At its very base, energy is power derived from a range of resources to provide things like light and heat, and to work mechanisms or machines. This is a simplified definition for a multi-layered, complex property that we use day in and day out, in varying degrees, in all aspects of our lives.
But it really doesn’t need to be more complicated than that. Its importance transcends sectors. But trends in energy have come a long way over the past one hundred-plus years. Think about the technology you would have encountered at the turn of the twentieth century: horses, steam, coal and humans. Electricity (and all of the wonderful inventions that came with it) didn’t really become an option until the 1910s. And then we were off to the races.
But now we’re in a new age of energy, where we are looking for ways to consume smarter, use less energy for the same tasks, tap into clean energy resources that aren’t as hard on the planet, and so much more. Canadians are paying attention, too, as evidenced by recent energy use stats. According to the Canadian Centre for Energy Information, the purchase of zero-emission vehicles is up 48.6 percent from 10 years ago; household end-use energy demand per household is down one percent; and 89 percent of households have at least one type of energy-saving light. On the market share side, environmental and cleantech products are up 2.9 percent. This last stat is especially exciting in the Eastern Ontario Innovation Corridor. So many companies in this small part of the country are disruptors in the space, developing transformative tech in everything from energy metering and submetering to renewable energy creation and storage. Read on for four companies or organizations that are changing the energy landscape in Eastern Ontario.
For QSBRI, a research and development firm that focuses on solar thermal energy and heat transfer, their genius is in their simplicity. “We want to design things that will work without user intervention and ideally, without any electricity, with passive mechanical means,” says Ben Stinson, general manager and one of the company’s three co-founders. QSBRI does this in a number of ways where renewable energy and system optimization are concerned, including R&D and market/gap analysis, modeling and simulation, technology development and product testing.
Stinson, along with his two co-founders — president Bob Stinson (Ben’s dad!) and CTO/director of engineering Dr. Stephen Harrison — take existing systems and look at ways to improve them through cleantech designs and technology implementation, including technology of their own. “We have some patents and are looking to file new patents that will better optimize processes that are traditionally reliant on fossil fuels,” says Stinson. “We’re essentially doing our best to contribute in ways that use renewable resources and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.” QSBRI’s patents include Passive Back Flush (PBF) and Integral Stagnation Control (ICS). PBF allows for the use of compact plate heat exchangers in applications and areas that had previously been impossible due to hard water; the technology prevents fouling and scale build-up. ICS optimizes performance and reliability of solar thermal and photovoltaic thermal (PVT) collectors by preventing overheating.
Despite being a small shop in Kingston, Ont., QSBRI works with government institutions and agencies domestically and abroad, as well as with manufacturers and private contractors. From 2017 to 2019, for example, the company modeled, simulated and built a solar air conditioning unit for King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) in Saudi Arabia. “It was 26 feet long, because it needed a ton of instrumentation, but this was for research to demonstrate that it could work,” says Stinson. From August of this year until the end of September, Stinson will find himself in Greece, Germany, California and Puerto Rico. “We work in at least two dozen countries every year, because our services are so in-demand. The fact that we’re a small company is actually a benefit, because it means we’re very nimble,” Stinson says. “We have the ability to take on unique and difficult projects that big companies aren’t able to do because they are too customized.”
There’s no shortage of work at home either. “Natural Resources Canada will trust us with just about anything that has to do with solar. We also built a thermal chemical energy storage unit for them. It was very interesting because it was the only one of its kind in the Western Hemisphere,” says Stinson. “We can be flexible and compete with very large institutes from around the world.”
The future looks bright for the crew at QSBRI, with many exciting prospects on the horizon: “We’re working on our PBF technology. We’re working with a global manufacturer of valves to take our technology to the next step. We’ve also seen a huge shift in our industry over the past six to 12 months to storage — electrical and thermal — and many of our current research projects reflect this,” says Stinson. “We’ve also seen a resurgence in solar thermal, so we’re actually doing a gap analysis looking at new tech coming out and what the issues are right now getting the technology into Canadian hands.” If the company’s track record is any indication, the right team is on the job.
“We want to design things that will work without user intervention and ideally, without any electricity, with passive mechanical means.”
Using proprietary cloud-based software, Intellimeter aims to help property management clients make smart decisions about their energy consumption. The company, headquartered in Pickering, Ont., offers a comprehensive lineup of submetering systems to provide detailed, real-time information on utilities consumption, including electricity, water, gas and thermal energy. The submetering software, called i-meter, works with the existing metering systems of clients to provide information that strengthens conservation, improves accountability and helps to manage costs. The software suite is tiered, offering three different levels of service: i-meter Data is free with the metering equipment, while i-meter Energy Analysis and Billing are subscription-based options that can provide added and specific functionality.
“Intellimeter is the only submetering company that does not charge for data or lock customers into long-term agreements,” says Alberto Quiroz, the company’s president. “Our meters communicate using universally available communication protocols, like Modbus or Mbus, to bring customers options for their preferred gateways to access our meters.” The company’s database structure and communication devices also use open communication protocols and include a lifetime software license to download consumption reports to compare against billing. Intellimeter is continuously developing their software, in order to bring more added value to their customers in the form of new features.
This speaks to Intellimeter’s dedication to customer service as well. “Our team and our commitment to impeccable service set us apart from our competitors,” says Quiroz. “Whether we’re assisting customers with conceptual design, system engineering, finding ways to reduce the cost of installation, or working with them to integrate our metering system into their preferred platforms, we are always there when they need us.”
