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Could this off-the-grid technology be the future of electricity?





Hello there! This is our weekly newsletter on all things environmental, where we highlight trends and solutions that are moving us to a more sustainable world. (Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Thursday.)

This week:

  • It’s called OOM, and it could change the way we generate power
  • Did Trump help inspire the Green New Deal?
  • The worst places for traffic congestion
  • When the rubber hits the snow: How electric cars fare in winter

Meet OOM: Could this off-the-grid technology be the future of electricity?

(OOM Energy)

In August 2003, a sagging high-voltage power line in northern Ohio brushed up against some tree branches. Before long, three transmission lines had short-circuited and 45 million people in the northeastern U.S., as well as 10 million in Ontario, were in the dark — for hours, days, in some cases even a week.

It was a tough lesson for power companies, who implemented recommendations from the investigation that followed (such as keeping power lines away from trees). But the fact is, most of us still rely on the grid to provide electricity to our homes and businesses.

If Craig Clydesdale has his way, however, that will all change. He’s the founder and CEO of OOM Energy, an Oakville, Ont.-based company that has developed a new way of providing electricity to customers.

“You’re looking at the next big thing,” Clydesdale said. What he’s referring to is his company’s Integrated Energy Platform (IEP), an on-site power system that aims to take buildings off the sometimes unstable electrical grid while also reducing their carbon footprint. Oh, and it’s portable.

OOM’s unit shouldn’t be confused with a generator, which creates mechanical energy and delivers it only as a backup, when existing systems fail. What Clydesdale’s company provides is private, continuous electricity with no upfront cost for the unit. The customer just pays a regular bill directly to OOM each month.

So what’s in the unit? The current version uses natural gas, a battery and an inverter. While it’s not a zero-emissions solution, Clydesdale said the system can be modified to include greener energy as it develops and becomes more affordable — such as solar panels or hydrogen, which he believes to be the future.

The unit only generates power when it has to. That’s unlike power lines that deliver electricity to your home, which have to be constantly running just in case. OOM uses artificial intelligence to calculate a building’s power requirements, so its customers only get “what they need,” Clydesdale said.

At the moment, OOM units are being sold to organizations and businesses with large demands, such as ones in agriculture and industrial manufacturing. But they’ve also been used in high-rise apartments and multi-residential units.

Last month, Stoneridge Ice Centre in Burlington, Ont., became the first arena in North America to adopt OOM’s new technology. The estimate is that their annual electricity costs will drop from $180,000 to $145,000 — a savings of 20 per cent.

Although Clydesdale has a unit for his home, right now, OOM’s main focus is on commercial and multi-residential buildings.

Clydesdale doesn’t know of anything like OOM on the market, but he said he’d be happy to see others rise to the challenge of a green, off-grid solution. At a time when more ice storms are predicted for parts of Canada with climate change, Clydesdale said this type of technology could be the security people are looking for.

He said it’s potentially “a multitrillion-dollar industry. There’s lots of room for all of us.”

Nicole Mortillaro

Given Trump’s climate inaction, Green New Deal could be a political winner

(Saul Loeb/Getty Images)

CBC business columnist Don Pittis weighs in on the Green New Deal, the sweeping plan put forth by left-leaning members of the Democratic Party in the U.S. to address climate change.

To conservatives who understand the science of climate change and its potentially  dire economic effects, it may seem strange that the decision on whether to halt it has become a left-right issue.

With the announcement of a major climate action initiative in the U.S., that polarization has become even more pronounced.

The idea of a transformational project to boost the economy using green technology has been around for decades. But now, an emerging left-leaning faction of the Democratic Party has offered up the Green New Deal, where fighting climate change is firmly anchored in a platform of wider social change, including items such as eliminating poverty and increasing income equality.

“I think [the Green New Deal] does mix a lot of things that are not necessarily compatible, and subordinates the goal of reducing carbon emissions to a lot of other things on the liberal social democratic wish list,” Mark Cameron, executive director of Canadians for Clean Prosperity, told me on the phone last week.

A firm supporter of carbon pricing as a business-friendly way of cutting CO2 without distorting the economy, Cameron was director of policy and research for former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper.

But as others told me, the hostility of U.S. President Donald Trump and his supporters to the whole idea of fighting climate change has surrendered that political turf to the Democrats.

As the name implies, the Green New Deal is unabashedly a social project, harking back to the original New Deal introduced by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to combat the inequality, unemployment and hunger of the Great Depression.

While critics insist it was actually the massive stimulation from spending on the Second World War that rebooted the U.S. economy, the original New Deal set the tone for a more egalitarian social and economic system that formed the basis of the postwar shared prosperity.

