on campus: Watch for a big, movable container topped with solar panels and filled with batteries for energy storage. This will be one of Canada’s first experimental hybrid micro-grids for distributed power generation, and one of the first in the world.

The advanced hybrid micro-grid will allow for both alternating current (AC) and direct current (DC) power distribution — meaning it can easily be integrated into the current centralized AC power infrastructure.

“There is a massive paradigm shift underway from central power generation systems to distributed power generating systems,” says Dr. Majid Pahlevani, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Schulich School of Engineering and the project’s lead.

“The key component of distributed power generating systems is these micro-grids. This hybrid micro-grid approach could be a huge game changer in making an efficient and practical solution to help the transition from fossil fuel and central-based energy to green- and renewable-energy-based systems.”

Eight new UCalgary projects funded by CFI John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF)

This Clean Energy Research Micro-Grid project is one of eight new UCalgary projects that have been granted Canada Foundation for Innovation John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF) awards, valued at over $1.7 million. The John R. Evans Leaders Fund helps universities attract and retain the best and brightest researchers from around the world by supporting state-of-the-art research tools.

“Support from the Canada Foundation for Innovation enables research leaders to pursue discoveries using the most sophisticated research facilities and equipment available,” says Dr. André Buret, interim vice-president (research). “We look forward to the outcomes of these newly energized research programs.”

Hybrid micro-grid – ‘the future of power systems’ – to be built on UCalgary campus

Wind and solar energy are the fastest growing sources of power generation in Canada. Several studies show that Canada has significant potential for harvesting renewable energy sources.

“Micro-grids exist, but mostly for research; they are not very prevalent,” says Pahlevani. “But micro-grids are going to be the future of power systems.”

The existing centralized power generation architecture, where AC power is transmitted from remote locations to end users like factories and homes to power things like production lines and appliances, is not very efficient, says Pahlevani.

The Canadian Electricity Association and other energy-focused groups have already identified that a transition toward energy generation closer to the end use, as well as integrated electrical storage, is already underway. This is expected to occur fully over the next 20 years.

The landscape of the utility grid is rapidly changing as we now have a lot of loads and sources, which operate with direct current. For example, DC is the type of power generated through solar panels and used with batteries, as well as many types of loads like LEDs and electronic loads (phone chargers, etc.).

“Changing the overall power infrastructure to DC is not going to happen within the foreseeable future,” says Pahlevani. “DC micro-grids are not very practical considering the current AC grid infrastructure, and AC micro-grids are not very efficient due to the required extra power conversion stages. So the solution we are working on is a hybrid type of grid that has a DC and AC system work together to obtain the optimal efficiency that we can achieve. We want to remove a lot of power conversions and complexities required for AC micro-grids.”

Majid Pahlevani, assistant professor in the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Schulich School of Engineering, is one of eight recipients of Canada Foundation for Innovation funding.

Majid Pahlevani is one of eight recipients of Canada Foundation for Innovation funding.

Majid Pahlevani

Three researchers with different expertise come together to create the hybrid-micro grid

Pahlevani, along with his two Schulich co-investigators, Dr. Andrew Knight, PhD, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Transmission Electric Industry Chair, and Dr. Edward Roberts, PhD, a professor in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering and the associate head (research), has already begun testing different components of the hybrid micro-grid with the goal of having it running on campus by early 2019.

“This is not a simulation,” says Pahlevani. “The hybrid micro-grid will be connected to the university’s power system and will carry a small but scalable power load for the university, 10 to 20 kilowatts to start with.” The hybrid micro-grid’s container will also be movable so that it can be connected to different loads and tested under a variety of conditions — and also used for teaching purposes.

Pahlevani’s expertise is the power electronics technology: converting DC or AC power, and controlling the power flow to process the power in a very efficient way that makes the transition to the current AC infrastructure smooth. Knight’s expertise is on the grid side: the hybrid micro-grid has to operate both alone and while connected to the conventional power grid. Roberts’s expertise is with battery technology and storage: creating efficient and lasting energy storage solutions that can help address the intermittent nature of renewable energy sources.

How hybrid micro-grids could benefit remote communities

Because micro-grids are the building blocks of future power systems, further application of hybrid micro-grid research could include optimized and secure energy trading and the creation of an Internet of Things for power converters, according to Pahlevani.

Micro-grid projects will also be well-suited for remote sites like industrial facilities, oil and gas camps, residential housing developments — and even whole communities.

“There is a real relevance for remote communities in Canada, which run on diesel engines,” says Pahlevani. “Power utility companies don’t want to spend so much money to create infrastructure to bring power to remote areas. With a hybrid micro-grid, we can generate power locally in a reliable way. You eliminate a lot of the problems that come with centralized power — you don’t need transmission lines or centralized power generators or anything.”

Pahlevani, Knight, Roberts and other UCalgary researchers are also working on ways to reduce the cost of renewable energy infrastructure, such as solar panels. Pahlevani, for example, is working on solar tiles and solar windows that could work as part of a micro-grid that developers can integrate right into new buildings.

“Micro-grids have been an active area of research and a lot has been done to make this more practical. Now we are in a position where we can use this as a very cost-effective mainstream power generation source,” says Pahlevani. “We want to help make the shift to renewable energy systems happen.”

 The following projects were also awarded CFI JELF awards:

  • System-Wide Investigation of Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients Using Mass Spectrometry –  Antoine Dufour, Cumming School of Medicine
  • Sustainable Technologies for Rare Earth Elements Extraction and CO2 Utilization – Sathish Ponnurangam, Schulich School of Engineering
  • Disinfection Byproducts in Reclaimed Wastewaters: Formation, Occurrence, and Toxicity Indicators – Susana Kimura-Hara, Faculty of Science
  • Developing Innovative Functional Materials and Technologies for Environmental Remediation Based on Interaction Studies – Qingye Lu, Schulich School of Engineering
  • Colloids: Building Blocks towards New Materials –Giovanniantonio Natale, Schulich School of Engineering
  • Innovative Characterization of Water-rock Interaction for a New Generation of Models of Sustainable Energy Utilization – Benjamin Tutolo, Faculty of Science
  • Translational Control of Mammalian Brain Development – Guang Yang, Cumming School of Medicine