This passion for customer service bodes well for the future of the company, in conjunction with upcoming innovations. “We’ve developed an electric vehicle (EV) demand controller, with a Canada-approved meter at its core,” says Quiroz. “It allows multi-residential buildings to install three to four times more chargers than the building capacity would allow.” The technology uses off-the-shelf components with proven extended lifetime performance; they’re also easy to install and a cost effective way to meet the requirements of the Condo Act in Ontario, as well as the Electrical Safety Authority.
With the electrification of transportation and the pressure to be carbon neutral, Quiroz predicts that the call for demand control will be accelerated — particularly with EV charging. Intellimeter will be there to answer that call, as the company continues to invest in added features and better accessibility and integration. As with all things, solving a problem before it’s a problem means companies like Intellimeter are poised to be in the right place at the right time.
We all know the old adage that “good things come in small packages.” In the case of DigiQ, an early-stage startup out of Queen’s University, this couldn’t be more true. The tiny power controller created by DigiQ founder Yan-Fei Liu and his associates is already showing incredible traction in the power management arena, with the hope for farther reaching adoption in years to come. We caught up with Liu to ask about DigiQ’s origin, growth and future.
I’m a professor at Queen’s University, and I developed a technology in the power management area — together with my post-doc fellow, Yang Chen, we set up a company called DigiQ Power. I was able to get an exclusive license from Queen’s, which was helpful given that, in my previous career, selling patents was more difficult.
We make a controller that is programmed into a digital circuit called a micro-controller-unit (MCU). An MCU by itself can’t do anything, but when our tech is programmed into the MCU, it is ready to be used. Like Windows on a computer. If you don’t have Windows installed on your computer, it won’t do anything. Or if you don’t have Microsoft Office installed, you can’t write. The MCU with my code is then sold to customers for use.
“Every time you buy a new electronic, it comes with a power supply cord. Now, because the power adapter we contribute to is universal, it helps to cut down on this kind of waste.”
Our first product is a controller for a USB Type C power adapter for fast charging. If you’ve purchased a tablet or phone lately, you’ve likely seen that this one power supply can power all of your gadgets. Our technology is used in this application, in this type of adaptor. The thing is, we don’t actually sell the adapters; we sell the controller for the power adapter. The controller contains our intellectual property.
That said, we also develop technology for Portable Power Stations (PPS).It’s basically a box that contains a battery and produces AC power. You carry it with you when you don’t have AC power avaialble. With our technology, the battery can be recharged very, very quickly. In most, if not all, of the other portable power stations available, it will come with an additional charger to charge the battery. With my technology and design, you don’t need a separate charger; you just plug into the AC outlet and it charges itself. Within just one hour, it can charge up to 80 percent.
We also do something called reference design. Customers don’t always understand how to execute what they want to do, so we’re like a one-stop-shop solution. I give them the controller in the MCU, but I also give a reference design for their entire product. Most of our customers come for reference design, as well as the MCU technology.
In two ways. On the power adapter side, we have helped to eliminate a lot of electronic waste. Think about it: Every time you buy a new electronic, such as a cellphone, it comes with a power adapter. Now, because the power adapter we contribute to is universal, it helps to cut down on this kind of waste. Second, our technology is more efficient and smaller, with less power loss. Let’s say that you’re using a notebook computer requiring 100 watts; when you use a traditional power adapter, there is power lost to the adapter. With the DigiQ technology, there is less loss. Coupled with the efficient charging ability, this means less strain on the electrical grid.
I would expect that this type of innovation will be used in new versions of power adaptors, as well as in more AC to DC applications generally. In my ideal world, a least a third of these adaptors will use our technology. I don’t think that’s unreasonable.
Oshawa Power is a diversified holding company that places its customer at the centre of its mission and vision. It has been serving the area for 130 years, has approximately 80 employees and services around 60,000 customers in Oshawa. Oshawa Power has always shown a dedication to the current energy needs of the Region, as well as to the future needs of its customer base; currently, Oshawa Power has a strategic focus on providing sustainable energy solutions for the future, in addition to continued best-in-class service.
Oshawa Power is a leader in innovation. From their “self-healing grid” assuring Oshawa customers are minimally impacted by storms, to laying the base for high-speed fibre internet, the aim is not only to serve their customers but to exceed expectations. Take the Connected Corridor project: “We’re extremely excited about this pilot, as it demonstrates the agility and ability of Durham Broadband,” says Maged Yackoub, director of IT and project management at Oshawa Power. “The Connected Corridor spans four downtown blocks along King Street, from Centre to Mary streets. When in the area, visitors are encouraged to use their smartphones to log into wifi, which will deliver deals and business promotions directly to their devices.” The results of the pilot, which runs until mid-October, will be shared with the City and the Council.
This innovation mindset extends to Oshawa Power’s dedication to renewable energy as well. “Electric vehicles (EV) and the adoption of electric transportation have been advancing for a number of years,” says Mike Weatherbee, director of operations at Oshawa Power. “With this in mind, education and infrastructure planning is top of mind. Our Plug ’n’ Drive program, which aims to educate residents on EV is in its second year. We also have four Hyper Charge and EV installations across the downtown core.” Next steps include potential adoption of wireless charging and autonomous vehicles; addition of electric buses; and better integration of solar and wind power assets from southern Ontario into battery storage and the electrical grid. The corporation is an affiliate organization of EnerFORGE, which allows the company to support the energy conservation projects and innovation of other companies and organizations.
It’s clear to see that Oshawa Power’s impressive legacy of innovation (13 decades is a big deal!) continues on, bringing Oshawa into a new generation of power. Combine inherent forward-thinking and trendsetting with an unparalleled commitment to customer service and we’d say the people of Oshawa are a pretty lucky bunch.