Summer 2021 Updates

Hello Everyone!

As summer carries on, we are excited to announce the return of our blog series, as well as provide some updates for the upcoming year! After completing spring hiring, the QGEC executive team has been working hard to brainstorm and plan for this year’s conference taking place on January 22nd & 23rd, 2022.

This year we are motivated to continue discussing the importance of the energy transition, and have expanded our team to include Oil & Gas positions. We are very enthusiastic about the strong, interdisciplinary group of students that are apart of the QGEC Team this year. If you’re interested in reading more about our talented 2021/2022 executive team members, head to the “Our Team” tab for individual bios.

Our blog series will ideally be uploading new content every other month or so, touching on a variety of energy-related subjects. To request particular topics for our executive members to write about or submit an external blog piece of your own, please reach out and keep up to date through our social media pages.

In terms of other future announcements, keep an eye out for the release of this year’s conference theme, as well as fall hiring dates. We will be hiring more executive members and encourage all that are interested to apply to the posted positions. Also taking place in the fall, stay tuned for updates regarding our Taster event, where students can attend and experience a smaller scale QGEC speaker event.

We are still in the early stages of recruiting sponsorship and speakers for our events, and if you are interested in contributing or participating in the conference through these streams, please reach out to our Speakers and Sponsorship teams.

We are thoroughly excited for this upcoming year and all that QGEC has to offer! Wishing you all a safe and enjoyable rest of your summer.

~ The QGEC Team

QGEC 2021

QGEC is very proud to say that our 2021 conference is finished. This was the 6th iteration of QGEC and we had one of our largest turnouts: 100 delegate applications and 70 delegates spanning a number of Canadian universities.

Thanks you very much to our speakers Tom Green, Ron Dizy, Mike Donaldson, Mike Skirzynski, David Short, Andrew Bacchus and Gina Strati for sharing their expertise and taking questions from our delegates.

Thank you to Joe and Josie and the Queen’s Oil and Gas Speaker Series (OGSS) team for putting on an excellent oil & gas panel. Your group was a great addition this year and helped enrich the our conference. Thank you to OGSS panelists Michelle George, Tess O’Hara, Cynthia Hansen, and Simon Paradis.

Thank you to our sponsors: the Dean’s Donation Fund from the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering and Golder Associates. And thank you to our OGSS sponsors: Enbridge, Shell, and Queen’s ChemEng department.

Thank you to our delegates for your smart questions and comments and for spending your Saturday and Sunday with us. Reach out to us if you are interested in getting involved with QGEC or OGSS.

Lastly, thank you to the QGEC executive team (captured in this shot) for working all year to execute this event. We hope to see everyone back in person one day.

District Energy Systems

District energy systems provide an efficient and resilient method to meet society’s growing energy demands through providing a centralized thermal energy source. This uses a network of pipes to provide energy to connected buildings. It increases increase efficiency when compared to the traditional concept of individual buildings having onsite heating and cooling production. The centralized energy source also uses common sources of waste heat to offset the energy load on these systems. 

Current Energy Uses 

A variety of energy sources are critical for powering every aspect of daily life. Just think about the energy requirements of a residential home – components such as heating, cooling, and lighting come to mind immediately, however, energy was also required to build the home, to produce the materials within it, and to process waste produced by the people living in the home, as well as other energy demands.   

Adding to this, an increase in global energy use of nearly 50% is projected to occur by the year 2050 [1]. To meet this growing demand, end-use energy use must become more efficient. Figure 1 demonstrates the disparity between domestic energy sources in Canada and the useful energy which results in end uses. What if these energy losses could be reduced? 

Figure 1: Sankey diagram of domestic energy use in Canada in 2013 [2] 

District Energy 

District energy systems are a potential solution to meeting society’s thermal energy needs more efficiently. Figure 2 demonstrates how district energy shifts away from the traditional method of providing heating and cooling as multiple separate and individual systems. Instead, a centralized plant provides thermal energy to a group of buildings using a closed-loop underground distribution system [3].  

Figure 2: Overview of District Energy systems [4] 

This thermal grid eliminates the need for connected buildings to have their own furnaces, boilers, chillers or air conditioners, because the thermal energy is delivered through the grid for space heating, domestic hot water heating and air conditioning [3]. The main source of thermal energy in district energy systems is combined heat and power plants, which generates electric power in addition to heating and cooling, and can achieve energy efficiencies of over 80% due to the reuse of exhaust and excess heat [5]. 

