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Eglinton LRT to get first issue of Ontario's new Green Bonds

In the fall of 2013, the provincial government unveiled a plan to start issuing green bonds: bonds that are in some way tied to projects that help achieve environmental goals.

"Participating in the green bond market will provide an opportunity for Ontario to broaden its investor base and raise additional funding in this rapidly growing sector of the bond market," a government primer on the project says. "In addition, green bonds raise awareness of climate and environmental challenges and allow investors to support green initiatives."

Soon after, an advisory panel was created to help in the selection fo elgible projects, which in general fall into one of the following categories: clean transportation; energy efficiency and conservation; clean energy and technology; forestry, agriculture and land management; and climate adaptation and resilience.

A few days ago, the government announced the first project that would receive a green bond issue: the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, currently under construction in Toronto—that issue may be up to $500 million.

“Ontario is taking a major step forward in planning for a greener, more sustainable future and is the only province in Canada to release a certified green bonds program" finance minister Charles Sousa said when announcing the green bond issue. "People are looking for new and innovative ways to invest in a secure and socially responsible manner. Ontario’s Green Bonds will help us to invest in transit, create jobs and raise capital at competitive rates.”

Few additional details were immediately available, though the government does hope to make this first issue of bonds available early next year.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Ministry of Finance

Giving electric vehicle owners a charge

Electric vehicles have been on the market for three years in Canada. Enter Plug’n Drive, a not-for-profit whose mission is to accelerate the penetration of those vehicles into the consumer market.

One of the biggest challenges in encouraging potential car buyers to go electric is the so-far limited availability of charging stations: if you’re not sure you’ll be able to power up when and where you need to, an electric car can be a tough sell. Which leads to Plug’n Drive’s latest cause: increasing the number of charging stations in condo buildings.

“Essentially for the past 20 years Toronto has been going through a condo boom,” points out Josh Tzventarny, director of operations for Plug’n Drive, which is incubated at Ryerson’s Centre for Urban Energy. “Now about 30 per cent of Torontonians live in condos—none of which were designed for electric vehicles.”

For the past year or so Plug’n Drive has been working with Canadian Condominium iInstitute and the WWF to make recommendations for updates to the provincial Condominium Act, which is currently up for review and is likely to come before the legislature in the fall. The Condominium Act only enforces what happens after a condo has been built, however; the best Plug’n Drive is hoping for from new legislation is that it will include rules and guidelines for charging stations should a condo board decide it wants to install one.

“Where the real work needs to be done,” Tzventarny goes on, “is probably the building code—and the City of Toronto is starting to do some work around that with its green standards.”

In the meantime, Plug’n Drive is trying to reach out directly to condo owners and condo boards, making the case that retrofitting a building to include charging stations isn’t actually that a daunting prospect. (They issued a guide to installing them this past spring.)

“It’s really just an electrical job,” Tzventarny says. “It’s no different than installing an air conditioner or something like that.”

Plug’n Drive is also starting to field queries from property managers and real estate agents with clients who have electric vehicles, and prioritize charging stations when they go condo shopping—an indication, he believes, that this is "starting to become more and more of an issue."

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Josh Tzventarny, Director of Operations, Plug'n Driv

Ontario using the Pan Am Games to expand apprenticeship opportunities

Last week, the provincial government announced that it would be be investing an extra $3 million over the next two years in its pre-apprenticeship training program, creating spots for 200 new participants. (A total of 1,100 pre-apprentices are participating in the program this year.) The impetus: the 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Games, and the massive infrastructure projects that are underway to prepare for those Games.

"it's something that's going to build a stronger workforce for us in the years ahead," said Brad Duguid, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, while announcing the program expansion, "but it also provides young people in our province with an opportunity for a new career."

The pre-apprenticeship training program is designed to help would-be apprentices prepare and develop the trade-specific skills they need in order to be eligible for full-fledged apprenticeships. An individual participant may be involved in the program—which is free, and also covers program-related related costs such as textbooks—for up to a year. Pre-apprentices may find themselves taking safety courses, doing in-school training, and in short-term work placements, depending on their goals and needs.

