FREDERICTON – The federal government and Nova Scotia energy company Emera are investing $4.3 million in the University of New Brunswick’s smart grid research project, it was announced Wednesday.
In an interview with Huddle, Emera President and CEO Chris Huskilson said this second investment in UNB’s smart grid efforts is part of a program it started with the university earlier this year.
“Today, you can see 30 – 40 per cent of renewables [in the grid], and that’s okay,” said Huskilson. “But we’re trying to aim for 100 per cent and you need some new technologies. UNB is extremely well positioned to do that, so we’ve invested tohelp them do that kind of work.”
Emera will invest $1.4 million in the project. The government will provide over $2.8 million through Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency’s (ACOA) Atlantic Innovation Fund and $82,100 through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
“Investing in next generation clean energy infrastructure and technologies will advance Canada’s efforts to build a clean economy, meet the world’s future energy needs and help realize our climate change goals,” ACOA said in the release.
The project will include designing, building, testing and demonstrating Distributed Energy Resource (DER) solutions for commercialization by industry and implementation by utilities. DERs are the small wind and solar generators, energy storage, and some household and commercial electrical loads from the likes of air conditioners and water heaters.
To maintain the right voltage and frequency in the power system, the power load and generation need to be balanced. In the past, this balancing was done through large, mainly thermal, generators. Today, as more variable renewable power from wind and solar sources enter the mainstream generation, researchers need to find alternative ways to achieve that balance.
The new technology UNB is developing will help deliver “reliability, efficiency and flexibility in the system,” said Dr. Liuchen Chang, the lead researcher on the project, in an interview with Huddle.
Emera will test the technology through its system network at Barbados Light and Power. The company is driving a campaign to move Barbados from fossil fuel generation to 100 per cent reliance on renewable energy by 2045. The Caribbean country’s utility will serve as the first level of real-time demonstration and commercialization of the technology.
Huskilson said Emera chose Barbados for testing because it has a relatively small but complete system, with large generators, wind and solar sources, and a diverse customer base.
“So we were able to test at a system level without having to integrate it into a very, very large system, which Atlantic Canada would be.”
Huskilson said the program with UNB has a five-year timeline, but he expects concrete results in the coming year. Once the technology is proven, Dr. Chang said it will be implemented into utilities in the Maritimes and the U.S.
In New Brunswick, the largest source of renewable power is hydro, followed by wind. New Brunswick and Nova Scotia’s systems are saturated with wind generation at the moment, but because the power production is intermittent, a way to balance that is needed.
“These technologies will allow us to balance things like wind and solar and other renewable products. So what we’ll be able to do ultimately is add more wind, which will be relatively low-cost generation for this region,” Huskilson said.
The project won’t impact Emera’s Atlantic Link project at this stage, Huskilson said, because the New England energy market it seeks to serve can still absorb more renewable energy without the technology from UNB.
“But at some point, they’ll need the technology as well to be able to absorb more,” he said.
Emera’s investment will contribute significantly to the growth of the recently formed Emera and NB Power Research Centre for Smart Grid Technologies at UNB, Chang said.
“With this program and other projects, we will expand our research centre from 34 people now to over 60 [researchers and graduate students] in two years,” he said.
Matt DeCourcey, MP for Fredericton, said smart grid technology is an emerging sector that will become more vital as the shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy continues.
“Investing in UNB’s smart grid project represents a world first in research and commercialization, and will help us create jobs and build a clean-growth economy,” he said.
The investment is part of the federal government’s Innovation and Skills Plan, which is aimed at creating growing, innovative businesses with global reach and to strengthen regional economies. It also builds on the Atlantic Growth Strategy.