Finally, district energy systems can capture end use energy losses, often in the form of heat and steam, from industrial processes to provide thermal energy. In addition, waste heat from renewable sources such as sewage and wastewater, geothermal, hydrothermal, and others, can contribute to meeting the energy demand of the thermal grid. Not only does this help to address our increasing demand for energy, it also lowers greenhouse gas emissions associated with thermal energy, and increases resiliency towards fluctuating fuel and energy costs, including electricity and natural gas. 


[1] “EIA projects nearly 50% increase in world energy usage by 2050, led by growth in Asia – Today in Energy – U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).” (accessed Jan. 06, 2021). 

[2] “Sankey diagrams associated with fuel and electricity production and use in Canada,” CESAR, Jun. 26, 2017. (accessed Jan. 06, 2021). 

[3] “District Energy: The Basics | Markham District Energy Inc.” (accessed Jan. 9, 2021). 

[4] “What is District Energy? | DISTRICT ENERGY INITIATIVE.” (accessed Jan. 04, 2021). 

[5] “Fact Sheet – What is District Energy? | White Papers | EESI.” (accessed Jan. 9, 2021). 

The Role of Graphene in Future Energy Storage Methods


Batteries are the bedrock of energy storage. They enable us to use wireless technology, which contributed to the widespread use of electronic devices in the 21st century. Battery technology reached a key milestone in 1985 when the first commercially-viable, lithium-ion battery was produced, setting the foundation for the next 30 years of personal electronics.  

However, lithium-ion batteries do have a downside. Obtaining the materials to build lithium-ion batteries is energy intensive, and the extraction process has environmental consequences. Furthermore, batteries have a finite lifespan which means they must be eventually disposed of, a process that requires infrastructure and energy if it is to be done correctly[1]. 

The Graphene Battery Breakthrough

Presently, we have arrived at a crossroads where there are numerous new battery options that are replacing a market previously dominated by lithium-ion and alkaline batteries. Specifically, graphene could upset the status quo of how we store energy in personal electronics. It was first isolated and analyzed in 2004 [2].

Graphene is the two-dimensional allotrope of carbon that is structurally bound in a honeycomb lattice, and only one atom in width. It is a nanomaterial with a plethora of attributes that could radically change what is possible with energy storage and transmission in electronics. 

Material graphene is far more sustainable to produce. It is made from pure carbon, and it does not require mining, an intensive refining process, or waste materials to be used in its development. 

Graphene sponge helps lithium sulphur batteries reach new potential

The main difference between graphene batteries and traditional batteries is the composition of one or both electrodes terminals. In lithium-ion or alkaline batteries, the cathode is composed of a single, solid metallic material. This is usually cobalt. Graphene hybrid batteries would be a composite of both graphene and metallic materials.  

Presently, graphene is being integrated into new types of batteries such as lithium-sulphur cells to optimize the battery performance. Due to its high electrical and thermal conductivity coupled with the fact that it is chemically inert, graphene hybrid batteries charge and discharge faster, are lighter, and have a higher energy density [3]. 

Graphene and Beyond: The Astonishing Properties and Promise of 2D ...

A persistent and critical issue in battery technology has been how to better utilize metal oxides. They typically have low conductivity. Graphene offers a medium by which ions from metal oxides can be evenly distributed on through a process called induced bonding. This allows for the surface area to be maximized, increasing the performance of the cell[4]. 

In addition to the improvements that graphene offers, its utility applies to other aspects of energy storage and transmission such as supercapacitors. While graphene has not yet reached widespread use due to difficulties with mass production, breakthroughs are being reported around the world as scientists work to unlock the potential of this material. 

Canadian and Global Graphene Usage

The graphene market is currently approximated to be worth 80 million USD globally and expected to increase by 38.7% from 2020 to 2027[5]. As methods to mass produce graphene increase, so will its application. The automotive industry in particular is expected to be a major investor in the integration of graphene into electric vehicles. Of the top ten public companies leading graphene production and R&D, 3 are Canadian based[6].  

As the demand for energy storage increases with the growth of user electronics, we should not lose sight of our responsibility to the environment. Graphene will not be the key to solving all our energy storage problems, but it may be the first step to better energy storage in the future. 


[1]“This is where your smartphone battery begins,” Washington Post. (accessed Aug. 18, 2020). 

[2]“The history of graphene | Graphene Flagship.” (accessed Aug. 18, 2020). 

[3]“Graphene batteries: Introduction and Market News | Graphene-Info.” (accessed Aug. 18, 2020). 

[4]“How to make Graphene Batteries,” Cheap Tubes, Nov. 20, 2016. (accessed Aug. 18, 2020). 

[5]“Graphene Market Size, Share | Global Industry Report, 2027.” (accessed Aug. 18, 2020). 