Because of the Pan Am Games' many infrastructure projects, skilled construction workers are needed in large numbers; the hope is this program expansion will provide participants with on-the-job learning opportunities, while helping to ensure those projects are delivered on schedule.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities

Cisco to invest $100 million in a new Toronto Innovation Centre

Major news out of Cisco today: Toronto is one of the four cities internationally that has been selected to host a new Internet of Everything Innovation Centre. (The other cities on the list: Rio de Janeiro; Songdo, South Korea; and a yet-to-be-named city in Germany.)

The 15,000 square foot facility will be part of Cisco's new headquarters, slated to open as part of RBC WaterPark Place in 2015. The $100 million investment in the innovation centre will be spent over 10 years, encompassing design and infrastructure, start-up costs, and ongoing staff and operations.

What, you may be wondering, is the "Internet of Everything"? It's basically just Cisco's term for the growing integration of new systems and aspects of daily life into the internet—the next iteration of the internet's penetration into our lives, and the next layer of connectivity that will generate.

"Today less than one per cent of the things that could be connected, are connected on the internet," explained Cisco Canada president Nitin Kawale when announcing the investment Wednesday morning. "Imagine what's possible if the remaining 99 per cent of things were connected."

The innovation centre will be devoted to exploring some of that potential new connectivity, "a place for our partners, customers, established companies, and start-ups from across North America to work together," Kawale said. "Toronto is a world-class community of creativity and talent. This facility will be a global hub of innovation for the Internet of Everything technologies. It puts Toronto and Cisco on the world stage."

Back in December Cisco also announced that it would be creating "up to 1,700 high tech jobs" in Toronto, with a total employee base of up to 5,000 in the region.

Toronto's Deputy Mayor, Norm Kelly, was on hand for the announcement. "When I look around this room to see the sampling of the technology that you're working with today and what it might be like tomorrow—it's mind-boggling. It really is."

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Cisco Canada

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

UofT student creates smarter traffic lights

Here's something we could all use less of: gridlock. A political lightening rod and increasing limit on daily routines in Toronto, traffic congestion eats up our time, not to mention reserves of patience and good humour. Now one UofT student thinks she's found a way to help tame congestion, by getting the lights at individual intersections to communicate directly with one another.

Samah El-Tantawy was inspired by the awful state of the roads both here in Toronto and in Cairo, where she grew up. Her traffic-management system formed the core of her graduate work (El-Tantawy earned her PhD in civil engineering in 2012), and is based on innovations in artificial intelligence research.

Right now, El-Tantawy explains, there are three types of traffic-management systems operating in Toronto:

  • Set times for light changes, based on prior calculations using historical records; these are optimized, but don't adapt to the circumstances of any given moment.
  • Actuated controls: detectors under the pavement which send calls to traffic lights, so those lights can change based on immediate conditions. The shortcoming with these is that they are operating "as if blind," El-Tantaway says. Since they only have inputs from vehicles in one direction, they don't work based on the state of the intersection or road network as a whole.
  • Adaptive controls that are optimized in real time, based on traffic approaching an intersection; this system exists at about 300 intersections in Toronto. The main limitation with this system is that it works via a centralized command system, and thus requires a substantial communications network. (Any failure in that centralized system has, correspondingly, a huge impact on the whole network.)
The system El-Tantawy has developed is based on individualized intersection control, and comes with lower capital costs and risks of interruption compared to the adaptive control system. As she explains it, "each intersection sends and receives information from its neighbours, and each of the neighbours do this in a cascading fashion." Essentially, the lights at each intersection communicate with the ones at the connecting intersections, and this allows the lights at each intersection to change based on what those neighbouring lights are doing.

Unlike scheduled cascading traffic lights (where you hit a series of greens in a row if traffic conditions allow you to pace yourself just right), this system includes real-time responses to changing traffic conditions. "Each one decides for itself," El-Tantawy says, "but it considers what decisions what might be taken by the neighbours by having a model for each neighbour, and that model is built based on receiving information every second. They are actually deciding simultaneously."

According to El-Tantawy's simulation models, her traffic management system—called Multi-agent Reinforcement Learning for Integrated Network of Adaptive Traffic Signal Controllers (or MARLIN-ATSC)—can reduce delays by up to 40 per cent, and yield a 15-25 per cent savings in travel time. It can also have environmental knock-off effects—up to a 30 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions, since vehicles are spending less time on the road and travelling more efficiently when they do.

