A new microgrid being built at the University of Regina will generate power for the campus while also helping students, researchers and industry partners solve energy transition problems and grow Saskatchewan’s renewable energy sector.
Think of a microgrid as a mini-power system, where electricity generation, distribution, storage and control all occur in one location, says Irfan Al-Anbagi, the project’s principal investigator and an associate professor in U of R’s electronic systems engineering program.
“The University of Regina, and campuses across the country, plan to move to renewables by certain dates. The transition to fully renewable energy requires research and development, and the microgrid is a test bed for that bigger plan,” Dr. Al-Anbagi said. “It’s going to help in the process of testing and validating different scenarios for moving or transitioning to renewable energy.”
Plans for the project have existed for a few years, but a recent funding opportunity helped push the microgrid forward. In August, Prairies Economic Development Canada, the federal department responsible for diversifying the economy across the Prairie provinces, announced $976,000 in funding to the U of R to develop the space and infrastructure needed for the self-sustaining energy system.
Power on campus
Currently in the design phase, the microgrid will be located at the Greenhouse Gas Technology Centre on campus. The infrastructure includes solar panels, storage batteries and a control system.
The final component to consider for the microgrid is the “load” it will produce — the amount of electrical current that can be drawn from it — and where that should be distributed. “In our situation, the load is going to power a building or part of the building,” said Dr. Al-Anbagi. “It really depends on how much power we generate.”
A conventional power grid’s fundamental components of generation, distribution, storage and control are typically spread across large distances, leading to power loss along the way. “A microgrid is more efficient and has lower costs and carbon gas emissions, because you rely on renewable energy generation and you don’t have losses in power transmission,” Dr. Al-Anbagi said.
Using the microgrid to provide power on campus and reduce the university’s carbon footprint is just one of many project components that Lisa Vindevoghel is looking forward to. She’s the project’s manager and a lab instructor in the electronic systems engineering program.
“It’s exciting to see a project available for research and generation at the university, given the future impact that it can also have,” she said.
Ms. Vindevoghel sees plentiful research opportunities throughout the faculty of engineering – and beyond. “The availability of the data that can be acquired from this type of installation can be used in a number of different areas,” she said.
Future data gathered from the microgrid could help improve and develop green technologies in Saskatchewan, and around the globe. “This is a technology that isn’t going anywhere,” said Ms. Vindevoghel. “Renewable resources are going to continue to be demanded, to be studied, and their efficiency improved on.”
Dr. Al-Anbagi describes the microgrid as a sandbox for researchers as well as undergraduate and graduate students, primarily those studying engineering.
“There are many opportunities, and the number one is training. Students will be trained hands-on with this system, instead of doing everything theoretically,” he said. “The second one is research. The research will grow.”
Dr. Al-Anbagi expects the research conducted to be varied, considering that the known challenges on the path to reaching net-zero emissions include technical issues, costs, and policy conundrums. To that end, Dr. Al-Anbagi also expects students in the school of public policy to become involved with the microgrid.
There will also be opportunities for industry partners in Saskatchewan, including small to medium enterprises and power utilities, to test out models and further their own research. Technical challenges can be tested and addressed using the microgrid system on campus, with the goal of scaling up solutions to bigger systems, Dr. Al-Anbagi said. Such collaboration could ultimately help industry to transition to low carbon solutions and become less dependent on fossil fuels.
And with this being the first research-based microgrid in the province, Dr. Al-Anbagi hopes to see partnerships develop with other institutions in Saskatchewan, so that more researchers interested in the renewable energy sector can use the new facilities.
For Dr. Al-Anbagi, the microgrid’s opportunities for validating the technology’s efficacy are particularly exciting. “In my field, and in other researchers’ fields, we rely on theoretical research and we develop mathematical models,” he said. “Having this system on campus is going to validate the theoretical concepts that we develop during the research.”