L-R: USask faculty members Dr. Marie Lovrod, Dr. Xiaodong Liang, Dr. Lee Wilson and Dr. Haizhen Mou will leverage new funding through the Research Junction partnership to address contemporary urban challenges in Saskatoon. (Photos: Submitted)
L-R: USask faculty members Dr. Marie Lovrod, Dr. Xiaodong Liang, Dr. Lee Wilson and Dr. Haizhen Mou will leverage new funding through the Research Junction partnership to address contemporary urban challenges in Saskatoon. (Photos: Submitted)

USask’s Research Junction partnership projects boost for Saskatoon

Four recently completed projects, awarded a total of $99,000 through the Research Junction partnership between the University of Saskatchewan (USask) and the City of Saskatoon in 2020 and 2021, have produced significant results.

Adopting the research findings would add more renewable energy to the city’s power grid, improve the removal of petrochemical contaminants from river water, reduce homelessness among 2SLGBTQ+ youth, and revamp Saskatoon’s business tax incentive policies.  

USask researchers and city hall specialists collaborated on the Research Junction projects, which address contemporary urban challenges for the benefit of Saskatoon residents and provide training for USask students.  

Implementing microgrids for a smart power distribution system

The adoption of renewable energy sources such as rooftop solar panels to power Saskatoon homes and businesses has been growing in tandem with an ever-increasing global appetite for replacing hydrocarbon-generated electricity. 

And utilities such as Saskatoon Light and Power (SL&P) are responding by adopting smart grids that employ digital technology and other advanced automated systems to monitor and ensure a reliable flow of electricity and integrate energy from distributed generation sources, such as solar panels (photovoltaic power) and biomass. 

“Self-sufficient microgrids are the building blocks of smart grids,” said Dr. Xiaodong Liang, associate professor and Canada Research Chair in USask’s College of Engineering, who was awarded $30,000 under the Research Junction grants to develop techniques for planning and implementing microgrids for SL&P’s smart grid initiative. 

“Our research purpose is to use microgrids to promote renewable energy source integration, reduce pollution and produce more green energy,” said Liang. “Another aspect is to improve service restoration capability.” 

Microgrids can improve reliability and resiliency of the distribution system, said Liang, who collaborated with three graduate students as well as Saskatoon’s senior project management engineer, Mehrnoosh Janbakhsh, on the project. 

A microgrid consists of a collection of interconnected loads and distributed energy sources within designated electrical boundaries and acts as a single controllable entity. It can operate at a grid-connected mode and draw power from the grid or operate at an island mode and disconnect from the grid in case of a fault caused by such things as trees contacting lines, lightning strikes, vandalism, and vehicle collisions with poles and support structures. 

By incorporating microgrids into distribution grids, it provides the grid with the ability to self-heal, autonomously restoring service to meet critical load demands when a fault occurs. 

To develop its smart grid, SL&P has installed smart meters at more than 60,000 homes and businesses it serves, along with automated systems to manage and control its distribution network. The strategy is to add more renewable energy to the network, ensuring that SL&P meets 10 per cent of its annual electricity requirements with locally produced green power within a decade. 

SL&P provided Liang’s group with data from one substation in its network to validate the proposed methods of the study. Through this project, the novel method of microgrid planning is proposed, and distributed renewable energy sources are optimally placed and sized in the system. The design also includes placement of switches in the microgrid and incorporates automated technology to provide greater flexibility to control voltage and the flow of electricity where two main power lines connect. 

Liang’s research group also developed a deep reinforcement learning-based service restoration tool by forming dynamic microgrids, which offers much faster restoration compared to existing methods. 

“This is the approach we proposed, and our tests using SL&P’s system model show it works very well,” Liang said. “With more renewable energy sources being integrated, and many back-up generators in the system, these distributed generation units enable microgrids to be formed in distribution networks and will bring significant benefits for future system operation.” 

The other Research Junction-funded projects are:

- Dr. Lee Wilson (PhD), a chemistry professor in USask’s College of Arts and Science, and Sunday Ibok, manager of Saskatoon’s Water Treatment Plan (WTP), were awarded $20,000 for a project to establish and optimize a process that uses ferric sulfate and lime as a mitigation measure to remove hydrocarbon-based contaminants from source water at the WTP. 

Wilson’s group developed, optimized, and validated a methodology, both in the laboratory and South Saskatchewan River water samples, using two models of oils, naphthalene (from petroleum distillation) and p-nitrophenol (used in fungicides and insecticides)—model oils for a spillage event. 

The optimized process improved the removal rate for both contaminants, with the removal efficiency for naphthalene increasing to 90 per cent and 28 per cent for p-nitrophenol from a 2018 study that reported a removal rate of 10-20 per cent. The optimized process will also save the city about $1 million in chemical costs. 

A PhD student, master’s student, and an undergraduate student from USask were trained in this project. 

- Dr. Marie Lovrod (PhD), associate professor in English, and Women’s and Gender Studies in USask’s College of Arts and Science, collaborating with city Senior Planner Michael Kowalchuk, was awarded $23,650 for a project aimed at reducing homelessness among 2SLGBTQ+ youth, who may be forced from their homes when they disclose their gender and/or sexual diversity.

As a result, they may also experience increased challenges such as mental health issues, addictions, suicidal ideation, and health problems rooted in higher rates of survival sex. 

The project evaluated OUTSaskatoon’s Pride Home, a five-bed home for 2SLGBTQ+ youth, ages 16-21. Using a realist evaluation method that examines systems to determine what works for whom, under what circumstances, the goal was to design a housing project blueprint that can be replicated in other community-led initiatives for marginalized youth across Canada. 

A USask master’s student and PhD candidate have contributed to the project, which has also provided evidence of the value of community-led research being gathered through the Social Innovation Lab, led by Dr. Rachel Loewen Walker (PhD). The blueprint, which is being developed as both a printed manual and an online tool, for optimal impact and accessibility, will soon be available at: https://law.usask.ca/socialinnovationlab/. 

- Dr. Haizhen Mou (PhD), professor at the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at USask, was awarded $15,400 for a collaborative project with Mike Jordan, city director of public policy and government relations, to review Saskatoon’s business tax incentives designed to encourage investments.

Researchers compared property tax policies that apply to business investments in Saskatoon, Regina, Calgary, Edmonton, and Winnipeg, and found that Saskatoon has the lowest rate. Saskatoon is alone in providing a tax abatement for eligible firms, making its non-residential property tax policies the most competitive among the five cities. 

They interviewed seven stakeholders to gauge the perceived effectiveness of the tax policies, and most respondents considered tax abatements to be more of a bonus than an incentive. However, all respondents said a lower property tax rate enhances Saskatoon’s investment competitiveness compared to its four competitors. 

The project concluded that Saskatoon should examine the efficacy of its tax abatement program and target it to only some industries. 

Two graduate students participated in this project. 


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