Western, London Hydro team up on Watts Lab

Harnessing solar power from the moon sounds like, well, an over-the-moon sort of likelihood. But for Rajiv Varma, work begins when the sun sets.

“Solar systems are dead in the night; they only produce power for a short period of time,” said the Electrical and Computer Engineering professor. “There is so much capacity unused in the night, early morning and late afternoon. This technology will allow all that capacity to be used for multiple purposes.”

And that’s just one of the ideas Varma, Western’s Hydro One Chair in Power Systems Engineering, looks forward to exploring in the $1 million state-of-the-art Watts Lab for Smart Grid and Innovative DG Control Studies, located at London Hydro’s Horton Street headquarters. The facility, which celebrated its opening on Friday, is a partnership between Western and London Hydro.

Many university-industry partnerships see the majority of the research conducted on the university’s campus. However, this off-campus facility, said Engineering Dean Andy Hrymak, is a wonderful opportunity for Western students, future engineering leaders and university researchers to interact with engineers at London Hydro and the other partner groups in advancing technology.

“Western and London Hydro will offer new sustainable options to residents of London by developing and testing new technologies,” Hrymak said. “We hope this to be an example for other parts of the province and Canada and that this new technology will help in connecting more renewable energy sources, such as wind turbines, into Ontario’s power grids, increasing power transmission limits and providing a low-cost way of improving grid voltage and system performance.”

The lab will be used by Varma and will afford Western students the opportunity to gain hands-on training in a real work setting, working with engineers and with real power systems.

“It is absolutely exciting because we can always design technologies and conceive technologies. But to be able to have them in the light of day, we need to connect them to industrial networks,” Varma said. “This lab provides us with this opportunity in helping university-designed technologies get integrated into the real world.”

The lab will also be used for other research such as real-time metering and the adaptive control of residential devices.

Vinay Sharma, London Hydro CEO, said it’s “our responsibility to our community and customers to continually investigate new technology and programs that could provide alternative energy sources and environmental benefits for our current and future generations. The unique opportunity to set up a lab within London Hydro and share expertise and learning experiences with Western, its faculty, postdoctoral fellows and graduate and undergraduate students provides immense opportunities to pool resources and advance the design, development and testing of new technologies.”