View Corporate Knights Magazine Purchase Locations in a full screen map
Now that nearly 5 million Ontario homes and small businesses have smart meters, the province has access to a tsunami of energy usage data. The question now is what’s the best use of it? As part of efforts to open up this data store and make it available to third-party developers — part of the “green button” initiative — the Ontario energy ministry issued today a challenge to app developers. Come up with a mobile app that makes the best use of this data and win part of $50,000 in cash that is available for prizes. Developers have until Jan. 7 to submit their app, and the winners will be announced in early 2014. “Awards include Gold, Silver and Bronze, Best Student App, Best App Created Outside of Ontario, and People’s Choice,” according to the ministry.
Will be interesting to see what emerges from this contest.
Another major milestone for ZooShare Co-op: financial regulator has approved sale of community bond issueSeptember 12th, 2013
I’ve written about ZooShare before, so I won’t get into too much background, except to say that it’s a local co-operative in Toronto that wants to turn poop from animals at the Toronto Zoo into biogas that will in turn be used to generate electricity. A very cool project. I am a volunteer director on the ZooShare board, and it has been a great learning experience. In July we hit one major milestone when the co-operative was awarded a 20-year contract to sell its electricity to the province as part of the feed-in-tariff program. This week, we hit another milestone: the Financial Services Commission of Ontario, one of the province’s main financial regulators, approved ZooShare’s request to sell its community bonds. As a result, this fall we’ll be having an active campaign to sell the bonds, which will have a five to seven year term and will offer an annual return of up to 7 per cent. To learn more, visit ZooShare’s website. This is all great news, because now we can raise the necessary funds to begin the process of building our anaerobic digestion and power generation facility at the Toronto Zoo. We are tentatively expecting to launch the bond-selling campaign at the zoo on Oct. 10, so these are exciting times for a tiny co-op that’s thinking big.
On another positive note, ZooShare is also one of 10 social ventures that have been selected to be part of the new Social Venture Exchange (SVX), which is a joint venture of the Toronto Stock Exchange and MaRS that will launch on Sept. 19. Our bonds will be listed on this exchange, which is great exposure for us. As ZooShare executive director Daniel Bida says, “The SVX is the first of its kind in North America and it is surely to attract large interest once it is launched.”
Please consider becoming a member of ZooShare. We’re serious when we say we’ve got lots of pootentional. (Cheesy, I know, but had to say it).
Canada’s geothermal power industry turns to the “crowd” in the absence of government funding for researchSeptember 11th, 2013
In a 2008 story about Canada being a laggard when it comes geothermal power production, I wrote that Canada is the only nation along the Pacific Ring of Fire to not have a commercial geothermal power plant up and running. “We’re one of the few countries with significant geothermal potential that’s not doing anything about it,” was a quote I used from Gary Thompson, an industry executive based in Canada who has had no choice but to pursue geothermal opportunities in other countries.
The “not doing anything about it” part pretty much remains true today, as there are still no commercial plants in operation. Not that some folks haven’t been trying, particularly the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association (CanGEA), whose members represent about 20 per cent of installed geothermal power capacity globally. Problem is, that capacity isn’t in Canada, despite estimates that 5,000 megawatts — initially — could be commercially developed here.
For a few years now, CanGEA has been trying to build an industry roadmap and implementation plan that would give geothermal power development in Canada a much-needed kickstart. This “roadmap” requires market reports, maps that identify the resource opportunity, and databases that track those opportunities over time. It would support the argument for public policy that supports early efforts to establish a geothermal power market in Canada — the same policies that have supported Canada’s oil, gas and mining industries over the decades. Unfortunately the roadmap is incomplete, and that’s because the industry has been unable to convince the federal and provincial governments (in geopower hotspot zones, namely Alberta, NWT and B.C.) to financially support this early, crucial research.
This has left the opportunity in limbo, so much so that CanGEA — in what appears to be a first for
crowdsourcing crowdfunding — is getting ready to launch a campaign on Indiegogo.com to help bridge the financial gap. At this point, it looks to raise $300,000 as part of a two-month campaign. “The topic of turning to public funds to shore up what the government has given or won’t give is a daily topic at CanGEA and is a circular argument,” says Alison Thompson, founder and chair of CanGEA and a former project manager/engineer at oil companies Suncor and Nexen. “The government won’t give more until industry gives more matching dollars. But the industry can’t start until the government provides geothermal energy with the same platform as it has for wind, solar, biomass, run of river, not to mention what it has historically given and still gives to the carbon-based fuel industry and nuclear industry.”
So the association is turning to the crowd. And what will the funds it hopes to raise go toward? CanGEA wants to complete its industry roadmap, and also hire a policy team that can lobby the federal government to put geothermal energy on a level playing field with other renewables and conventional fossil and nuclear energy sources.
It’s an interesting experiment, one that will shine a light on the industry and the Canadian government’s apparent disinterest in the geothermal power opportunity. Will it work? The association may very well not meet its fundraising goal. But even if it doesn’t, it will have made a strong point and raised attention to this opportunity to a level more deserved.
Stay tuned. I’ll let you know if and when the campaign formally launches.
Coincidentally, I wrote this blog post at the same time as I received this e-mail comment from Toby Heaps, CEO and publisher of Corporate Knights, who is currently on vacation in Iceland. “The geothermal swimming pool here is amazing,” he wrote, referring to the hot water “lagoons” that have become tourist attractions at some of the country’s geothermal plants. I recently had a similar tourist experience in Costa Rica, which also has some geothermal power capacity.