[6]“Top Graphene Companies and Manufacturers in the USA and Globally.” (accessed Aug. 18, 2020). 

Barriers to Renewable Energy Becoming the Primary Energy Source in Canada

The energy market is evolving. It is evident that Canada and other markets are moving towards more renewable forms of energy. Some wonder why the transition does not occur faster. One common opinion is that oil and gas is too profitable and is suppressing the ability for renewables to advance. While this is true, there are other reasons renewables are slow to dominate energy generation in Canada.  

The Current Energy Situation in Ontario 

Early solar programs created by the Ontario government set solar power payback very high, but as the cost of solar has reduced it becomes increasingly financially viable. The original programs in 2006 and 2009 had a solar energy buy price of 40 to 80 cents per KWh (Kilowatt Hour), which created a public image of solar power as high cost energy, which helped delay the wave of solar energy that was coming because of falling prices [1]. Later, most solar projects were much more reasonable, such as 2016, where the price per KWh was 15.67 cents [1]. Currently, the majority of Ontario’s energy comes from nuclear plants. With the Pickering Nuclear Generating Plant shutting down in 2024 there will be room for new energy projects, but it is unclear whether it will be a renewable source[2]. Currently the Pickering plant produces about 15% of Ontario’s energy. 

Other provinces are working to clean up their energy production by replacing coal plants by natural gas, which has low carbon emissions for a hydrocarbon source, but is still a major carbon producer compared to renewables, or the nuclear energy it would replace in Pickering. Solar irradiance, which is essentially the power of the sun, is very low in most parts of Canada compared to the majority of the world. The low solar irradiance, visible in the image below, does not allow Canada to efficiently use out of solar power no matter how economical it becomes.


Energy in the Prairies

Alberta and Saskatchewan are steadfast in their production of oil, and recently, natural gas fracking as well. Both provinces are in the process of switching from coal plants to natural gas production and are looking for other sources to eliminate coal. Canada as a whole, but particularly the west, are economically based around oil sands and other industries that support oil [5]. Most of the apprehension to making switch to exclusive renewables comes from the west, because of their extensive economic dependency on oil production. Subsequently, political and environmental topics are divided greatly between the east and west of Canada. Despite the keystone oil sector, Alberta is considering nuclear to be their primary green energy. With the development of small modular nuclear reactors that can be less than the size of a shipping container, the Alberta Government is hoping for dispersed nuclear reactors to be a way to reduce carbon emissions.    


The photo above provides a breakdown of where Canada’s oil and gas jobs are. The opposition to renewable energy stems from Alberta because it means debilitating the current industry that employs over three hundred thousand people in the province. 

Instability of Power 

Wind, solar, and tidal power are primary sources of renewable power in Canada. The power generated from these sources is variable. Solar Power is becoming increasingly cheaper per kilo-watt hour (KWh) and is a reasonable source of renewable energy for Canada. Canada is trying to move its energy sector towards the target Canada set out for 2030 to reduce emission by 30%  in the Paris Agreement. (The Paris Agreement is a signed document by 175 to reduce greenhouse emissions and create a better future for the planet) [8].

Despite its merits, solar power efficiency greatly varies based on the time of day, time of year and the weather conditions. Solar energy production can be modelled for its expected output. On the graph below, the solar output is compared to the energy demand. The peak demand happens after the peak of solar energy. This results in a need for another mode of producing energy to meet the demand. 


Wind power is a current source of renewable energy in Canada as well. Unlike solar energy, the peak energy production hours typically overlap with peak demand. Canada has the necessary amount of land to use for wind farms. However, wind is just as unpredictable as sun, and relying on wind for a substantial portion of the provincial load could lead to energy shortages. Occasionally, large windstorms cause the turbines to produce too much power, resulting in an overloaded grid. The grid then needs to be shut down until the storm is over [8]. 

Investment Issues 

Renewable prices per KWh are comparable to those of oil and gas. However, the cost of producing renewables is declining leaving them with more potential to be lucrative. The issues with renewable sources is the cost being almost all upfront capital cost, in the purchase and installation, that a company has to put out. In oil and gas, much of the cost occurs during the operation and maintenance of the plants. 

Consider constructing a solar farm with millions in investment dollars. The electricity will be sold to the provincial utility distributor for 20 cents per KWh over the next 20 years. The overall profit of 2 cents per KWh. 

3 years later, the price drop in solar materials has allowed another company to create a project in which the electricity is sold for 18 cents per KW.  Now they are making a 5-cent profit. They also likely did not need as much upfront investment money. Constant refining of renewable energy sources makes investors more likely to wait for a more profitable opportunity. [6]

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The graph above shows how Canada’s energy consumption is expected to grow relatively slowly. Until old power plants begin shutting down, such as the Pickering Nuclear Plant in Ontario, large scale renewables will not begin to replace oil and gas. 

