Powering new smart grid technologies

The University of Alberta is home to one of North America’s largest research clusters dedicated to smart grid technologies, powering the transition to a blended energy landscape where renewable energy continually plays a greater role in our economic and environmental well being.

In the Faculty of Engineering alone, 10 professors and their graduate student research teams are applying their expertise in grid integration of renewable energy sources, power conversion, cyber security, weather forecasting, and power quality to this pressing global challenge.

Society’s ability to utilize more renewable energy like wind and solar power is frustrated by the fact that our existing energy architecture was designed a century ago. Our current system relies on large, centrally controlled power plants with predictable outputs. But wind and solar power fluctuate with environmental conditions, are difficult to control, and the power they generate requires conversion from DC to AC currents.

Adapting the existing grid to operate reliably with renewable energy sources is a complex task. A new architecture for power distribution, called the smart grid, is required to accommodate renewable energy.

In Alberta alone, it’s estimated that $72 billion will be spent to maintain and expand the grid over the next 20 years. Finding solutions today is critical to guide these much-needed investments to meet a blended energy environment. New technologies can have transformative impacts on remote urban and northern communities that are not served by traditional power grids.

Power distribution challenges are faced the world over, and the University of Alberta Faculty of Engineering is working with local and global industry partners and international research centres to advance smart grid technology.

Smart grid initiatives:

  •  NSERC Industrial Research Chair Wilsun Xu and the six major Alberta power companies have established the Alberta Power Industry Consortium to explore strategies from new clean energy generation systems and storage technologies to conversion of the Canadian grid system and electrification of the North.
  •  The smart grid challenge is global. The U of A Faculty of Engineering is working co-operatively with the E.ON Energy Research Center at RWTH Aachen in Germany, where the entire energy landscape is being altered by ambitious greenhouse gas reduction programs.
  • Researchers across the Faculty of Engineering are investigating the power systems, power electronics, energy storage materials, data analytics and networks that will make the smart grid a reality. Some examples include:
  •  Yunwei  Li, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is leading research that could change the way power is distributed, making power generated by renewable energy sources more compatible with the existing power grid.
  •  Ali Khajehoddin, former lead R&D engineer for SPARQ Systems Inc., brings entrepreneurial experience to his leading-edge research in power converters and microinverters. These devices convert power from solar cells to a form the existing electrical system can use.
  •  Yasser Mohamed conducts research into the areas of dynamics and control for renewable energy generation, energy storage, microgrids and motor drives.
  • Marc Secanell Gallart is working with industry partners to design reliable, durable, efficient and cost effective energy systems that meet the needs of society while minimizing environmental and socio-political impact.
  • Mechanical engineering professor Pierre Mertiny is collaborating with civil engineering professors and the construction industry, through the $10 M Nasseri School of Building Science and Engineering. His work explores the storage of solar energy in homes, using flywheel technology to store solar power for night-time use.