LEARNING TO KEEP THE LIGHTS ON
Mohawk is working to address a growing skills gap in the energy sector
Lithium-ion batteries power electric vehicles and billions of portable electronics. Storage performance is consistently going up while costs are falling. Batteries are crucial to feasibly integrating microgrids powered by solar and wind to the traditional grid.
Solar and wind aren’t predictable generators and can’t be relied on to supply power that matches demand.
“All the problems with current renewable energy systems are solved with energy storage solutions,” said Rubaid Khan, Faculty Member and Research Coordinator of Mohawk’s Energy Power Innovation Centre. “If there is no immediate demand, energy can be stored and accessed when it is needed.”
Late last year, the world’s biggest battery — built by Tesla — was powered up in South Australia to store wind power. The battery is the size of an American football field and capable of powering 30,000 homes for short periods when the grid is taxed or down. A huge imbalance in supply and demand means the state is plagued by frequent power failures and the highest electricity prices in the world.
“This shows that large-scale renewable energy infrastructure is viable,” said Khan. But much more practical today is microgrid storage.
“So it would not be a one grid-scale battery per city idea but small pockets, in shopping malls or neighbourhoods where solar panels are tied to their own batteries.”
IKEA has announced that all its stores will be net-zero by 2020, powered by solar panels and wind turbines. A neighbourhood of 130 homes in Brooklyn is tied together in an energy production and storage system.
Mohawk is advancing toward a microgrid research and training facility with industry partners that will bring together battery technology with renewable energy production and address a growing skills gap in the sector, says Khan.
RAPID CHANGES IN RENEWABLE ENERGY TECHNOLOGY COULD SOON CHANGE HOW WE POWER OUR WORLD
Mohawk students are working with utility companies and equipment makers to design and build the microgrids of the future
Rapidly evolving technology in renewable energy production — solar, wind, hydro-electric and even ocean waves — hold tremendous promise in addressing fossil fuel depletion and climate change while vastly reducing the cost of production.
Renewable energy is at the point of disruption, says Rubaid Khan, Faculty Member and Research Coordinator of Mohawk’s Energy Power Innovation Centre.
A new model of distributed solar and wind power resources in neighbourhoods, businesses and homes provides very localized energy that is much less prone to disruption from storms or natural disasters, terrorism or cyber-attack than traditional, centralized power generation.
Mohawk students are working with utility companies and equipment vendors to size, design and build microgrids that can be managed through sensors and dashboards in the cloud.
“The technology exists but there is a shortage of skilled workers. We are teaching about solar production, batteries and electronics but the next step is integrating it all together. That is where there is a skills gap.”
The College already has a full-scale, two-storey house inside a lab that functions with smart appliances and smart meters. Students monitor energy use, design solar panel systems and battery storage to support that load, and learn how to integrate the home to the main grid, says Khan.
Mohawk is advancing toward a microgrid research and training facility with its industry partners that will be a realworld development and test environment coupling battery technology with renewable energy production, says Khan.
“The heart of the technology is batteries to store power when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining. We’ve come a long way with solar and wind energy but storage is where the bottleneck is because we can’t control the clouds or the wind.”