UBC launches groundbreaking energy storage project

University partners with Alpha Technologies and Corvus Energy in $5 million distributed-stored-power initiative
UBC assistant professor Martin Ordonez (left) and Alpha Technologies' Victor Goncalves pose in front of a wall of Corvus Energy lithium-ion batteries that are being used in a stored-energy research project at the university

A multimillion-dollar pioneering research project aimed at establishing whether distributed stored energy can be used to reduce peak- hour energy demand has gone live at the University of British Columbia.

The $5 million undertaking is part of UBC's sweeping Living Lab enterprise – an umbrella initiative that promotes collaborative research between the university and public and private partners. The stored-energy project is a joint venture between Alpha Technologies, Corvus Energy, Natural Resources Canada and UBC.

The energy system is made up of three separate backup power supplies that include Alpha power converters and Corvus rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. The power stations are in three buildings: the Fred Kaiser building, the Network Centre of Excellence and the Bioenergy Research and Demonstration Facility.

Each power station is being used to provide building backup power and is being deployed as part of an integrated network controlled through an ethernet cable by a remote centralized management system – something that has not been done before in B.C. The integration means the power stations can communicate with each other and share power when one is running low.

"This has huge research potential," said Martin Ordonez, assistant professor at UBC. "We can get a level of functionality that used to be unthinkable. The integration of these systems hasn't been done before."

In addition to the backup power provided by Corvus' rechargeable batteries, the system can incorporate renewable energy from wind and solar sources into its supply. Because wind and solar power are intermittent, neither is a dependable backup power source. But when integrated into a system with rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, the network's stored energy capacity is increased. That increase in backup power could prove invaluable to energy providers as peak demand times – typically 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.– increase stress on electricity grids. Deploying distributed backup power reduces that stress. It would also reduce the need to constantly expand a grid to meet demand or ask residents and businesses to curb their energy consumption.

In other cases, peak-demand electricity increases energy costs to consumers. In Ontario, for instance, electricity charges during peak times are nearly double what they are during off-peak times (see sidebar). Using stored energy could reduce peak-time costs.

"Power networks are due," said Victor Goncalves, director of research and systems engineering at Alpha Technologies.

"Up until now we've always run power nodes independently. This is a demonstration project, and we need to demonstrate that we can manage distributed power in this way."

Of the $5 million invested in the project, Corvus Energy and Alpha Technologies invested $1 million apiece. Alpha supplied the backup power supplies; Corvus supplied 154 lithium-ion batteries. •

Setting consumption curbs in Quebec


On January 23, 2013, Hydro Quebec announced the province had broken its single-day record for energy consumption: 38,910 megawatts. Previously, the record was 37,717 megawatts, reached on January 24, 2011.

In response, Hydro Quebec asked consumers to curb their peak-hour energy use, as it expected to set another consumption record the next day. The public was asked to restrict energy use between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Time-of-use power prices in Ontario


  • 7 a.m. to 11 a.m.: $0.10.4 per-kilowatt-hour (mid-peak)

  • 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.: $0.12.4 (on-peak)

  • 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.: $0.10.4 (mid-peak)

  • 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.: $0.6.7 (off-peak)

  • Weekends and holidays: $0.6.7 all day (off-peak)

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