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Renewables : Innovation + Job News

10 Renewables Articles | Page:

York University’s solar smart grid leading charge for clean energy push in Ontario.

On the heels of many of the world’s global powers finalizing the agreements of COP21, an ambitious proposal dedicated to easing the effects of man-made climate change, researchers in Toronto are easing the issue in a development closer to home. 

Last week, York University unveiled a smart grid solar-powered charging station, developed by the university’s own Faculty of Environmental Studies. Part of what makes the charging station unique was that it was developed specifically with Canada’s cold winters in mind, and as such, was created with more durability, according to York University professor and lead researcher Jose Etcheverry, whose team developed the smart grid charging station. 

The issue with creating effective solar panels for Canada is not necessarily the solar panels themselves, but what Etcheverry calls the balance of components. While the balance of components might work well in warmer climates, it may not see as much 
return in a colder climate like Canada’s.

“Picture using a solar-EV-battery system, like the one we deployed at York University, in the far north of our country, in the Sahara and Atacama deserts, the jungles of Costa Rica and the schools of Mumbai,” says Etcheverry. “For that to happen we require good design that yields durability, reliability, beauty, local support and modularity. These are all key design and performance parameters that we are trying to distill and foster with our installation.”

Data from the station will be used to inform the development of more smart grid solutions and expand the presence of electric charging stations, which will be connected to the power grid at York University. The station is designed in a way that it’s easily to install in most parking areas. “We are gathering technical and performance data from the systems to help inform the development of smart solutions in municipalities nearby and faraway,” says Etchevarry. “We are very open to innovative collaboration and look forward to new partners.”

At the unveiling of the station last week, Ontario minister for transportation Steven Del Duca says that projects like this will help ease the inevitable transition to clean energy. 

“The Ontario government is supportive of green, clean, innovative technology that will transform the way we live, move, work and adapt to our environment,” Del Duca said at the time. “Charging stations that are fast, reliable and affordable will encourage Ontarians to purchase electric vehicles, reducing greenhouse gas pollution and keeping our air clean.”

A University of Toronto researcher wants Ghostbuster backpacks to spray your roof

It used to be that it was only feasible to harness portable solar power on a scientific calculator. However, thanks to a major breakthrough by a group of researchers from the University of Toronto, almost any surface, including ones that aren't so smooth and symmetrically shaped, could soon be used to exploit the power of the sun.

It’s all possible thanks to a new manufacturing process called sprayLD. The system allows a light sensitive substance called colloidal quantum dots (CQDs) to be sprayed upon a flexible film that can then be applied to almost any surface. According to the press release that accompanied the announcement, a car roof coated with a film of CQDs could produce enough energy to power three 100-watt lightbulbs.

Illan Kramer, the researcher that led the team that developed the technology, said in a press release, “My dream is that one day you’ll have two technicians with Ghostbusters backpacks come to your house and spray your roof.”

If such a future does come to pass, it will be because of the manufacturing technology Professor Kramer and his colleagues have developed. In contrast to films created by its predecessor, atomic layer deposition (ALD), films created with sprayLD are fast, easy and inexpensive to produce. In fact, Professor Kramer and his team built their prototype using parts already available and relatively inexpensive. The manufacturing system Kramer and company have developed is so effective that films produced with sprayLD show little to no loss in solar-cell efficiency over their ALD counterparts.

Now this technology just needs to make its way to mobile devices. I can't be the only one who has had enough of their smartphone lasting less than a day.

Source: University of Toronto

Photo courtesy of Marit Mitchell.

Vegetation and solar panels, all on the same roof

Developers interested in making their buildings more sustainable typically face a choice: solar panels or a green roof? There isn't, presumably, room for both.

Some University of Toronto researchers are challenging that assumption. This summer, with the help of many government and private sector partners, they're launching a study looking at whether the two can be combined—at the possibility of installing one roof that uses both vegetation and solar panels. The bonus: if the researchers' hypothesis is correct, they won't just be making dual use of the same space; the cumulative effect of combining the technologies will provide greater environmental benefits than using them separately.

"Solar photo voltaics operate best when they are not overheated," explains Liat Margolis, director of UofT's Green Roof Innovation Testing (GRIT) Lab. "Ideally [the panels] would be in a relatively cool climate, but sunny; conversely when they are overheated their energy production drops. The hypothesis is that ...if the vegetation actually cools the air, that could improve the performance of the solar panels."

Basically: because green roofs create a cooling effect through the evaporation they facilitate, they will keep the solar panels above cooler, and thereby—so the theory goes—keep those panels working more efficiently.

The GRIT Lab is running the experiment on the roof of 230 College Street; it includes 40 solar panels installed two and four feet above a layer of vegetation. The study is still in the early stages: Margolis says they anticipate about a year of calibration and testing, and hope to begin collecting data next spring. They'll gather results for three growing seasons, to have a data sample that accounts for variations in the weather. (This summer's cool temperatures would likely yield different results than a much hotter summer might, for instance.)

The basic benefit of solar panels—energy generation—can be appealing over the long term, but since even the best solar panels are only about 18 per cent efficient, it can take eight to 10 years to reap the financial rewards of installing them.

