The future of Ryerson’s CUE

Ryerson’s electrical engineering students are out to show just how powerful their field can be.

The Centre for Urban Energy is developing a homegrown battery system. Tested for Toronto Hydro, the project is being spearheaded by Bhanu Opathella, a postdoctoral research fellow.

The battery, which is located at Church and Dundas streets, stores energy during off-peak hours and taps into it when there is a demand.  It can power 150 houses for four hours.

During the winter season, which starts Nov. 1, Toronto Hydro’s peak hours are from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., and then again from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. However, the generators, which are located outside the city, are not on the same peak. So, as Opathella explained, there’s a discrepancy between output and demand.

“We have power when we don’t want it, and when we want it, we don’t have the peak,” he said.

According to the Toronto Hydro website, customers are charged 17.5 cents per kilowatt per hour during a peak.

When we pay for power, we are not just paying the generation costs, Opathella said. We also pay the price of delivery. The CUE’s battery will reduce these costs by making it easier to deliver electricity to the doors of residents.

“It’s like when you buy something online,” Opathella said. “You pay the flat rate, but you also end up paying for postage.”

Omar Said, a first-year electrical engineering student, thinks the battery system will open doors for Ryerson students who are interested in the power sector.

“It definitely is a good idea, because it gives an opportunity for students to learn about the field,” said Said. “It’ll also put Ryerson on the map.”

The 18-year-old was drawn to electrical engineering because so many people rely on electricity to get them through their day. He said the project was interesting as it shows how versatile electrical engineering can be. “This field can go from something as small as a microchip to something as big as a satellite.”

Said said that the design could be improved to make the battery smaller and less “awkward” looking. He also said he thinks it should supply energy to more homes.

“If you think about it, 150 houses for four hours isn’t that much,” he said. “But overall, the project is a good idea. Even if you’re not in electrical engineering, you’ll still be able to find it beneficial for everyone.”

For Affan Hassan, a second-year electrical engineering student, the battery is an opportunity for young aspiring engineers to study the needs of a population in an urban setting.

The system also encourages students to learn more about energy management. Before reading about it, Hassan said, he was not aware of the costs of energy transmission. “It definitely solves a lot of the problems that need to be solved.”

Hassan studied electromechanical engineering at Humber College, before transferring to Ryerson. He said he agrees that the battery is too big, and suggests that it should be placed on top of buildings to save space. Covering it with solar panels would also increase its efficiency.

“I would love to get involved in something like this. I’ve been in programming and robotics, but electrical engineering is one of the areas where I feel that I can really help people,” he said. “Energy is something that everyone needs.”

The project was started in 2010, but was delayed. It will undergo a year’s worth of testing to determine whether or not it works in grid applications. It has yet to be connected to the Toronto Hydro grid.

The system was proposed by Electrovaya, a Mississauga-based company. They needed to test it with another party, which is where Ryerson got involved.

Opathella said the battery employs lithium ion technology and is unique because it’s located in a highly urban environment. While he and his team have finished “almost all the challenges,” he said it’s been difficult trying to connect the new technology to the grid’s existing codes.

“It’s like driving a new type of car. There are no rules for this thing, and because of that, we had to comply with existing rules.”

The battery is a one-year pilot project, and testing began this month.

Featured image by André Varty