How Future Technologies could bring an even greater rise to renewables 

Some current issues with renewable energy can be improved with future technologies. The issue of power stability and the inability to control renewable energy production can be solved with a better energy storage ability. Currently battery storage is used during peak times for large energy consumers to reduce the demand. This makes it easier for the grid production to avoid needing high energy production for short amounts of time, or the possible result of a brownout [8]. A brownout is where there is more energy being consumed by the grid than is being produced, causing the energy utilities to do temporary shutdowns in rotating areas, which costs businesses millions of dollars each year just for losing power for a short amount of time [9]. 

For renewables to be a main source of power there will need to be large energy storage to account for the peak times of day to help stabilize daytime energy consumption. There are many technological advancements now in areas such as chemical storage, hydro storage, and compressed air storage. Once the technology is efficient enough to make renewables more viable then with the decreasing prices it will become a simple choice to change fossil fuel sources into renewables. 


[1]“An Ontario solar energy perspective,” Life by Numbers. [Online] Available: 

[2]“Ontario government supports OPG proposal to operate Pickering nuclear station past planned 2024 closing.”[Online]. Available:

[3]“Future of Pickering nuclear plant a hot topic in Durham Region | Toronto Sun.”[Online]. Available: 

[4]“Frequently Asked Questions about Solar Energy,”[Online]. Available:

[5]J. P. T. · C. N. · P “Trudeau extends olive branch to Western Canada, vows to build Trans Mountain despite opposition | CBC News,” CBC, Oct. 23, 2019. [Online]. Available: 

[6]“Canada’s Economic Contribution | Canada Natural Resources & GDP,” CAPP. [Online]. Available: 

[7]“Figure (1): Wind power and solar energy generation curves compared with…,” ResearchGate. [Online]. Available: 

[8]G. Bakke, The Grid: The Fraying Wires Between Americans and Our Energy Future. Bloomsbury USA, 2016.[Text] 

[9]“What’s the Difference Between a Blackout and a Brownout?” [Online]. Available: 

Summer Updates

Hi all.

We hope that everyone is staying safe, healthy, and making the most of their unusual summer. We just wanted to provide a few updates regarding QGEC and what to expect from our group as the academic year approaches.

QGEC has completed spring hiring. You can check out our new team under the “Our Team” tab. This group will be working throughout the rest of this year to produce content, organize virtual events, and ensure QGEC runs smoothly in 2021. 

Keep an eye out on our social media if you are interested in joining our team, we will be hiring more members in September. 

We are excited to showcase our Blog Series, which commenced a few weeks ago. We are aiming to get content produced once every three weeks. We will be covering anything in canadian and global energy, so please reach out if there are any particular topics you would like to read about, or something that you think is missing from mainstream journalism and media outlets.

 Each executive will be choosing their own topic, so it will be something they are very passionate about. We also may have a call for external submissions as well, if you are interested in having something published under QGECMedia, keep checking in on our social media. 

We are actively recruiting speakers and sponsorship for our events, if you are interested in speaking or sponsoring QGEC, please reach out to our Speakers and Sponsorship teams. This is an amazing opportunity for students and companies to be able to connect and foster conversation on the energy industry and the challenges that it faces as well as the opportunities that await. Stay tuned for updates leading up to the conference on speakers that will be attending the conference in January as well as our Taster event in the fall. 

We are all looking forward to an exciting year of events, culminating with QGEC 2021 on January 20 and 21! 

~ The QGEC Team

Solar Energy is on the Rise

Solar energy is a source of clean, inexpensive, and sustainable energy, yet there is not widespread use. Each photon of sunlight that the Sun discharges can be captured and converted to useful energy. Solar energy is the most abundant energy resource on Earth. Precisely, the Sun provides 10,000 times more ceaseless energy then the total world’s energy consumption, at a rate of 173,000 terawatts continually [1].

The Basics

How are we able to take ‘sun’ and turn it into usable energy? There are multiple mechanisms. The most common way that solar energy is harvested is by using solar photovoltaic (PV) cells, or solar PV panels. Solar PV panels are multiple solar PV cells connected in parallel circuits [2]. 

The term “solar photovoltaic” means converting radiation from the sun into DC electricity with the use of semiconductors (a material like silicon) [3]. When photons in the sun’s rays contact the solar PV panels, electrons are freed from the semiconductor, creating an electric current. Since most appliances take AC current rather than DC current, the DC electricity from a solar PV panel is converted to AC with an inverter [4].


