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CEEA’s Efficiency Matters Blog

The Latest Innovation Trends in Energy Efficiency

From apps and hubs to liquid-cooled super computers

Given the long, cold winter we’ve had I thought it would be appropriate to start thinking about spring, and for me my thoughts turn towards innovation – and in the energy efficiency sector there is a lot going on. Innovation is the holy grail for energy efficiency and our hopes that it will reduce create jobs and solve problems, including cutting our greenhouse gas emissions. Here’s a look at some of the latest innovation trends in energy efficiency.

A Canadian Energy Butler App

Designing apps and cashing in has become a common dream in our digital age, and it’s no different in the energy efficiency sector. The Energy Apps for Ontario Challenge announced its winners at the end of February, awarding $50,000 to software developers, all as part of the Ontario Ministry of Energy’s Green Button Initiative which is aimed at giving Ontarians secure access to their energy data. The gold award – and people’s choice winner – went to Wattsly which developed a personalized energy butler that records daily energy-related activities and then analyzes the info allowing users to decide how to shift some activities to off-peak hours. The Wattsly app also gives consumers access to energy efficient products and coupons.

This happened in tandem with Ontario’s contribution of $5 million a year for three years to a new energy innovation incubator at the Advanced Energy Centre at MaRS. CEEA is definitely interested in seeing how this develops with its goal of helping homegrown energy innovations reach new markets here and abroad.

US Energy Efficiency Manufacturing Hubs

South of the border Obama seems to be living up to his energy efficiency commitments with the establishment of an energy efficiency manufacturing hub in North Carolina. Centred at North Carolina State University a group of 18 companies and seven universities are planning to develop the next generation of energy-efficient electronic chips and devices. One thing they have in their favour is money – the US Energy Department has committed US$70 million over five years, US$10 million from North Carolina and consortium partners are matching the feds with another US$70 million. Obama still has two other manufacturing hubs which should be announced soon.

Business model innovations are also something worth talking about. SustainAbility released their report Model Behavior, looking at 20 sustainable companies, that are transforming business models in February. This is a good, inspiring, read for people interested in understanding the “origins, mechanics and implications” of innovative business models, though they’re not all efficiency-focussed companies, they are all sustainable. Among them of course was Opower, a CEEA member, which was listed for its behavioural change model. The software company partners with utility companies to promote energy efficiency among customers.

Another innovative company has been Nest, which has also been getting a lot of buzz since Google purchased it for US$3.2 billion! Known for its smart thermostats and smoke detectors, it’s going to be interesting to see where all this data collection takes us.

Tackling the energy used by computers

What I love about innovation is that it can lead anywhere. I was fascinated by the news of a prototype for a liquid-cooled supercomputer in Japan at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. The New York Times reported that its Tsubame KFC, is 50 percent more powerful than an older supercomputer at the institute and uses the same amount of energy. Instead of using air conditioning to cool it, it’s submerged in a tank of mineral oil. This is a big deal given our proclivity for computers, servers and living life in a cloud.

Future energy efficient innovation trends

If you’ve been inspired by some of these stories, stay tuned. Scotiabank’s EcoLiving Award winners will be announced in April. They’ll be giving $50,000 to the business or individual demonstrating a home energy efficiency product can reduce household energy consumption.

There’s also Sustainable Development Technology Canada’s new call for applications on April 16 for its SD Tech Fund. Aimed at Canadian cleantech innovators the SDTC “finances the development and demonstration of pre-commercialization clean technologies addressing climate change, as well as clean air, water and soil.” Its priority areas are agriculture, clean energy, next-generation transportation, resource and energy efficiency. And there’s money! The 2013 federal budget gives SDTC $325 million over eight years to support clean technology projects.

CEEA would love to hear about any other energy efficient innovations we should know about.

Posted March 19, 2014

Elizabeth is the president of CEEA.