If you want to know what to expect from the 21st century, according to Glen Murray, look at Syria. In a keynote speech at the NSERC Energy Storage Technology Network’s “Leading the Charge” conference on June 23, the Ontario minister of the environment and climate change described the events between 2006 and 2011 as “the movie trailer for the horror show to come.”

In those years, Syria experienced a drought that destroyed between 65 and 80 per cent of the country’s agriculture, leading to one of the largest mass migrations ever for a country relative to its size: 1.6 million farmers and family members. “These people had been the solid middle-class of that country—and political scientists, if there are any in the room, will tell you of the relationship between the middle class and democracy in the world,” said Murray. “There are very few countries that have achieved democracy without a strong middle class.”

In 2011, civil war broke out, and once the state was destabilized, it became vulnerable to infiltration. Extremist groups seized the dams in the Fertile Crescent, cutting off water to the farmers. “It would be very hard right now, given that the drought came back in 2013, for people to ever return to that country,” said Murray. “Not because the infrastructure can’t be built, but because the climate can’t be repaired.”

What does that have to do with us? The effects of climate change are already being felt. The solution is to invest in technologies that can transition the world to clean, efficient energy.

“Leading the Charge” brought Canadian utility experts and researchers to the George Vari Engineering and Computing Centre to discuss the future of energy storage: the latest technologies, opportunities for commercialization, and how stored energy can be integrated into the grid. The event was part of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s NSERC Energy Storage Technology Network (NESTNet), a coalition of 15 universities and 26 industry/government partners focused on energy storage, led by Ryerson’s Centre for Urban Energy.

NESTNet launched in 2016 with $5 million in funding over five years from the federal government. The strategic partnership connects universities, companies, and government organizations for research and training, and is an example of Ryerson’s philosophy of cross-disciplinary collaboration.

The reasons to invest in energy storage go beyond the environmental benefits. “From a customer’s perspective, storage offers more flexibility in managing electricity supply,” said Bob Delaney, MPP for Mississauga-Streetsville in a speech. “In rural and remote areas, where transmission is a much larger component of electricity costs than it is here in the city, storage and renewables offer communities an alternative to a long and expensive transmission corridor to gain access to a reliable and clean energy supply.”

“I’m very proud of the fact that the leadership of the Centre for Urban Energy has been at the forefront of driving NEST. CUE is a key part of our innovation ecosystem—an example of a partnership between academia and industry,” said Steven Liss, vice-president, research and innovation at Ryerson. “From energy storage to sustainability homes to electric vehicles, the Centre for Urban Energy is developing real solutions to issues of sustainable green energy for cities.”

For more information about the NSERC Energy Storage Network, go to www.ryerson.ca/nestnet. For more information on the Centre for Urban Energy, visit CUE.