Smart Grid Technology

The main challenges facing utilities today include aging infrastructure and equipment, continuing increases in renewable energy generation and coordination of this “distributed” form of power generation. The adoption of plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles and increased use of modern electronic devices are also expected to increase demand and degrade power quality in local distribution systems.

Mohawk College’s Industrial Research Chair in smart grid technologies, Dr. Nafia Al-Mutawaly, is investigating the impacts of harmonics (distortions of current or voltage in power distribution systems) generated by electric vehicles and residential loads. Harmonics can create unwanted heat and inefficiencies in power supply. Data collected through the research project will be used to develop adaptive harmonic filters to improve distribution system reliability.

Under Dr. Al-Mutawaly’s guidance, Mohawk and three other colleges (Algonquin, Georgian and Northern) have teamed up with Hydro One to create the Hydro One Applied Research Consortium (HARC). One of the main centres of its applied research is the Advanced Power Quality Lab (APQL) at Mohawk College, which is being used to assess impacts of electric vehicles and distributed generation from small renewable energy suppliers on power systems.

The APQL provides a state-of-the art replica of a real-world distribution system, including transformers of various sizes, electric vehicles, various types of home appliances and a complete suite of instrumentation. Various test beds are being constructed for research purposes using equipment from major vendors, including Siemens, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories and GE, to assess harmonic profiles and their combined effects on transformers, meters, power protection systems and power flow patterns within a distribution grid. Local utilities have expressed interest in evaluating the impact of multiple electric vehicles on a distribution system when fed from the same transformer during peak hours. The APQL will evaluate these interactions, allowing researchers to produce a computer model based on the results. Utilities will then be able to use the computer model to determine the maximum number of electric vehicles which can be accommodated at any one time on their distribution system, and use that data to accurately forecast infrastructure needs in the years to come.

The data collected by testing various load combinations will be used to create a comprehensive database of harmonic profiles which can then be replicated on demand. Researchers will use this information to assist local utilities in evaluating the reliability and accuracy of power grid instrumentation.

“The knowledge gained through Dr. AlMutawaly’s research will directly benefit utilities, such as Horizon Utilities, through an increased understanding of the dynamics from these evolving stochastic energy sources and loads on the power grid,” says Max Cananzi, President and CEO of Horizon Utilities Corporation.

Working closely with project partners is also allowing Dr. Al-Mutawaly to provide hands-on education that offers students the chance to help solve real-world problems and address challenges and opportunities presented by industry.

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