Without a climate change plan of its own, the Trump Republicans have given their Democratic opponents lots of flexibility to formulate a final green policy they think will appeal to voters.

With U.S. unemployment at record lows, massive public sector stimulus on green projects would likely be hard to justify. But if the rich keep on getting richer as the economy goes into recession, and if public worries over the effects of climate change continue to grow, a Green New Deal may catch the voters’ imagination as a way to kill two birds with one stone.

Don Pittis

The Big Picture: Traffic congestion

Sitting in traffic is no fun, but getting around in some cities is clearly worse than in others. According to research by traffic-analysis firm Inrix, the worst traffic is in Bogota, Colombia — drivers there lost 272 hours to congestion in 2018. As you’ll see from the chart below, notoriously bad Canadian cities like Toronto and Montreal come off looking almost manageable in comparison.


What’s on your mind?

Last week’s story on household waste elicited some interesting emails. One reader pointed out that black plastic, which we cited as something that can’t be recycled, is actually recycled in some communities across Canada. The reader helpfully clarified that “municipalities have different rules because they’ve invested in different technologies. That makes it tough for consumers and businesses.”

We’ll be returning to the topic of zero waste in the coming weeks and months, but if you have comments or suggestions on this topic, we’d be happy to hear them.

Hot and bothered: Provocative ideas from around the web

  • For anyone with a bird feeder, putting out food for our winged friends during the scarcity of the winter months seems like a small act of mercy. But an ecologist at the University of Alberta points out that it also puts birds at risk of accidentally colliding with windows or coming face to face with urban predators.

  • As Emily Chung wrote in a story last year, online shopping is a significant generator of carbon emissions. Given Amazon’s outsize influence in this space, there’s reason to be encouraged by the company’s announcement this week that it’s aiming to make all its shipments “net zero carbon.” The first target: Making 50 per cent of its shipments net zero by 2030.

Snow problem: Electric cars in Winterpeg

(Bryce Hoye/CBC)

The coldest days in Canadian winters wreak havoc on vehicle batteries, and so you’d think the problem would be especially acute for electric vehicles (EVs). But many EV owners say that impact isn’t a big deal once the rubber hits the snow.

A recent cold snap that swept through Canada provided an interesting case study for Winnipeg, where temperatures were in the -35 C range. On days like that, Jordan Loewen said his Tesla Model 3 was losing as much as 40 per cent of its battery range. Heating the cabin of the car was the main culprit, as it is for many EV owners.

This is the first Winnipeg winter for Loewen’s black Tesla, which cost him a cool $75,000.

In ideal conditions, Loewen said his car can do 500 kilometres on a full charge. On the cold days of winter, however, he’s getting more like 300 kilometres. On paper, that may look like a problem, but Loewen is a city commuter, and is only logging 60 kilometres a day on average.

Tesla advises against exposing its vehicles to extreme conditions — colder than -25 C, warmer than 60 C — for more than than 24 hours, but Loewen said he hasn’t seen any issues.

“It performs and handles well in our winters, exceptionally so,” said the 32-year-old Loewen.

Ross Redman paid $26,000 for his Mitsubishi i-MiEV seven years ago, and said it has stood the test of time (and temperatures) in Winnipeg.

“I’ve been told by several people that an electric car will never work in the winter time, and I use it every day,” said Redman.

Like Loewen, Redman loses range in the winter — about 50 kilometres of the 100 kilometres he would get in the summer. But also like Loewen, he’s a city driver, and isn’t driving enough for that loss to change his habits.

Both say the loss in winter range is a small price to pay for vehicles that cost less than a few hundred dollars in fuel annually. Redman said he pays about $7 a month in the summer and $10 in the winter months on electricity bills to charge his little hatchback in his garage.

Redman acknowledges one big roadblock to owning an electric car in Manitoba is that he can’t hop into his Mitsubishi and cover the province’s vast distances without getting what is called “range anxiety.”

That’s because Manitoba, like some other provinces, is a patchwork of charging stations and lacks a supercharger network in particular. Those stations charge most electric vehicle batteries in less than an hour.

The Manitoba Electric Vehicle Association estimates a $4-million investment could establish enough supercharger stations around the province to make long road trips possible for EVs like Redman’s, which lack the extended range of Loewen’s fancy ride.

Bryce Hoye

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Editor: Andre Mayer | Logo design: Sködt McNalty


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Trudeau Government Should Turn to Sustainable Floor Heating In Its New Deal





A consortium has been chosen by Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) to manage the $1.1-billion overhaul of five heating and cooling plants in the National Capital Region. However, this decision has been met with a lot of disapproval by the country’s largest federal public service union.