Recent Developments

Energy efficiency is the ratio of how much energy is used to do useful work versus how much is lost or wasted to the environment [5]. When solar cells were first invented in the 1800s, they were less than 1% efficient [6]. In 1992, the most efficient PV cell could reach a maximum of only 15.89% efficiency. Now, commercially available PV cells are over 20% efficient [7], however, in 2017 a group of American scientists  created a prototype for a 44.5% efficient solar cell in 2017. 

Improvements in efficiency resulted in the price of solar energy rapidly declining.  

Over the past 40 years alone, refining solar technology has produced a 99% decline in the cost of solar energy (particularly solar PV modules) [8].  

Solar in the U.S. cost about $76 per watt in 1977, and decreased to about $0.25 per watt in 2017 [9]. 


Canadian Usage

Canadian usage does not reflect the environmental merits and cost of solar energy. 

Demand for solar energy is still new, primarily because of the relatively acute environmental movement. In addition, national grid infrastructure for distributing energy across the country is massive, and upgrading them to better accommodate for solar energy is expensive and slow [11]. This creates latency between demand and use.

Despite the improved efficiency of solar energy, a solar energy station’s capacity is still much less than other forms of non-renewable energy. For example, the efficiency of a coal power station ranges from 70-80% capacity. This makes solar energy in comparison economically less attractive [11]. 

Lastly, intermittent daytime sunlights equals intermittant power. Solar energy is storable, but costly [11]. This makes solar energy better as an  additional energy supply to the grid, but not as the main supply to the grid due to its intermittency. 

However, as the declining cost of solar (and other renewables) creates a focus on improving energy storage technologies to make it cheaper [12],  the intermittent nature of solar power will be better managed. 

Solar energy use is modestly increasing in Canada

Despite the current barriers that prevent solar from providing more of the world’s energy supply, the use of solar is on an upward trend. 

Over the past 10 years, solar electricity has grown about 50% globally [13]. This makes solar energy the fastest growing electricity source in the world [14].

In Canada, we have invested $4.4 billion in developing solar energy technology and increasing its capacity on the grid between 2014 to 2018  [15].  

Consider Ontario, where there has been an increase in solar electricity production from virtually zero to almost 2 GW in 10 years. There is evidence that solar energy is growing quickly in local and global markets[13]. 

With environmental motivation and overall cost reduction, the future of solar power is a bright one. 


[1], “Top 6 Things You Didn’t Know About Solar Energy,” Department of Energy, 2016 6 June. [Online]. Available:,the%20world’s%20total%20energy%20use.

[2] NW Wind & Solar, “How do solar systems produce energy?,” NW Wind & Solar, 2015. [Online]. Available:,to%20your%20home%20or%20business.)..

[3] A. Lehner, “Solar PV,” Student Energy, [Online]. Available:

[4] S. Hymel, “Alternating Current (AC) vs. Direct Current (DC),” SparkFun Electronics, [Online]. Available:

[5] A. Dusto, “Efficiency (Physics): Definition, Formula & Examples,” Sciencing , 5 December 2019. [Online]. Available:

[6] S. Matasci, “How solar panel cost and efficiency have changed over time,” energysage, 4 July 2019. [Online]. Available:

[7] V. Aggarwal, “What are the most efficient solar panels on the market? Solar panel cell efficiency explained,” energysage, 22 January 2020. [Online]. Available:

[8] R. Allessandra, “The Falling Cost of Solar Energy: Reasons and Implications,” Solar Feeds, 21 August 2019. [Online]. Available:

[9] B. Nussey, “Why does the cost of renewable energy continue to get cheaper?,” Freeing Energy, 10 March 2019. [Online]. Available:

[10] National Energy Board of Canada, “CANADA’S RENEWABLE POWER LANDSCAPE: Energy Market Analysis 2017,” 2017. [Online]. Available:

[11] K. Mathiesen, “What is holding back the growth of solar power?,” The Guardian, 31 January 2016. [Online]. Available:

[12] W. Hicks, “Declining Renewable Costs Drive Focus on Energy Storage,” The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2 January 2020. [Online]. Available:

[13] Canadian Solar Industries Association, “Roadmap 2020: Powering Canada’s Future With Solar Energy,” [Online]. Available:

[14] Center For Climate And Energy Solutions, “Renewable Energy,” Center For Climate And Energy Solutions, [Online]. Available:,percent%20of%20the%20world’s%20electricity.