City of Toronto staff are aware of El-Tantawy's work, and she's hoping it will eventually be implemented in some intersections here. She needs to conduct field tests first, however, and is currently looking for quieter areas suitable for pilot projects next summer.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Samah El-Tantawy

Design charette at Scadding Court envisions city's first container mall

A trip to Ghana in 2009 by a few self-funded Scadding Court-area teens is paying off, and in the process offering an excellent example of how rich countries can learn from poor ones.

"What we saw there were all kinds of rusted out containers where people were selling chicken, cutting hair," says Scadding Court Community Centre head Kevin Lee. "We came back to Toronto, there's so much under-utilized public space, like sidewalks that are three times the size they need to be, and on Dundas Street, economically depressed, with no eyes on the street…."

So now, there are 19 containers on Dundas just west of Bathurst, and a charette at the Scadding Court Community Centre on Tuesday brought together architects, designers, city planners, public health workers and community members to show and tell how that might be expanded into the city's first container mall.

The first container went up three years ago, very shortly after the group, of which Lee was a part, got back from Ghana. At first, it was just food, but it soon morphed into retail, including Stin Can, a bike repair shop run by two 19-year-olds, graduates of the Biz Start program who, according to Lee, were able to start up with just $2,000. (You may want to think about stopping by their container instead of your usual local.)

"What we're trying to do," Lee says, "is establish a template for the city of Toronto in terms of economic development at the grassroots level. Economic development doesn’t just mean trying to attract Google to move their head office to Toronto."

The city just found $80,000 to buy two or three new containers, according to Councillor Adam Vaughan, in whose ward the containers sit. Now they’re just waiting for a council vote on approvals, which could come as early as this week.

"You put 10 bureaucrats around a table, all it takes is one to say no to scrap things," Vaughan says from the floor of the charette. He says the original idea came from a private company who wanted to set up some containers on Queen West. Heritage Toronto nixed it, according to Vaughan, saying the only spot they could use was the parking lot at Queen and Phoebe, so the company dropped the idea.

The charette, and the community centre's central involvement, is a way, Vaughan hopes, to circumvent the usual impediments to Toronto ever having nice things. "What we're looking for here is a way to say yes."

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Kevin Lee, Adam Vaughan

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

Who's Hiring in Toronto? The CBC, Toronto Atmospheric Fund, and more

The most interesting and innovative opportunities we've spotted this week:

There are a good number of interesting openings in media right now. Canadian Journalists for Free Expression are hiring a digital development coordinator to work on IFEX, a network of organizations that promotes free expresion as a human right. Also, a new Canadian affairs and cultural magazine called Depict is launching soon. It will consist entirely of visual elements -- infographics and "visual storytelling" -- and they are looking for both a creative director and a graphic designer.

Continuing with the media opportunities, Global News is looking for a project manager with at least 3-5 years of experience to handle several digital projects. And finally, a very significant opening at the CBC: they are on the lookout for a new managing editor of cbcnews.ca--a senior position for someone with at least five years of related experience.

Moving on to the environmental sector, the Toronto Atmospheric Fund was established by the municipal government to provide support to new initiatives that combat climate change. They are currently seeking a summer intern for a 12-week project. The position is paid and candidates should have completed some graduate level work in public policy or environmental studies.

Real Food for Real Kids provides healthy catering for child care centres and camps, with an emphasis on local and organic ingredients. They are looking for an assistant kitchen manager.

In medical research, the Ontario Brain Institute is hiring for three six-month internships: one in industry relations, one in community outreach, and one in finance and governance. All the positions are paid, and applications are due by the end of this week.

And finally, Toronto-based financial software company FreshBooks is hiring for several positions, including a MySQL developer and a product manager.

Are you hiring or do you know of an innovative job opportunity in Toronto? Email Yonge Street's innovation and jobs editor Hamutal Dotan to let her know. 

City of Toronto unveils new economic development plan

The municipal government unveiled a new economic development plan at City Hall last week. It hopes the plan will improve conditions for businesses that are thinking of setting up shop in Toronto as well as businesses that are already here, but face bureaucratic hurdles to success. Titled Collaborating for Competitiveness: A Strategic Plan for Accelerating Growth and Job Creation in Toronto, the plan is very much interested in sweating the small stuff: its focus is on streamlining zoning processes, maintaining infrastructure, and raising our city's profile--the nitty-gritty, daily details.

