Tony Bouk, MBA ’05, enjoys solving problems—and with his company GreenBug Energy, he’s doing just that through ancient technology.
“People like me around when there’s a real problem to solve, but after that they just view me as a pain in the neck. I don’t leave things alone—I’m like a pit bull with a problem,” says Tony Bouk.
Few modern problems are as daunting as the threat of global warming, but that’s exactly what drove Bouk towards his latest business, GreenBug Energy, a micro hydro-electricity venture powered by technology developed in the 3rd century BC.
GreenBug Energy designs, manufactures, installs, operates and maintains Archimedes screw generators for small dams, creating micro hydro-electric sites that can produce 1-to-500 kilowatts of energy. Apart from being profitable, the projects are designed to reduce greenhouse gases and lessen disruption on underwater inhabitants.
An avid kayaker, Bouk would often complain about water pollution on the lake and even served a short stint on the Board of Directors at the Long Point World Biosphere Reserve Foundation. Yet to mobilize equity and do anything on scale, Bouk knew profit was an essential component.
After a local resource assessment, Bouk, and business partner Brian Weber, discovered a spattering of small dams in towns and villages across the region. Too small to attract big power companies, Bouk and Weber started researching how to tap into these unused energy sources.
Thousands of years after its invention, the Archimedes screw was making a comeback in Europe, but the economics of buying and installing them in Canada didn’t make financial sense. Having successfully run a manufacturing company for years, Bouk was confident he could recreate the screw in Canada.
Simplifying the math on an Excel sheet, Bouk and Weber started testing their findings on a small stream on Weber’s property. “We built it, hooked it up, and it produced within five watts of what our model said it would.”
From their start in 2011, Bouk’s venture into small hydro has been a long process. Developing and testing the technology was a challenge in itself. Add in environmental assessments and rapidly changing government regulations, and it’s no mystery why GreenBug is not yet profitable.
In 2013, the company installed the first grid-connected Archimedes screw generator in all of North America, and snagged the 2014 Ontario Waterpower Association Innovation Award, the 2015 Royal Canadian Geographical Society 3M Environmental Innovation Award, and the 2015 Minister’s Award for Environmental Excellence from the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change. Currently, GreenBug has two completed installations and is involved in 10 more projects in the next Feed-in Tariff (FIT) round. Ontario’s FIT Program was established to encourage the development of renewable energy generating facilities of varying technologies.
“If you wait till all the ducks are lined up to do something, you are too late. We’re on the right side of the curve—renewable energy is here to stay,” says Bouk, confident that things are just starting to flow in the right direction.
Photo: Gabe Ramos