[15] Natural Resources Canada, “Energy and the economy,” Natural Resources Canada, 26 May 2020. [Online]. Available:

4 Energy & Environment Reading Essentials

It is the summer of 2020, and the dominant political, economic, and societal dialogue is hijacked by COVID-19. Human lives have been changed, largely for the worse, but I find myself seeking the silver linings. With summer finally around the corner and ample free time available to many, I see an opportunity to use this time to learn something new or to try something different. I am an avid reader, mainly of non-fiction, and I am finding that expanding my reading list to be an adequate way to unwind. Energy and the environment are timely topics and are still the backbone of daily life, despite the pandemic. In light of some of the ongoing conversation and uncertainty around the energy sector, I have created an energy-and-environmental-themed reading list. I aimed to fill it with work that covers relevant and critical topics in energy and the environment. Some I have even read multiple times. Each one of them refined the way I consider energy and environmental topics. They also have influenced my work in school and how I will navigate the rest of my engineering career. 

Here are my 4 essential books for this summer:

#1: Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats by Gwynne Dyer 

Climate Wars is my favourite on this list. It is the book that got me into the energy and environment genre. It acts as a road map for the climate crisis, and despite being written in 2008, so much of it rings true to today’s circumstances. While many climate books discuss polar bears and coral reefs, Climate Wars makes predictions about population shifts, swings of power and the future of humanity. Through an exciting series of interviews with military and political experts, the book explores various scenarios ranging from the Canadian Arctic in 2019 to India in 2045. These scenarios  give context to the climate disaster by taking real places and showing exactly how they could change, politically, economically and geographically.  I think that this book is the most important to consider on this list.  It is not only incredibly insightful regarding the urgency of climate change, but is a page turner, which I find rare in my experience with non-fiction. I think this should be a mandatory read for leaders and stakeholders, so they consider the impact their decisions carry. At the very least, Climate Wars should be a mandatory read in your book queue. 

#2: Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by Micheal Braungart & William McDonough 

I think this is the most unique on my list. The book itself is an example of exactly what Braungart and McDonough’s thesis is. The first chapter, “This Book is Not a Tree” (the book is made from fully reclaimable plastic and ink), delves right into what the authors envision is the future of producing goods. Providing the idea that “reduce, reuse, recycle” is not an adequate response and has as much potential to damage as doing nothing does. Braungart and McDonough attempts to flip the traditional cradle-to-grave manufacturing model on its head by providing, hence the title, an alternative method dubbed cradle-to-cradle. It considers the production of goods and the places of potential environmental destruction. Rather than pointing out the flaws exclusively, Cradle to Cradle provides solutions. Many of the solutions are not theoretical, but have been applied on a large scale for real clients. Likewise with Climate Wars, the book is as relevant now as it was when it was published in 2008. Cradle to Cradle envisions a cleaner earth, and proposes how to achieve this as well.

#3: Power Density: A Key to Understanding Energy Sources and Uses by Vaclav Smil

Power Density uses more technical language than my other choices. However, it is not boring. Written by Vaclav Smil, a member of the 100 Global Thinkers List, Power Density is a key step to understanding why we get our energy from the sources we do. Although simply defined as the rate of energy flux per unit of area, the concept of “power density” carries a lot of impact, and Smil’s work unpacks this. Traditionally, “power density” is overlooked in energy decision making processes, but he argues that it is one of the most important concepts in energy. Looking at all sources of energy, Smil provides insight on why certain countries or regions use the type of energy that they do. Using the “power density” as the basis, Smil explains how modern energy use has evolved using high energy dense fossil fuels and will need to evolve again to low energy dense renewable sources. Overall, Smil paints an interesting picture of the future of energy focusing on one concept.

#4: The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power by Daniel Yergin

The Prize is an essential book for understanding the deep and rich history of the most impactful resource in the history of humankind. The Prize has been deemed the “best history of oil ever written” by Bloomberg’s Businessweek. It looks at the roots of the industry, the background behind the largest monopolies in history and the importance of oil behind many major historical events. Oil has its hand in some of the most notable events in history and The Prize explores them all. The most interesting points made are those that connect oil with conflict and power. It is this connection, Yergin proposes, that has led to formation of a “Global World Order” and an unequal distribution of wealth. He makes a point to say that the main reason World War II was rooted in contention over oil. Today, oil is still one of the most important resources that drives society, and The Prize is a must read for understanding how it became so fundamental. At roughly 97,103,871 barrels of oil a day, the sector is not going away. Understanding some of the tribulations in the history of oil use is a way of better grasping the potential for change.

Thank you for giving this blog post a read and hope that you have enjoyed. If you have found any of the books intriguing, I hope you give them a shot. I hope everyone is staying safe and that you enjoy the rest of the summer.

