Microgrids generate sustainable energy at BCIT

Researchers from BCIT’s Group for Advanced Information Technology (GAIT) are working on a ‘micro’ project that could have major impacts on the way Canadians use power.

The project is Canada’s first Smart Power Microgrid – a network of smart meters, renewable power sources, and monitoring software distributed around BCIT that have transformed the school from an ordinary campus into a model power grid.

Dr. Hassan Farhangi, Director of GAIT, has spearheaded the project since its inception six years ago.

Farhangi said that BCIT’s industrial site-like trades programs, office-like classrooms, and home-like residences provide an opportunity to simulate a real-world urban power grid in which to test new technologies.

“It is a scaled down version of the grid: it has generation capacity, it has load, it has communications systems, it has command and control,” Farhangi told The Link.

The project, still in its first phase, is currently about measuring power use on campus and testing the ‘smart’ communication tools that collect this data, said Farhangi.

Just shy of 10 buildings are wired with smart meters, which relay information on when and how much power is being used to a control center to be analyzed, according to Farhangi.

Electric Vehicle charging stations like this one store power from solar panels, or captured from the grid during off-peak periods.  Photo by Simon Little.

Electric Vehicle charging stations like this one store power from solar panels, or captured from the grid during off-peak periods. Photo by Simon Little.

The more visible side to the Microgrid is BCIT’s power generating capacity.

Green tech is springing up all over the campus, and between solar, steam, natural gas, and wind the school is generating about a half a megawatt of power, explained Farhangi.

“That’s well shy of the six megawatts BCIT consumes,” said Farhangi, “but significant considering the project is all about research and experimentation.”

“They may not generate as much, but they give us the opportunity of getting to know these technologies,” Farhangi explained, “and all of the issues that are there, to integrate these sources of energy into a functioning campus.”

It is here that the Smart Microgrid could have big effects off campus.

Utilities like BC Hydro, Farhangi said, are highly concerned with risk.

By demonstrating how these smart and renewable technologies perform under real world conditions, he explained, the BCIT program brings them one step closer to reality.

Down the road, Farhangi sees the program growing in exciting ways.

“We have defined a road map of technology that needs to be developed over time,” he said.

As researchers develop the ability to measure power usage in real time, Farhangi added, future phases of the smart grid could communicate that information to end users, empowering them to reduce consumption.

That is something second-year student Keat Watson, who lives in residence, said could make a real difference.

“I think that would be very effective – you don’t think of how much you’re using until you see it,” Watson said.

Farhangi also noted that the project has drawn a lot of investment to BCIT, which is beginning to pay dividends for students.

“We are attracting a large amount of private and public funding, not only for our research purposes but for our educational and training purposes as well,” Farhangi explained. “All of these assets are going to be made available to our school and our students.”

In the meantime, students will soon be able to interact with the Smart Microgrid in more tangible ways.

Farhangi invited students with access to electric vehicles to make use of The Energy Oasis, currently under construction in lot 7, free of charge once completed.

“I think it’s awesome,” said Jon Parkin, a first year student who drives a Prius electric car. “I’ll probably charge up every day, take full advantage. Here’s hoping that other places follow in this progressive direction.”

The new charging stations should be ready by next spring or summer, said Farhangi, and will be able to power a car in minutes while offering data to drivers on their cars and batteries’ performance.

Before turning to journalism, Simon dabbled in many things. He earned an honours degree in political science, and still treats elections as if they’re the playoffs. He nearly started a brewery, and remains a committed beer geek with a well-stocked cellar of vintage brews. He was a cycling activist, who co-founded East Van Bike Polo and once pedalled from Amsterdam to Istanbul. He was (okay, still is) a big ol' nerd who loves pulp film and science fiction. Now, he writes about these things and others. And he's committed to bringing you one fine magazine all year long.

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