Canada'S Smart Microgrid Strategic Research Consortium

How to leverage the success of a very large research consortium consisting of 8 research intensive universities, 14 major companies and 3 government agencies in 3 levels of government.

James Albright
British Columbia Institute of Technology

Hassan Farhangi
British Columbia Institute of Technology

Outcomes and impact of the case
The 1st problem was the university researchers who were not accustomed to working with industry where the norm is project management of research projects. A large part of the problem was with tenured faculty, whose job security and research reputation was little value added was available to them by working with industry with its “closer management “ style.
A 2nd problem but a close corollary to the 1st problem was the extremely short life cycle of strategic issues of importance to the industry, because in reality, industry was the driver for this consortium, through its financial support of the consortium. For example, 2 areas that leapfrogged ahead in importance were electric vehicle technology and Lithium ion battery technology. At the beginning of the network, both these areas were 10 – 15 years in the future, but fast forward a year, and these 2 areas were 2 – 3 years in the future. Again university faculty was reluctant to change their research programs as was suggested by the industry dominated scientific committee of the network.
The solution to the 1st and the 2nd. Involve more young un-tenured faculty who were more “hungry” and were thus willing to work on industry needs.
A 3rd problem that arose was the need of all university research faculty to publish (publish or perish mentality). This became particularly acute when university faculty was not willing to share, as completely as they should, their research results with their sponsors – industry. Their goal was to publish 1st and then pass the results to industry; industry’s goal was to use and implement the research results as quickly as possible. They would not talk with industry nor to their colleagues in other institutions. They kept their research a closely guarded secret!
The solution to the 3rd problem as the enablement of various online and non-virtual communication networks for the post graduates and undergraduates who were working on the various research projects. Overnight, ideas started to flow, creativity blossomed and true collaborative research was alive and well in the network. Once this started, research Faculty could not stop the flow of information and ideas.
One failure of the consortium was the high drop-out rate of research faculty in the network. Approximately 15-20% left the network because they did not want to collaborate. This may in one respect be considered a positive in that this happened relatively early on in the network’s life, and really did not have any negative impact on the ultimate success of NSMGnet.

Since its inception in 2010, the consortium has been very
successful, bringing together 14 of Canada's largest companies in the electrical field, eight of
Canada's most prominent academic institutions and the Federal and tem Provincial governments. In
five years of operation, a total of 114 students have participated on Network research (49 PhD, 47
MSc and 18 undergraduates), spread across 12 different projects in eight different universities
across Canada. NSMG-Net's research community has disseminated the results of their research in
the form of 50 journal articles and conference papers as well as other publications.

The consortium has successfully assisted the modernization of the grid without interrupting critical
services, and helped train a new workforce of highly qualified personnel to manage the ‘future
electricity grid’.