Smart Grids

What is a Smart Grid?

A Smart Grid is a just a name for an electrical grid which utilizes several different technologies that allow the grid to operate more dynamically. This means that the grid can detect changes in demand or supply and then quickly respond to ensure that the electrical grid remains stable. Fundamentally, a Smart Grid is an idea for a grid that utilizes new technologies in order to deliver electricity in a cheaper, cleaner and more efficient manner.

One might ask what the difference between the grid we have now and the Smart Grid of the future. It is important to understand how the current electricity system works. Essentially, electricity currently moves in one direction, from the large, central generating plant, through transmission infrastructure and into homes and businesses. In Ontario for example, Ontario Power Generation (OPG) generates about 30% of the electricity in Ontario from their nuclear plants [1], which then flows through transmission lines owned and operated mostly by Hydro One. These lines lead to thousands of substations around Ontario which are operated by local utility companies, who are the entities that residents pay their utility bills.

Figure 1: Old grid

In the future, the electricity grid will be much more complex in order to facilitate a cleaner, more interactive and economically efficient way to buy and sell electricity. One may be able to sell power from solar panels on their roof directly to their neighbour via a smartphone app or store excess electricity in a battery, effectively making people ‘prosumers’ – consumers and producers. Businesses will be able to generate electricity for their own needs or sell of excess.  This breaks the one-way movement of electricity which is how our current system works. Electricity will now be consumed and produced in a distributed manner. Information is now generated anywhere by any physical system, available in real time and can be sent wirelessly to where it is needed. Renewable energy will be ubiquitous in the energy supply forcing the grid to respond to changes in supply and demand. Smart Grids introduce the ability to do grid-wide monitoring in real-time so that operators and dynamically shift supply and demand to accommodate more renewables. A Smart Grid will be able have make these and many more ideas become reality, which many would have thought would not be possible before.

It will push the electricity sector forward on a progressive vision for the future of energy and society.

Figure 2: The new ‘smart’ grid [2]

The Smart Grid outlined above relies on a large number of technologies, both software and hardware. These technologies exist to maintain and manage what is becoming a more complex electricity grid. Internally, Smart Grids may use a lot of digital technologies like machine learning to optimize demand and supply. Blockchain could implement a secure electronic payment system for peer-to-peer payment. Physical technologies like wireless communications and smart meters will allow for more efficient monitoring of the grid. All of these technologies will come together to make a smarter grid.

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Figure 3: Old grid vs. a new ‘smart’ grid

Why do we need a Smart Grid?

Before I go into more detail about the details of Smart Grids, I think it is important to mention the motivation for the development of this technology. Smart Grids are often cited as a way to develop a grid with renewable energy and hence fight climate change but there are other benefits which include dealing with cyber security threats and grid reliability and resilience (i.e. reduced brownouts and blackouts).

Climate Change

Due to rising CO2 emissions causing global temperatures to rise, the world must make a transition away from fossil fuels. Renewable energy sources like wind and solar must be a part of the solution, however, these sources are intermittent and thus cause issues around grid stability and electricity availability. These challenges can be solved from the supply side of the electricity grid by using energy storage solutions such as lithium-ion batteries, fly wheels and compressed air (just to name a few). However, solutions to these challenges also come from having a more flexible demand side of the electricity grid. I will give two examples to illustrate this.

First, imagine when there is excessive electricity from some renewable source such as wind or solar. Instead of just storing the energy in batteries, one could have buildings turn on their heating or cooling systems to prepare for later use or have water heaters run to store hot water for use at a later time. Now, imagine there is not enough wind or solar production at a given moment in the day, rather only discharging batteries or turning on natural gas peaker plants, we could have electric vehicles which can discharge the electricity which is stored in their batteries to help meet demand.

Now for this flexible demand side to exist, there must smart systems in place that can facilitate the communication with the energy infrastructure at the scale needed to implement what I described above. All of the appliances and devices must be connected to the Internet and have the integration to do what I described. The grid must also have the proper software systems to provide communication between these devices and the grid. Putting these together and we have the essence of what Smart Grid technology is and the functionality that it can provide. It will facilitate the connectivity to give renewable energy the flexibility that is needed to get to high percentage of renewable penetration into the electricity grid.


In a hypothetical future conflict, nations will likely not begin the fighting with armed conflict, but rather attacks on key physical and cyber infrastructure, with the largest and possibly the most damaging target being the electricity grid [3] [4]. Non-state actors like terrorists can also target the electricity grid. The electricity grid is physical made up of a lot of physical systems, but most are connected in some way to a computer network via electronics used to control specific. This type of integration of industrial processes with computer networks will only increase in the future [5]. All of this call for investment in the upgrading of the grid to become more secure and able to take on these types of attacks.