Green roofs, meanwhile, provide other environmental benefits, such as stormwater management, and the reduction of flooding and erosion. This too is a tough sell, though: while these are genuine environmental concerns, they are generally managed by municipal governments rather than building owners. However, Margolis says, "I think water performance will become more and more of a factor as the public becomes more aware of the issue."

As we experience more major storm events, in other words, the incentive to use green roofs to mitigate storm effects will grow. The ultimate hope is that the combination of the two technologies will create a better business case for installing them both, and make it easier for developers to pursue environmentally friendlier projects by allowing them to see the financial impact of doing so more quickly.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Liat Margolis, director, Green Roof Innovation Testing Lab
Photo: Courtesy of the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design.

PowerStream unveils micro grid demonstration project

Like many municipalities, ones in Ontario are starting to play a larger role in energy production and distribution. One local company, PowerStream, is owned by three such municipalities together: Barrie, Markham, and Vaughan. And like many of these smaller companies, the focus is increasingly on using smart grid technology and renewable energy sources to lower the environmental burdens of providing power. A few weeks ago, PowerStream unveiled a new micro grid demonstration project in an attempt to further explore those possibilities.

Smart grid technology is essentially a way of fine-tuning the collection and distribution of power across a network, by working with real-time, fine-grained information about energy demands, sending power to where it is most needed and in some cases bringing power sources on- and off-line dynamically, to meet changing demands. PowerStream's micro grid works in the same way, but on a much smaller scale than the provincial power system—it's scaled to meet local needs, ideally with local, renewable power sources. It also latches into the provincial grid, drawing power from it when needed, and sending power to the grid if it's producing more than it requires.

PowerStream's micro grid demonstration project is installed at its head office in Vaughan. John Mulrooney, director of smart grid technologies for PowerStream, explains the project in a video guide as: "a two-phase initiative that will evaluate the micro grid's effectiveness as an alternative energy supplier for PowerStream's head office. It will test the ability to utilize different power sources and storage while delivering safe, reliable service."

In the first phase, power—coming from solar panels, wind turbines, and natural gas generator, and stored in three different types of batteries—will be used to provide electricity for the building's  lighting, a/c system, and refrigeration, plus charging stations for their electric vehicles. The goal in this first phase is to test how well the system operates when it's disconnected from the provincial grid. The second phase will see new sources of power generation added into the mix; the goal at that point will be to test the grid's ability to feed power into the provincial network.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: PowerStream

Ryerson unveils plan for smart grid lab

With the help of the provincial government, and in conjunction with private sector partner Schneider Electric, Ryerson University will soon be launching a new laboratory dedicated to smart grid innovations.

A smart grid is simply one that gathers fine-grained information about electricity users—where they are, what their usage patterns are, when peak and lower demand times are, and so on—and uses it to more efficiently and effectively distribute power across that grid. It can empower users to be more collaborative energy consumers (by helping us know when the grid is nearing capacity), minimize blackouts and brownouts, and also facilitate the better use of renewable energy as a power source.

The smart grid lab will provide students with a learning ground, so they can receive specialized training in smart grid technology, and also be a research hub, a venue for the development and testing of innovations in smart grid technology.

“Ryerson University’s Centre for Urban Energy is committed to solving urban energy challenges,” Sri Krishnan, interim dean of Ryerson's engineering school, emphasized. “Working with Schneider Electric to develop this lab enables us to take this even further and work towards creating innovative solutions within the smart grid technology space, while also providing Ryerson students the benefit of being trained in a state-of-the-art facility."

The lab will be constructed at Ryerson's Centre for Urban Energy, and is scheduled to open in July of 2014.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Matthew Kerry, Marketing and Communications Manager, Centre for Urban Energy, Ryerson University

MaRS Cleantech Fund gets $500,000 boost

"In a market economy, if you solve a big problem you get a big reward," says Tom Rand, managing partner of the MaRS Cleantech Fund.

Generating substantial amounts of environmentally sustainable energy is certainly a big problem, and the Cleantech Fund's goal is to try and find the emerging companies who will help solve it. The $30 million private venture capital fund, located at MaRS, has just landed a new $500,000 investment courtesy of RBC Generator, the bank's investment arm that looks specifically for opportunities in companies that address social and environmental issues. It's the first investment deal RBC has announced as part of that initiative.

Green energy is obviously a huge sector; the MaRS Cleantech Fund focuses primarily on "early stage, disruptive, low carbon energy infrastructure," Rand explains. (More concretely, this means innovations like smart grids that better distribute energy.) The Fund has already invested in eight companies, and is aiming for 10 to 12 in total.

Though the fund is entirely privately financed, Rand also emphasizes the importance of being located at MaRS, which he calls "the most serious clean-tech innovation machine in Canada by far."

MaRS assists the fund with deal flow—the most promising new companies can be found there, so for investors it provides fertile ground for sniffing out the best opportunities—and their ongoing support with essential processes like preparation for the market make it, Rand adds, "the most high powered, high octane help you can get."

