Innovation Saskatchewan is responsible for implementing the province’s innovation priorities and helping grow Saskatchewan’s tech sector. Effective April 2022, this includes operation of the Innovation Place technology parks in Saskatoon and Regina.

Canadian Innovation Week Special

Innovating For The Future With The Smartflower Microgrid

This feature is part of Innovation Place's coverage for Canadian Innovation Week for May 18's #InnovateToLearn theme.

It all started with a promise and a quick call. Siemens Canada was looking to pilot Smartflower Microgrid (MG) technology at a school in Canada and Aaron Genest, Senior Applications Engineering Manager at Siemens Digital Industries Software, knew Saskatchewan was the perfect place because of its community and collaborative strength. Next thing, he was on the phone with Innovation Saskatchewan Chief Executive Officer, Kari Harvey, and the Smartflower MG initiative was born.

The Smartflower MG initiative is a partnership between Siemens Canada, Innovation Saskatchewan and Saskatoon Industry Education Council (SIEC), representing true innovation and collaboration to help support a sustainable and inclusive technology sector in Saskatchewan.

“This was an exciting opportunity to work more closely with Siemens in the province and to support STEM education through a unique collaboration with SIEC, Bishop James Mahoney and our partners in government as part of our mandate to support the technology and research sector,” said Harvey.

A Smartflower MG is a solar-powered microgrid shaped like a flower that, unlike traditional solar panels, follows the trajectory of the sun during the day, maximizing the amount of electricity absorbed. While Smartflowers are used in both commercial and residential settings for their robust ability to produce clean energy and offset energy costs, this Smartflower MG installation includes a battery and a controller attached to a microgrid, which captures the unique educational opportunity to generate interest in and support for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and green technology for high school students.

“Putting the Smartflower MG in a high school opens the door to conversations about all of the places that technology intersects,” said Genest. “The more diverse avenues into technology education, the more a diverse population will be involved to everybody's benefit.”

The Smartflower MG is installed at Bishop James Mahoney high school, located in Saskatoon and selected for its Health & Sciences Academy program. It uses a custom-built educational system created by Siemens Canada and educational curriculum developed by SIEC and Andrea Regier, lead teacher of the Academy, to power the classroom and empower minds.

As the SIEC works with four education partners — Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools, Saskatoon Public Schools, Prairie Spirit School Division and the Saskatoon Tribal Council — outreach will start within the Saskatoon region, but will expand to other school divisions and First Nation communities throughout the province.

“We are excited for the opportunity to engage youth in green sector education. Not only will students have hands-on experiences, but SIEC is working on showcasing career pathways and post-secondary information surrounding these opportunities in Saskatchewan,” said Janet Uchacz-Hart, Executive Director of SIEC.

Microgrids are powerful electrical distribution systems that can be used to power city blocks, facilities or, in this case, a classroom and accompanying electrical box. A switch in the classroom controls the source of power to the room and the “MG” in the Smartflower MG is where Siemens Canada’s integrated solution displays the status, functions and interplay between the Smartflower, battery storage and classroom, creating a dynamic visual component for students.

While the curriculum is currently in development, it will centre around hands-on access to and experiments with solar panels, battery storage and grids, expanding the possibilities of green technology in Saskatchewan and new career paths in computer science, electrical work, data science and more for students. Siemens Canada will also continue to provide their technical expertise to students through demonstrations and presentations.

With the full launch of the Smartflower initiative set for fall 2022, the future for Saskatchewan students is certainly looking bright. “It’s the only place in the country where high school students can see what power generation and grid management is going to look like and play with and think about the social, economic, physical and scientific challenges and opportunities,” said Genest. “It’s really cool.”

- May 18, 2022