Among the report's key recommendations: 

- Reduce the time it takes to review development applications for employment uses.
- Maintain the current commitment to reducing the ratio of residential to non-residential property tax rates.
- Request the Province to conduct property tax assessments based on current (employment) use rather than highest market value use. Effectively, this would stop the assessment process from penalizing developers who want to retain property for employment uses rather than building lucrative condos.
- Conduct outreach "to identify and assist Toronto-based manufacturers seeking global product mandates."
- Establish a wider network of incubators and accelerators.

The ideas contained in this report are smaller-scale than ones found in some other recent economic development strategies. In 2010, the Toronto Board of Trade issued a sweeping report that was much broader in scope, for instance, including recommendations on everything from environmental policy to attracting immigrants. The emphasis on employment land use in the City report is well-timed, as Toronto is also in the middle of an Official Plan review, and a consideration of how to preserve employment lands in the face of increasing development.

Collaborating for Competitiveness will be debated at the next city council meeting, on February 20 and 21. The full text of the report is available online [PDF].

Writer: Hamutal Dotan

Innovation Summit aims to boost Canada's innovation rankings

The Conference Board of Canada has announced it will host an innovation summit in Toronto in February. The summit is part of the board's plan to support businesses in their efforts to become more innovative. The Innovation for the Corporation summit is a two-day event that will seek to better understand why Canada isn't as strong a leader in innovation as many think we could and should be.

"We've seen the report cards that put us in a declining space...our innovation performance is ranked 21st," explained Bruce Good, executive director of CBC's Centre for Business Innovation, in a video announcing the summit. As several indices all show that same slip in our comparative success in innovation, Good goes on, "the time for change is now."

He believes infrastructure, stable government, sound fiscal management capabilities, and a lot of latent energy and enthusiasm are raw resources ready to be tapped. The summit will focus on four key areas to help the business community make the most of those strengths, and understand specific areas where we're falling behind: funding mechanisms, people and skills, business strategies, and what has to change for us to do better. Speakers range from the presidents of several major corporations -- IBM, Cisco, and GE, for instance --to researchers and the leads at young startups who are finding success in their own innovative smaller businesses.

The Innovation for the Corporation summit takes place on February 19-20 at the Fairmont Royal York. Online registration is now open and early bird fees available until January 18.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Conference Board of Canada

Piloting a house that keeps itself warm

Canadians pride themselves on being hardy—and especially on being able to withstand weather extremes. We compare notes on the depth of our snowfalls, then go out and play hockey when it's -20 degrees.

The homes we live in aren't quite that immune to the cold though.

According to the National Research Council of Canada, up to 60 per cent of our residential energy use goes to heating our homes—a number that is often so high because much of the heat that's generated rapidly escapes. In an effort to retain more of that heat, and cut energy use, some Toronto researchers and architects are now piloting a nested thermal envelope home design: essentially creating a home within your home, to facilitate heat retention.

Ryerson professor Russell Richman is the co-principal investigator exploring the design. He's working with a colleague from the University of Toronto, Kim Pressnail, as well architecture firm ERA. The idea arose soon after Richman had a baby, he says, and his family had to go from a cooler house to one that was constantly heated to keep the baby comfortable. This got him wondering "Why can't I warm just one little zone?" So that's what Richman then proceeded to do, by installing a space heater. But it also got him thinking about how that effect could be recreated in a larger living space.

The nested design works by creating two zones within a home: a main, fully heated zone at the centre of your house where you do most of your living, and a perimeter buffer zone, which is kept at five degrees. The temperature difference between the zones reduces heat loss off the bat, and then a heat pump installed between the core and the perimeter pumps heat back into the central core of the house before it escapes entirely.

Richman and his colleagues are piloting their concept at a house owned by the University of Toronto, which will provide them with some information about the viability of the nested design as a retrofit for existing homes. That's the harder case. Future investigations will look at how the zone model can be incorporated into new construction from the outset.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Russell Richman, Professor of Architectural Science, Ryerson University

Allstream Centre awarded LEED certification

"Eight years ago, in 2004, the board of governors of Exhibition Place established Exhibition Place as a world leader in energy-efficient technologies: employing green practices in our daily operations; creating new, clean energy sources through initiatives such as our wind turbine and photovoltaic arrays; and conservation efforts such as major lighting retrofits, LED pilot projects and our recycling and waste diversion efforts.... Today, we are proud to celebrate the success of our environmental commitment with the announcement of our first LEED Silver building at Exhibition Place."