The same tourism opportunity exists in Canada, if we get geothermal power into this country’s energy mix.
General Fusion builds credibility on its ambitious path to demonstrate affordable fusion power for the massesSeptember 6th, 2013
Corporate website design on its own doesn’t reveal much about a company except how much it’s willing to spend on marketing. However, the timing of website designs and redesigns can tell you quite a bit. For example, if a new company goes live from Day 1 on the Internet with a flashy, slick, clearly expensive corporate site, it’s more than likely smoke and mirrors hiding a lot of nothing. However, when a company has been around for a few years and then suddenly decides to invest in a kick-ass website, it’s often — not always — a sign it has entered a new stage and finally has something concrete to brag about. Serious companies, in my experience, try to keep a low profile until they’ve got something real to say.
A superficial observation, yes, but I’m making this point to explain why I decided to contact nuclear fusion startup General Fusion of Vancouver for an update. As many of you will remember, I wrote a chapter about this Vancouver-based company in Mad Like Tesla – it’s one of my favourite chapters in the book. This week, the company, which counts Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos as a financial backer, announced that two top-notch directors were joining its board: Jacques Besnainou and Frederick Buckman. Besnainou was former president and CEO of AREVA Group North America, while Buckman, who has a PhD in nuclear engineering from MIT, has pretty deep experience working as an executive with a number of electricity-sector companies, including Shaw Power Group, Brookfield Asset Management, and PowerLink Transmission Co., where he is currently CEO. After seeing this announcement, I decided to check out General Fusion’s website when I noticed the redesign, which is more professionally put together, visually attractive, and through excellent photos has a compelling narrative and offers a peak inside a company doing some very cool work. For this reason, and because it has been more than three years since I last spoke with the company, I decided to give CEO Doug Richardson a call for an update. Below is an edited excerpt of that conversation, though first you may want to read a couple of previous posts for a bit of background on General Fusion.
Clean Break: In Mad Like Tesla, I mentioned that General Fusion’s goal was to demonstrate net gain by 2014 with an eye to generating fusion power for the grid by 2020. When we last spoke, you said the trick relates to how you confine the plasma so you can achieve the right densities and temperature required to achieve net gain. I recall your comparison to a water balloon, and the difficulty of trying to compress it with your hands without letting the balloon squeeze through your fingers. How has your progress been on that front?
Richardson: We’ve struggled with getting the confinement and we’re probably at half of what we need. So we’re working on that…. The questions are, do we have the right water balloon, and can we improve our fingers so we don’t let any of the water balloon come through? On both those fronts we’ve made great improvements. Have we gotten to net-gain fusion conditions yet? No. Do I still believe we can get there? Yes. Has it taken longer than expected? Yes. Fusion is hard.
Clean Break: Over the past three years, do you feel you’ve gained acceptance in the broader scientific community, specifically in the area of nuclear physics?
Richardson: In the scientific community, we’re much more credible. People realize who we are. There was a guy recently doing an article on fusion in the United States. He phoned up a guy who runs a fusion conference for comment. The guy told him there are three areas he needs to look at : the laser guys, magnetic confinement fusion like ITER, and you have to talk to General Fusion. That’s an endorsement that the science we’re doing is getting noticed in the scientific community.
Clean Break: Have you been getting more attention and support from the Canadian government?
Richardson: I would say Canadian government at high levels, no. I would say associations within Canada, yes. For example, the Canadian Nuclear Society now has a fusion section in their annual meeting, and there have been a few other fusion meetings in Canada. The Canadian government really killed fusion dead. For that to change is a big challenge. It’s not happening.
Clean Break: While traditional nuclear fission approaches to power generation seem to be struggling, we are hearing quite a bit about the potential of fuel recycling, thorium reactors, small modular reactors, and other approaches. Do see yourself in a race against these alternative approaches to nuclear power generation?
Richardson: If we get it right, it completely blows everybody else out of the water. Some of those technologies may be better than heavy-water and light-water reactors, but they have a huge development path ahead. The thing that holds them back is the commercial viability. The real nuclear advances will come from Asia, even in fission. My understanding is that the Chinese have taken a CANDU reactor and loaded it up with thorium. Likewise, other types of fission like reburning spent fuel are being explored. This is going to sound a bit harsh, but it’s a bit like North America has decided to get out of nuclear. To be clear, the Tokamak (ITER) approach for fusion from a scientific point of view is further proven than the magnetized target fusion we’re doing. Tokamaks have gotten near net gain. We haven’t gotten anywhere near net gain. We can prove out the science on a way faster timescale than they did, and with a way smaller budget, but they are well ahead on the science. So until we demonstrate the science is valid, there’s is the way to go. If we demonstrate the science, Vancouver will be the global centre for fusion. If we prove out the science that fusion can work at inexpensive scale, it will enable fusion around the world and in all sorts of surprising ways that weren’t anticipated.
Clean Break: If you demonstrate the validity of the science behind General Fusion’s approach, do you really think a project like ITER will be discontinued with the billions of dollars already put into it?
Richardson: I actually believe that people are looking for a reason to scrap ITER, but they haven’t found a way to do so. I think the Chinese will have a version beyond ITER, perhaps built before ITER is built.
Clean Break: Jeff Bezos, through Bezos Expeditions, has put some money behind General Fusion. Has Bezos toured your facility?
Richardson: (pause)… I had a very fun lunch with Bezos.
Clean Break: And what was your impression?
Richardson: He’s an exceptionally smart, curious, practical, interesting guy with a zest for life.