Cleantech and the B.C. Smart Grid

The gold rush begins in the quest to upgrade B.C.’s electricity infrastructure. These are the days of the "smart grid."

The gold rush begins in the quest to upgrade B.C.’s electricity infrastructure. These are the days of the “smart grid.”

Investors in clean technology have experienced two distinct peaks in the past 12 years, both of which have affected B.C.’s technology community. The first peak was fuel-cell driven in the late 1990s, and B.C. led the way with Ballard Power Systems. The second peak was in 2007 when Al Gore fuelled a rally cry to stop climate change and billions went into the new category of clean technology. In response, many B.C. companies sprang up in biofuel (Lignol Innovations Ltd.), solar (Day4 Energy Inc.) and electric vehicle companies (Delta-Q Technologies Corp.). As of late, a more sober look at clean technology has investors seeking opportunities where real revenue is being generated and a clear need in the market is being fulfilled. This may lead to a new peak in clean technology fuelled mainly by something called the “smart grid.”

The smart grid is a marketing name for the upgrade of the electricity infrastructure around the globe to a two-way network that allows per-kilowatt pricing, selective conservation and adding surplus power to the grid. Europe and North America’s aging electric grids are in need of modernization at the same time as the developing world is building out its electricity delivery.

This global convergence of market need has been recognized as the biggest money-making opportunity in a generation. The utilities that build and run the grid know it and giants of the technology industry such as Cisco Systems and IBM have launched aggressive campaigns to secure their share of the infrastructure behind the smart cities of tomorrow.

As you sit in your office today and get clean steady power to your computer and the lights never flicker, you might be shocked to learn how variable and inefficient the current grid is. You won’t notice the difference of a fluctuation in voltage at your home or at your desk. But if you are a huge commercial building or a manufacturer, these differences end up as pure waste because your equipment or air conditioning works best at a steady voltage state. Enter Legend Power Systems Inc., a publicly traded Burnaby company that has perfected an electrical harmonizer that adjusts the incoming voltage from the grid. It is selling these systems to big-box retailers, manufacturers and Science World, generating savings through conservation and making the existing grid more efficient.

Tantalus Systems Corp. is a well-funded smart-
grid meter company from Burnaby that works with utilities to install a wireless meter at your home adjacent to the existing meter. Besides the obvious replacement of the dog-fearing human meter reader, Tantalus systems create a two-way conversation with the utility about what usage is happening in real time, allowing homeowners to manage their consumption and reduce their bills. Tantalus is making hay in the U.S. and in Eastern Canada with thousands of meters installed to date. 

Having a connection at the meter is game changing for conservation, as is the ability to manage your energy within your home. A startup winning accolades and business in Australia, the U.S. and soon in Europe is Energy Aware Technology Inc. This Vancouver company makes two-way consumption monitoring devices that help conserve energy by telling the homeowner how much electricity is being used at that moment. Connecting this functionality to your smart phone is coming soon, allowing you to turn down air conditioning or turn off lights remotely.

All of these companies are attacking a real need right now in the market of clean technology. These aren’t early-stage science projects or partially dependent on government and BC Hydro tariffs for their livelihood. These companies will participate in the next peak of clean technology, which will be based on real earnings from companies that have the side benefit of helping combat climate change.