With those words—part of a speech delivered before city councillors, Exhibition Place staff and supporters and members of the press—Hugh Mansfield, vice-chair of the board of governors for Exhibition Place, announced that the Allstream Centre is now recognized as an environmentally friendly place to do business.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification provides an internationally recognized standard for sustainabie building; the Allstream Centre is the first conference centre in Canada with that designation. It follows on a 2009 renovation, and has been accorded in recognition of a variety of design and operational features, including the building's reliance on renewable energy for its power, a rainwater harvesting system and the installation of LED lighting.

The Art Deco building dates back to 1929, and was once used to display car models to the public as part of the Canadian National Exhibition, which is why many of us know it by its original name, the Automotive Building. The building was renovated by Norr Limited (their project summary: [PDF]) and comprises 160,000 square feet, with spaces that can be configured to accomodate gatherings ranging from 50 to 3,000 people.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Hugh Mansfield, Vice-Chair, Board of Governors, Exhibition Place

Centre for Social Innovation expanding... to New York City

The Centre for Social Innovation wasn't, as it happens, looking for additional opportunities to grow.

CSI, which offers shared spaces geared to small- and medium-sized social innovation organizations, started out with one facility on Spadina, in 2004, and had been adding rapidly to that: they bought a building in the Annex in 2010, expanding to a second location, and are currently implementing plans for a third site, as part of the massive Regent Park revitalization effort. They had a fair bit on their plates already.

But then came the call from New York. A real estate company had recently purchased, for nearly $1 billion, the Starrett-Lehigh building. At 2.3 million square feet, it's one of the 10 largest office buildings in Manhattan. They were looking for innovative tennants, they wanted CSI and they weren't going to take no for an answer.

The developers are trying, says CSI CEO Tonya Surman, "to find a way to bring some magic and life to the building—to do something that had more life, more energy, more community." Slated to open this winter, CSI Starrett-Leigh will offer mentoring, networking and tennant support services similar to its Toronto locations.

It's something that CSI, after eight years developing its co-location model—one which incorporates community animation and other engagement tools—is uniquely equipped to do. And it is, she adds, a model that is very characteristic of this city.

"I do think that Toronto and Canada—we're better at collaboration than most other cities and countries. I think that there's something in our DNA that's related to our history, our diversity.... We've had to learn to work across differences better than others. The DNA of collaboration runs in our blood."

"Toronto has played a leadership role," Surman says, in exploring new economic models that rely on innovation. It's leadership, clearly, that others are eager to benefit from.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Tonya Surman, CEO, Centre for Social Innovation

Prolucid wins $887,820 in funding to demonstrate smart grid management system

Increasing the amount of energy we get from renewable sources—an aspiration that was once the province of idealists—has become a much more common goal in recent years, one trotted out by politicians of many different partisan stripes. But as the pressure to move to sustainable energy grows, so too do the technical challenges in implementing the needed new technologies effectively, and on a large scale.

One of these challenges: because renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, are less consistent and predictable than their traditional counterparts, energy companies are reluctant to rely on them for a significant percentage of their power. How do you manage on a cloudy day or a still one, if you need constant source of power to keep the grid up and running?

Hoping to help solve this is Prolucid Technologies, a Mississauga software engineering firm that has just received nearly $900,000 in funding from Ontario's Smart Grid Fund. That money will support a two-year demonstration project in which the company will install its power grid management platform, including both hardware and software, at Exhibition Place.

"The goal," says company president Bob Leigh, "is to monitor the state of the local grid, keeping tabs on both the amount of energy being used as well as the amount being produced by the various local power producers—solar panels, wind turbines, or other."

This effort will help combat the problem power companies face with managing the more erratic renewable energy sources.

"By actively monitoring the system and having the ability to control its various components on the fly, we hope to increase the amount of renewable generation that can be connected to the local grid beyond the current low limits," says Leigh. Exhibition Place, he explains, makes the perfect testing ground because it already has a mix of energy sources on-site, most famously, it's large wind turbine.

Prolucid currently has nine staff members, and will double in size to manage this new project: they are currently hiring for five positions, and expect to hire for an additional three later this year, when the demonstration period begins. They have also announced the creation of a new offshoot, Prolucid LocalGrid Technologies Inc., which will work on bringing the company's technology to market.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Bob Leigh, President, Prolucid Technologies Inc.
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