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Virtual conference caps five years of real-world impact for NESTNet

By: Vanessa Balintec
September 03, 2020

This year's NESTNet Technical Conference looked different, with researchers participating remotely from across Canada.

The fifth and final NSERC Energy Storage Technology Network (NESTNet) Technical Conference took place June 16 and 17, marking the last time NESTNet members will get together for a technical conference and the first time that they have gathered for the event virtually.

The conference, spread across six sessions, featured scientific presentations from researchers across Canada as well as invited guest speakers Antonio Zambroni de Souza from Brazil’s Universidade Federal de Itajubá, and Gary Thompson and Brian McMillan, representing CSA Group, who provided an overview of the latest Canadian standards governing energy storage and other distributed energy resources. 

To mark five years, a special public panel session took place on day two, featuring theme one leader F. Handan Tezel from the University of Ottawa, theme two leader Liuchen Chang from the University of New Brunswick, theme three leader Claudio Cañizares from the University of Waterloo, theme four leader Miguel Anjos from Polytechnique Montréal and University of Edinburgh, internationalization leader Ian Rowlands from the University of Waterloo, and commercialization leader Jennifer MacInnis from Ryerson University.

The session was moderated by network director Bala Venkatesh and the panelists discussed lessons learned, showcased success stories, shared their personal highlights from the network and answered questions submitted by the online audience made up of over 100 participants from industry, government and academia. 

“Looking back five years, I realized that I knew next to nothing about energy storage!” said Anjos. “All the activity of the network has made me realize the really impressive number of dimensions you can have when you think about energy storage, and the variety of ways that it can influence things.”

MacInnis noted that the network’s growth among industry partners exceeded her initial expectations.

“One of the things that we didn’t necessarily anticipate with this network was how active [it] would be throughout the lifespan in terms of continuing to grow and expand,” she said. “There was, at times, a lot of thinking on the fly as to how we could incorporate other industry partners that saw what was happening and wanted to come in and collaborate with the network.”

NESTNet began in 2015 with the purpose of bringing together academics, the private sector and government entities to develop solutions, innovations and policies to holistically transform the Canadian energy storage industry. It has four main themes: energy storage technologies; power electronics converters; power systems integration; and economics and policy. 

Curtis Strong, a University of Ottawa master’s student working in theme one, thinks that NESTNet is unique because it has encouraged interdisciplinary problem solving.

“I definitely think these types of networks are very useful and effective because you really do get feedback from other people from different backgrounds that you wouldn’t have thought of before,” said Strong, whose project is nearing commercialization. 

Another mandate of the network was to encourage academic-industry partnerships. Reza Iravani, a professor from the University of Toronto working in theme two, believes that the relationships fostered by NESTNet will continue long after the network wraps up.

“One aspect of the project is complete,” says Iravani, who worked alongside Ontario-based battery manufacturer eCAMION. “Our collaboration with the company is going to continue and I see that within the next three to four years at least, we will be involved in the development of different products.”

Real-world collaboration with industry members has helped expand learning and career opportunities for students, according to Sofia Guzman, a PhD candidate at the University of Waterloo working on theme three. 

“Being part of NESTNet made it possible to interact with the Independent Electricity System Operator and focus my research project in solving a current real life problem,” explained Guzman. “It is really exciting knowing my work can make a real difference in the electrical system.”

In fact, many students have gone on to complete their undergraduate, master’s and PhD degrees over the course of the network’s lifespan, with guidance from their theme leaders. Seventy per cent of these highly qualified personnel (HQP) are already employed in the energy sector. 

NESTNet by the numbers

545 total outputs
167 journal papers
163 conference papers
35 technical reports
9 patents and products
171 wider impact

750.5 HQP
90 postdoctoral fellows
99.5 PhD
84 master's
77 undergraduate


Throughout the past five years, NESTNet has held 92 events with almost 2,000 participants. These have included summer and winter schools competitions for students, and missions to the United States and Europe to gain knowledge and share best-practices with the world’s leading clean energy researchers.

The technical conference has become a highly anticipated annual gathering every June at Ryerson University, where members share progress updates on the 24 projects that make up the network. Twenty of these are still active while four have been successfully brought to completion.

Although the event was moved online this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Elizaveta Kuznetsova, a postdoctoral fellow from Polytechnique Montréal working in theme four, thought the virtual conference had its advantages.

“The timing [was] very well respected – from this point of view it was easy,” said Kuznetsova. “You could connect at a precise time and find an exact presentation. It was maybe easier [to follow] because you can read alone and review all slides carefully. When you’re in a group, sometimes it’s difficult to understand some slides, especially during technical presentations.”

Looking to the future, the network will continue into 2021 with international missions and a potential industry conference, taking it beyond its original designated five years of funding. NESTNet’s director believes its impact will be felt for many years to come in the myriad innovations, technologies and partnerships that it has generated.

“This network has really shown the true value of collaboration between academia, industry, government and utilities working together to address Canada’s biggest challenges,” said Venkatesh, who wrapped up the virtual conference with an appeal to everyone tuning in. “We hope you consider being part of future clean energy research initiatives as we go forward. Everyone has to play a part.”

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 Vanessa Balintec is a fourth-year journalism student at Ryerson University

"This network has really shown the true value of collaboration between academia, industry, government and utilities working together to address Canada’s biggest challenges."