Resilience, Reliability and Consumer Experience

The home is a good example of where connection between the electricity grid and where consumers actually use their energy. Intelligent software will allow you to see exactly what appliances are taking power and allow you to better use energy. Batteries and solar panels in the home will be able to intelligently charge and discharge, saving the customer money. Now that all parts of the grid will have sensors and operators will have data on the state of the grid, maintenance crews can be more efficiently dispatched. With a Smart Grid, damage to infrastructure can be fixed by a ‘self-healing’ grid which will automatically reroute power to where it is needed [6].This will increase the resilience and reliability of the grid.

There are many companies working on Smart Grid technologies. One really cool company based close to many here at Queen’s is the Toronto based Opus One Technologies [7]. They offer what they call is GridOS, which is their software that makes intelligent decisions based on the grid and its needs. Check them out if you found this post interesting!


[1]      “Powering Ontario > Our generation | OPG.” [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 06-Nov-2019].

[2]      “Smart Grid – CLP.” [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 06-Nov-2019].

[3]      “Crash Override Malware Took Down Ukraine’s Power Grid Last December | WIRED.” [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 06-Nov-2019].

[4]      “How Power Grid Hacks Work, and When You Should Panic | WIRED.” [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 06-Nov-2019].

[5]      “Everything you need to know about IIoT | GE Digital.” [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 06-Nov-2019].

[6]      “‘Self-healing’ grids and the future of electrical power.” [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 06-Nov-2019].

[7]      “Home Page – Opus One Solutions.” [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 06-Nov-2019].

Blockchains and the Energy Sector

What is Blockchain Technology?

Blockchains allow digital information to be distributed but not copied. A blockchain is a series of timestamped records of data. The blockchain structure is formed by multiple blocks, with each block containing a group of encoded “transactions” (individual operations). Cryptographic hash functions are used to securely connect each block to the previous block in the chain. Blockchains have no centralized control, as the transactions are recorded across many computers.

The basic ideas behind blockchain technology began to emerge in the 1990s when the practice of time-stamping digital documents to make them difficult to tamper with was first introduced. The system continued to be developed by various computer scientists, but was not widely used until the launch of Bitcoin in 2009.

Benefits of Blockchain Technology

One of the main benefits of blockchain technology is the security of the data. The structure of the block chain contributes to the security of the system. There is no “centralized authority” or control in a blockchain, and the information is not stored in one specific location. All information that is held in a blockchain exists as a shared database. The data is hosted on many millions of computers at the same time. Having no centralized data means that there is no specific target for hackers, contributing to the high security level of data in the block chain. Cryptography is used in all the links in the blockchain.

Another benefit of the technology is that the system is very transparent. The data stored in a blockchain is accessible to anyone and is very public. As a result, it is very difficult to have false or faked records. Once a piece of information enters the blockchain, it cannot be tampered with, and the path that information takes through the chain can be tracked.

Another benefit of blockchain technology is that it eliminates the need for middle parties during transactions and exchanges. For example, when sending money using blockchain, the only two parties involved are the sender and the receiver. Usually, in the act of making a purchase, there is a middle party involved, who processes the transaction, and takes a cut of the profits. Blockchain technology eliminates the need for this middle party, which saves the sender and receiver money.  

Blockchain and the Energy Sector

The decentralized nature, security, and transparency of blockchain technology make it potentially very useful to all types of companies within the energy sector. Particularly when it comes to buying and selling, blockchain technology could increase efficiency and lower costs by reducing the number of steps that are currently involved in these transactions.

An example of this that can be considered is the renewable energy sector, specifically wind and solar energy. The rapid expansion of this industry, and the fact that most renewable energy sources are weather dependent, creates an organizational challenge when it comes to distributing, measuring, and monitoring these energy sources. Communication and exchanges between energy producers and energy consumers have become more frequent and complicated as the industry continues to grow. The implementation of decentralized blockchain technology to this industry could ease some of these logistical challenges.

In the oil and gas industry, there are numerous transactions that occur between companies, landowners, and consumers. The implementation of blockchain technology into the oil and gas industry will lower costs that are associated with the logistics of purchasing and selling. This could help companies to save money and deliver products to consumers for more affordable prices.

There is still a lot of development, research, and trial and error that would have to take place before blockchain can be implemented into the energy sector and used by companies and governments. However, it has the potential to positively impact the energy sector and it will be interesting to see how development progresses over the next few years. 

by: Clare Graham