Early June, the department announced that Innovate Energy has been awarded the 30-year contract “to design, retrofit, maintain and operate the plants,”winning the bid over a rival group that included SNC-Lavalin.

Minister of Environment, Catherine McKenna, said the federal government was “leading by example” in its bid to drastically reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions across the country. McKenna noted that by supporting this project, they’re utilizing heating and cooling infrastructure to promote a more environmentally friendly option.

“We’re very proud that our government is working with partners like Innovate Energy to modernize this critical infrastructure,” she said during the announcement at one of the facilities that will be upgraded, the Cliff Heating and Cooling Plant in downtown Ottawa.

The plants would be known as the district energy system and would heat 80 buildings in the area with steam. It is also expected to cool 67 of these buildings with chilled water through more than 14 kilometres of underground pipes.

Under the Energy Services Acquisition Program, PSPC will be tasked with modernizing the outdated technology in the plants to lower emissions and supportgrowth in the eco-friendly technology sector.

During the first stage of the overhaul, the system would be converted from steam to low temperature hot water and then switched from steam to electric chillers—with the estimated completion date being 2025. PSPC notes that the project will reduce current emissions by 63 per cent, the equivalent of removing 14,000 non-eco-friendly cars off the road.

Afterwards, the natural gas powering the plant will then be replaced by carbon-neutral fuel sources, which according to estimated will reduce emissions by a further 28 per cent. The renovation project is bound to save the government an estimated fee of more than $750 million in heating and cooling costs in the next 40 years.

Furthermore, the implementation of radiant floor heating in Ottawa by the federal government would be an additional step in driving its agenda for a more eco-friendly state.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Savers website, radiant floor heating has a lot of benefits and advantages over alternate heat systems and can cut heating costs by 25 to 50 per cent.

“It is more efficient than baseboard heating and usually more efficient than forced-air heating because no energy is lost through ducts,” the website states.

Radiant floor heating provides an equal amount of heat throughout a building, including areas that are difficult to heat, such as rooms with vaulted ceilings, garages or bathrooms. Consideringit warms people and objects directly—controlling the direct heat loss of the occupant—radiant floor heating provides comfort at lower thermostat settings.

“Radiators and other forms of ‘point’ heating circulate heat inefficiently and hence need to run for longer periods to obtain comfort levels,” reports the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNet).

Radiant heating is a clean and healthy option—a perfect choice for those with severe allergies—as it doesn’t rely on circulating air, meaning there are no potentially irritating particles blowing around the room. Additionally, it is more energy efficient, aesthetically pleasing with wall radiators or floor registers and virtually noiseless when in operation.

“They draw cold air across the floor and send warm air up to the ceiling, where it then falls, heating the room from the top down, creating drafts and circulating dust and allergens.”

It is important for the leadership in Ottawa to equally drive the adoption of radiant floor heating as doing this would lead to increased usage in residential buildings—and even government-owned buildings.

However, in October, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), a representative body of employees of the plants,began a campaign target at the government against their decision to use a public-private partnership (P3) for the retrofitting project, citing concerns about costs and safety.

According to the union, outside employees won’t be bound to the same health and safety standards of government workers and that typically P3 projects cost a lot more than traditional public financing deals.

The union demands that the government scraps the proposed project and meet PSAC members and experts to brainstorm on a new way forward that would ensure federal employees continue to operate and maintain the plants.

However, parliamentary secretary to public services and procurement minister, Steve MacKinnon said that the union officials have consulted him but that after conducting an analysis, the P3 option was still the best for the job.

“We didn’t have (to) sacrifice on safety or health — we didn’t have to sacrifice on job security,” he said.

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Steps to becoming a Data Scientist





Data science has become one of the most in-demand career paths in this century, according to Business Insider. With the amount of information being circulated online, it has created a huge demand for storing, interpreting and implementing big data for different purposes—hence the need for a data scientist.

Today, there too much information flying around for regular people to process efficiently and use. Therefore, it has become the responsibility of data scientists to collect, organize and analyze this data. Doing this helps various people, organizations, enterprise businesses and governments to manage, store and interpret this data for different purposes.

Though data scientists come from different educational backgrounds, a majority of them need to have a technical educational background. To pursue a career in data science, computer-related majors, graduations and post graduations in maths and statistics are quite useful.

Therefore, the steps to becoming a data scientist are quite straightforward.  After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in an IT related field—such as computer science, maths or physics—you can also further your education by obtaining a master’s degree in a data science or any other related field of study. With the necessary educational background, you can now search for a job and obtain the required experience in whichever filed you choose to invest your acquired skills.

