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Nothing but blue skies for Clear Blue Technologies

North of Toronto city limits, there's a section of Highway 10 in Dufferin County where the skies open up and dozens of wind turbines–as far as the eye can see–stand like pillars holding up the clouds, fan blades spiraling lazily in the wind. Nearby, sun-tanning solar panels sit tilted in farmers' fields grabbing the day's rays and slipping them onto the power grid. 
The whole thing looks so awe-inspiring, it overwhelms you with the feeling that this is what the future looks like. But for Toronto-based Clear Blue Technologies, the future is the past. These fields of wind turbines and houses dotted with solar panels are just parts of a pre-existing greater whole. Security cameras powered by solar panels affixed with battery back up already hang at apartment complexes dotting the downtown core. Highway light clusters already pull their energy from solar panels huddled in groups nearby.  
Much like the hydro lines and cables slung on posts or trenched beneath the streets, these clean-tech solutions need a grid. They need reliability. They need interconnectivity. 
Clear Blue is hoping to be that glue.
"We make smart off-grid," says Miriam Tuerk, Chief Operating Officer and one of the tech company's founders. "Have you heard of clean web? It's the merger of the Internet with the next generation of power systems and power technologies and making them smart and intelligent."
When she speaks, she has a tendency to speed up and even over the phone her voice betrays her excitement with what Clear Blue is doing. Her analogies describing smart off-grid fold over one another, but the idea behind what the startup is doing makes sense. It's obvious the Toronto-based entrepreneur has a succinct grasp of what the future of clean tech power systems looks like. 
The concept is simple enough, explains Tuerk, each solar panel or turbine cluster is connected to Clear Blue's Horizon Hybrid Controller. The controller then communicates wirelessly to the company’s cloud servers, sending pings every five minutes to let the server know how it's functioning, switch between different kinds of energy input, and show the current battery capacity. It can be controlled remotely from anywhere in the world, which is key given that the company has systems throughout Australia, Germany, the United States and the Greater Toronto Area.
"From a business perspective, the point is to avoid cabling," says Tuerk indicating the large costs associated with trenching and running cabling. On the highway, it can cost anywhere from $200 to $500 a metre to run cables. 
In the past, when older streetlights used incandescent bulbs, they drew close to 200 watts of power.
"An LED streetlight now draws only 40 watts of power," adds Tuerk. "Because the power level has gone down so much, all of a sudden these systems can be powered off green energy like solar power or wind turbines."
Clear Blue is banking on the frugal attractiveness of controlling and monitoring those lights systems and security cameras without cables. But the path to establishing itself as a leader in smart off-grid is pockmarked with its own set of challenges--from prototyping to scaling up manufacturing. 
Clear Blue's team seems well suited to prove up the technology. Its other founders have a combined 40 years in relevant experience. President and CEO, John Tuerk, has over 20 years experience in the power electronics and chief technology officer, while Mark Windrim has two decades of experience in the high tech sector including a stint at Apple.
Partnerships have been key to Clear Blue's preliminary success. The company worked with MaRS Discovery District on funding, marketing, and business development. They also partnered with TowerLabs (a MaRS partnership with Tridel) and the Toronto Atmospheric Fund on the development of a demonstration product and product validation. For the past two years, they have been collaborating with George Brown College to develop prototypes for different versions of the company's controllers.
"It takes a community to build a company and when you're a small company, you need a network of advisors and mentors who can help you with figuring it all out," says Tuerk. "George Brown provides a lot of that expertise."
Currently Siyan Zhang, a student, Jamie McIntyre, a faculty member from the School of Construction and Engineering Technologies, and Stephen Wong, the principal investigator and faculty at the college, are working with Clear Blue to help streamline the manufacturing process and get the company pumping out more control systems. 
"They needed help in making their ordering process more automatic and ensuring that their product specifications were well documented," says Alexis Rodziewicz, project manager for George Brown's collaboration with Clear Blue. "The challenge we faced was collecting all the information we needed so that we could start sorting, grouping, and documenting the information to ensure that not only was the project was a success, but that Clear Blue was able to integrate the work done throughout the project into their business practice."
These academic partnerships have additional benefits. The original prototype collaboration with George Brown electro-mechanical engineering technician student Noe Galeana last year pulled in the company's first employee.
"We were so impressed with him, we hired him," says Tuerk. "When you're a startup it's very hard to find good people."
Initially, Galeana met John Tuerk while working part-time at George Brown's Research and Development Lab testing Clear Blue’s hybrid controller with different micro wind turbines. Today, much like the role of the controller itself, Galeana acts as the liaison between the software and hardware sides.
Galeana's work during the early stages of prototyping and development means he’s watched the company’s technology evolve.
"The main goal of the [initial] project [with George Brown] was to go from a prototype product, to a product that could be manufactured, from mechanical redesign to electrical and software testing to meet the company standard," says Galeana. 
At the moment, 60-70 per cent of the manufacturing process is subcontracted out to a small local manufacturer called Torontonics, while the remainder is done in house. Eventually, Clear Blue hopes to see the product marching down the assembly lines of local manufacturers. 
"We haven't gotten to the point where someone else can do it for us," says Tuerk. "But Jamie and his team are helping us to scale the product and get to a point where we can sell thousands and thousands of these." She likens it to an audio recording that discusses Steve Jobs' initial prototype for the iPad from some 30 years ago. 
"It did exactly what the iPad does today but it looked a lot different," says Tuerk. "Now they’re selling millions at $329 and they all work."
Clear Blue Technologies may be operating in a different sphere than Apple, but one thing's for sure: if they get their technology through the challenges of manufacturing scalability, it certainly has the potential to change the way we power our lives. 

Andrew Seale is a Toronto-based freelance writer whose writing has appeared in The Toronto Star, The Vancouver Sun, The Calgary Herald, and Alternatives Journal among other places. His last piece for Yonge Street looked at how Toronto is making the waterfront attractive for locals

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