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Tom Rand, Managing Partner, MaRS Cleantech Fund

Clean energy executive recruitment firm Hobbs & Towne opening Toronto office in July

Further proof that Toronto is a burgeoning hub of the clean technology sector: an executive search firm that specializes in that area is setting up shop here.

Hobbs & Towne
, which currently operates in five US cities, will open its first Canadian office in Yorkville next month.

"We founded the company in 1997," says managing partner Bob Hobbs, "doing work in North America with clean tech company and venture capitalists that have invested in energy tech and sustainability."

The firm has been placing executives in Canada for about 10 years. "Just based on all the activity in Canada over the past few years and the amount of work that we've done with clean tech companies [there], we decided it was important for us to actually have feet on the ground."

Initially several of the firm's partners will be rotating through the Toronto office on a weekly basis; the plan is to hire several recruiters to cover placements throughout the country. Hobbs and Towne's three-year plan calls for further expansion—specifically, they hope to open a second Canadian office in Calgary within that timeframe—but Toronto was the place they needed to start.

"Some of our longer lasting relationships with investors are with investors in Toronto," Hobbs says.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Bob Hobbs, Managing Partner & Co-Founder, Hobbs & Towne, Inc.

Province & MaRS partner to create the new Clean Energy Institute

Ontario has been making a concerted effort to develop its clean energy sector for a number of years. Now a new venture will help that sector take its innovations around the world. This month the provincial government, in partnership with MaRS Discovery District, announced the creation of the Clean Energy Institute.

"The overall goal," says Jonathan Dogterom, the practice lead for cleantech at MaRS, "is to be able to put a bit more of an economic development focus on energy technology."

Which is to say: the institute's key objective will be to help the community of clean energy innovators that has started to cluster here by creating new export opportunities that will allow them to expand their businesses in foreign markets.

"Energy represents a huge market around the world," Dogterom says, "and we have some of the best innovations in energy technology."

We don't, as of yet, have the international presence to match.

The project is still in the very early stages of development. MaRS and the Ontario government will be reaching out to industry stakeholders in coming months to get input into the project; they also expect to add some private partners as the Clean Energy Institute takes more concrete shape. Their immediate goal: develop a detailed plan for setting up the institute over the course of a year.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Jonathan Dogterom, Practice Lead (Cleantech), MaRS

Siginik Energy to bring solar power to Ghana, creating 50 local positions

"It's the biggest project we have done to date, and the second biggest in Africa," a slightly rushed-sounding Daniel McCormick tells me over the phone—understandably, since he's having a rather busy day.

McCormick is a managing partner of Siginik Energy, which just announced that it has signed a deal to provide solar energy to Ghana, one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa, and a nation seeking not just new energy sources but renewable ones. The deal will see Siginik build a 50-megawatt ground solar installation, from which the Electricity Company of Ghana will purchase power for a 25-year term.

Siginik, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Toronto-based Episolar Inc., is "a full turnkey solar energy provider," says McCormick, and also one of the beneficiaries of Ontario's Green Energy Act. That act was passed in 2009, and McCormick says that "it created a labour force that is highly skilled."

Ghana is hoping to draw on those skills to help meet its own energy needs, which are substantial and growing. To help the country expand its power sources, Siginik will be hiring both abroad and here at home—about 50 full-time, part-time and contract positions in the Toronto area, says McCormick, ranging from engineering consultants to components providers. Some of those hired here will also work in Ghana to train local workers.

Recently Ghana's Parliament passed a Renewable Energy Act; the country has set a target of obtaining 10 per cent of its power from renewable sources by 2020.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Daniel McCormick, Managing Partner, Siginik Energy

Temporal Power claims wind breakthrough: 'This will change energy storage completely'

One of the primary problems facing the world of sustainable energy is storage: since solar and wind power are "intermittent"—that is, they generate electricity at the whims of the sunshine and wind, rather than constantly or on demand—energy needs to be stored until there is demand for it. Batteries capable of doing so have so far been too large and expensive to be a solution.

Ryerson electrical engineering researcher Kamran Masteri Farahani has been conducting research for Toronto-based startup Temporal Power for the past 18 months. And he says the results show a breakthrough.

"This solves the problem of storage for wind power," he says. "This will change energy storage completely."

Temporal Power
has developed a storage technique that involves flywheels spinning to store the energy kinetically. The company, in collaboration with Hydro One and Toronto Hydro, has created flywheels that are cheaper and easier to maintain than batteries. Masteri says his research, conducted at Ryerson's Centre for Urban Energy, shows that it works.

"After 10 hours, the flywheels still maintain 95 per cent efficiency," he says. "They also hold up to twice as much energy as competitor techniques, and 50 times as much energy as most commercially available materials." He says that the technology also regulates voltage and can feed or draw from the grid as needed, making much of the existing (and expensive) regulation technology redundant.

If Hydro One's own tests confirm the Ryerson result, the company will begin implementing the technology in its own system by the end of the summer.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Kamran Masteri Farahani, Electrical Engineering Researcher, Centre for Urban Energy, Ryerson University
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