Online electricity auction on the horizon

By Krista Baliko Posted: January 31, 2017 6:00 a.m.

(l to r) Dr. Samira Sadaoui from the Department of Computer Science with her graduate student, Shubhashis Shil, in front of their online auction software.
(l to r) Dr. Samira Sadaoui from the Department of Computer Science with her graduate student, Shubhashis Shil, in front of their online auction software. Photo - U of R Photography

Temperatures during a Saskatchewan winter can drop to a frigid -35 C and colder, while sweltering summer days can raise the mercury to 30 C or higher.

Saskatchewan residents deal with these temperature extremes by bumping up their thermostats and increasing power use as furnaces and air conditioners work over time to keep us comfortable and safe.

Add to this the provincial goal of implementing 50 per cent renewable electricity generation by 2030 and the problem of how to obtain more renewable energy, particularly during peak load periods, begins to emerge.

Enter a collaboration between the provincial power company, SaskPower, and University of Regina researchers and the idea of an analytics project that imagines an auctioning tool as part of an innovation solution in the not so far off future.

“My graduate student, Shubhashis Shil, and I designed online auction software that allows for the buying and selling of electricity that is completely different from anything on the electricity market today,” says Dr. Samira Sadaoui, professor of computer science at the University of Regina.

“We gladly participated,” says John McKenzie, SaskPower’s director of Strategic Corporate Development. “We were interested in examining new technology that could become an option as we continue integrating more and more renewable power into Saskatchewan’s power grid.”

While online power auctions aren’t new, integrating different power sources is – which, Sadaoui explains, is what makes her software innovative.

The three types of power sources that will be part of the bidding process are those with a controllable load, such as batteries, variable energy sources – such as wind and solar power – and other renewable energies, such as hydro and geothermal.   

“While each electricity supplier has its own constraints – for instance, variable energy is intermittent and difficult to forecast – this work could open the door to purchase from different sources at any time we would need to integrate renewable energy sources,” says McKenzie.  

Sadaoui says because the bidding will be open to different suppliers and types of energy it is a much more complicated system than something such as eBay where there is only one winner. In addition, consumers can get into the game by selling energy they generate from solar panels or store in batteries of their electric cars.

Once enabled, Sadaoui says an auction “app” could be made available on smart phones.
“The process of selling will be very easy for consumers,” says Sadaoui.

The system will also be attractive to industry.

“Another great outcome that may result from the auction is the development of new renewable technologies,” says Sadaoui.

McKenzie says that while the auction software is only a concept at this time, it is now an option that SaskPower and others will be able to consider for the power grid of tomorrow.

This research is supported by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Engage Grant.