Here are the necessary steps to be taken to become a data scientist.

Step 1: Obtain the necessary educational requirements

As earlier noted, different educational paths can still lead to a career in data science. However, it is impossible to begin a career in data science without obtaining a collegiate degree—as a four-year bachelor’s degree is really important. However, according to a report by Business Insider, over 73% of data scientist in existence today have a graduate degree and about 38% of them hold a Ph.D. Therefore, to rise above the crowd and get a high-end position in the field of data science, it is important to have a Master’s degree or a Ph.D.—and with various online data science masters program, obtaining one is quite easy.

Some institutions provide data science programs with courses that will equip students to analyze complex sets of data. These courses also involve a host of technical information about computers, statistics, data analysis techniques and many more. Completing these programs equips you with the necessary skills to function adequately as a data scientist.

Additionally, there are some technical—and computer-based degrees—that can aid you begin a career in data science. Some of them include studies in, Computer Science, Statistics, Social Science, Physics, Economics, Mathematics and Applied Math. These degrees will imbibe some important skills related to data science in you—namely, coding, experimenting, managing large amounts of data, solving quantitative problems and many others.

Step 2: Choose an area of specialization

There rarely exists an organization, agency or business today that doesn’t require the expertise of a data scientist. Hence, it is important that after acquiring the necessary education to start a career as a data scientist, you need to choose an area of specialization in the field you wish to work in.

Some of the specializations that exist in data science today include automotive, marketing, business, defence, sales, negotiation, insurance and many others.

Step 3: Kick start your career as a data scientist

After acquiring the necessary skills to become a data scientist, it is important to get a job in the filed and company of your choice where you can acquire some experience.

Many organizations offer valuable training to their data scientists and these pieces of training are typically centred around the specific internal systems and programs of an organization. Partaking in this training allows you learn some high-level analytical skills that were not taught during your various school programs—especially since data science is a constantly evolving field.

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Artificial intelligence pioneers win tech’s ‘Nobel Prize’





Computers have become so smart during the past 20 years that people don’t think twice about chatting with digital assistants like Alexa and Siri or seeing their friends automatically tagged in Facebook pictures.

But making those quantum leaps from science fiction to reality required hard work from computer scientists like Yoshua Bengio, Geoffrey Hinton and Yann LeCun. The trio tapped into their own brainpower to make it possible for machines to learn like humans, a breakthrough now commonly known as “artificial intelligence,” or AI.

Their insights and persistence were rewarded Wednesday with the Turing Award, an honor that has become known as technology industry’s version of the Nobel Prize. It comes with a $1 million prize funded by Google, a company where AI has become part of its DNA.

The award marks the latest recognition of the instrumental role that artificial intelligence will likely play in redefining the relationship between humanity and technology in the decades ahead.

Artificial intelligence is now one of the fastest-growing areas in all of science and one of the most talked-about topics in society,” said Cherri Pancake, president of the Association for Computing Machinery, the group behind the Turing Award.

Although they have known each other for than 30 years, Bengio, Hinton and LeCun have mostly worked separately on technology known as neural networks. These are the electronic engines that power tasks such as facial and speech recognition, areas where computers have made enormous strides over the past decade. Such neural networks also are a critical component of robotic systems that are automating a wide range of other human activity, including driving.

Their belief in the power of neural networks was once mocked by their peers, Hinton said. No more. He now works at Google as a vice president and senior fellow while LeCun is chief AI scientist at Facebook. Bengio remains immersed in academia as a University of Montreal professor in addition to serving as scientific director at the Artificial Intelligence Institute in Quebec.

“For a long time, people thought what the three of us were doing was nonsense,” Hinton said in an interview with The Associated Press. “They thought we were very misguided and what we were doing was a very surprising thing for apparently intelligent people to waste their time on. My message to young researchers is, don’t be put off if everyone tells you what are doing is silly.” Now, some people are worried that the results of the researchers’ efforts might spiral out of control.

While the AI revolution is raising hopes that computers will make most people’s lives more convenient and enjoyable, it’s also stoking fears that humanity eventually will be living at the mercy of machines.

Bengio, Hinton and LeCun share some of those concerns especially the doomsday scenarios that envision AI technology developed into weapons systems that wipe out humanity.

But they are far more optimistic about the other prospects of AI empowering computers to deliver more accurate warnings about floods and earthquakes, for instance, or detecting health risks, such as cancer and heart attacks, far earlier than human doctors.

“One thing is very clear, the techniques that we developed can be used for an enormous amount of good affecting hundreds of millions of people,” Hinton said.

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