Energy’s Technological Frontier: Panel Highlights from Emerging Researchers
The afternoon session on the future of technology in the energy sector brought together speakers from across the energy value chain: James Scongack (Executive-Vice President Corporate Affairs & Operational Services, Bruce Power), Annette Verschuren (Chair and CEO NRStor), and Josipa Petrunic (Executive Director & CEO, Canadian Urban Transit Research & Innovation Consortium).
Haitao Yu, PhD Candidate at the Ivey Business School, provides context on today’s energy transition and summarizes the innovation opportunities identified by Verschuren, Scongack and Petrunic.
The Context of Our Energy Transition
Against a landscape of climate change and population growth, transitioning to a new energy system is imperative. That system should be cleaner, safer, and more reliable and efficient.
The energy sector consists of networks of individuals, companies, jurisdictions and the institutions and related norms that govern them. Thus, the energy transition requires changes in all these system elements. New products, operations, services, business models, and organizational forms will emerge, sometimes complementing and sometimes disrupting existing ones.
Conference speakers Verschuren, Scongack and Petrunic represent organizations at various levels of the energy value chain. Their experiences offer examples of how companies and non-profits can advance energy transition through innovative products, markets, and institutions.
Three Levels of Innovation Opportunities
Products. NRStor accelerates the commercialization of companies that work on short, medium and long-term energy storage, according to Verschuren. Here are a few examples:
- NRStor worked with Temporal Power on a grid-connected energy storage system: a flywheel that offers short-term energy balancing by converting excess energy to kinetic energy in a rotating flywheel. Energy can be sorted for up to 15 minutes and released back into the system during short-term peaks in demand.
- Longer-term storage technologies, such as the conversion of energy to compressed air, may store huge amounts of energy indefinitely.
- Microgrid systems, already deployed in some Inuit communities, increase energy resilience and reduce diesel dependence.
Markets. The biggest impact Canadian energy companies can make is in exporting clean energy technology and services to countries that currently burn coal, said James Scongack of Bruce Power. Scongack pointed out that China is world’s largest energy user and relies heavily on coal. By selling energy solutions to emerging markets, companies could reduce global carbon emissions, while bolstering the Canadian economy. Recent research from MaRS Discovery District offers similar insights, noting that China represents a promising market for Canadian clean tech companies.
Institutions. Energy is interwoven with transportation, economic growth, climate change, and other issues. Change therefore requires collaboration across institutions, said Jospia Petrunic of the Canadian Urban Transit Research & Innovation Consortium. Petrunic is working on the adoption of electric bus fleets in Canadian cities. She recommends that public institutions innovate in both their internal and external organization. Innovations that can support mass transit include:
- Collaborative efforts between the Ministry of Energy and Ministry of Transportation to reform policies and regulations that act as unnecessary barriers to electrification.
- Inclusion of operational savings in capital investment decisions. Many municipalities manage and evaluate these budgets separately. The result: a transit plan that can save money long-term will be rejected due to the heavy initial capital investment.
- Collaboration between cities and utility providers. Cities are responsible for public transportation but utilities can integrate digital infrastructure, such as sensors, controls, and communications towers, into cityscapes and invest in the charging infrastructure.
Anticipate Tomorrow Today
“Today's problems often arise as unintended consequences of yesterday’s solutions,” says John Sterman of the MIT Sloan School of Management. The evolution of energy over time has powered humanity’s progress — and created sustainability challenges. As humanity makes its next energy transition, we should act collaboratively and think holistically about potential positive and negative outcomes of new solutions.
About the Author
Haitao Yu is a PhD candidate in Sustainability at the Ivey Business School. He is interested in exploring new views and approaches in making a resilient planet for sustainable development. For his research on how place-based organizing incorporates traditional indigenous knowledge in sustainable development, he has already completed fieldwork on the Tibetan Plateau and Peruvian Andes and will gather data at his third field site at Walpole Island (Bkejwanong Territory) in southwestern Ontario.