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Clean tech solutions need to scale up in the battle against climate change




From solar power to self-driving electric cars, we already have access to the technologies and tools that can help battle the devastating effects of climate change. That’s the good news.

But in light of the dire warning about the planet’s future issued by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change earlier this month — which called for urgency in reducing global carbon emissions by more than 50 per cent in the next decade, lest we face widespread drought and extinction — those clean tech solutions might not be enough.

Until enough people rally their efforts to push for global change from energy-gobbling governments and industry, experts say our individual choices and actions may be insufficient.

That’s where some of our most pervasive tech tools — from social media to the internet itself — can come in to play.

Where we’re stuck right now isn’t about access to or availability of technology, according to clean tech experts. But rather it’s an issue of implementation. To make any substantial difference, that implementation needs to be global in scale.

It’s easy to think of technology today as smartphones, virtual reality or any of the personal gadgets that distract us, making our lives easier, faster — and just more fun. But the grids that charge those devices and power our cities are, in fact, the most dominant technology in our lives. And in large part, they’re still running off fossil fuels.

A Tesla energy storage facility opened in Australia in November 2017. Large-scale energy storage could make possible ‘endless amounts of solar and wind on the grid,’ according to clean tech venture capitalist Tom Rand. (Tesla)

Until that grid’s energy is clean, all of the tools and toys and gadgets we plug in are not, says Tom Rand, a clean tech venture capitalist and author of Kick the Fossil Fuel Habit.

“The biggest challenge is that infrastructure takes a long time to replace,” he said.

But solutions do exist. Rand explains that we’re “starting to see more grid-scale energy storage,” which involves storing massive amounts of electricity on the grid, many magnitudes greater than say an electric car battery,  making it both cleaner and more efficient.

“That makes possible endless amounts of solar and wind on the grid,” he said.

Electric vehicles, including cars and public transport, offer more hope.

“Once people have affordable options for clean transportation, that will go a long way to cutting emissions,” said John Paul Morgan, chief technology officer (CTO) of the Toronto-based Morgan Solar.

And while realistically not everyone is going to buy an electric car, “it’s things like convenient apps to summon transit, bike-sharing networks, and electric scooters that are going to make a bigger difference,” Morgan said.

Problem technologies

Yet for all of the sustainable solutions coming from the world of tech, there are also some pretty big culprits adding to our emissions, including bitcoin, which has been at the centre of its own sustainability controversy due to the excessive energy needed to run the computers that “mine” the cryptocurrency.

Fans intended for use with cryptocurrency mining computers are seen in front of a bitcoin logo at a exhibit in Taipei, Taiwan. Energy consumption associated with mining for cryptocurrency has been growing. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

New research suggests ceasing the trade of bitcoin would reduce global energy consumption by enough to account for a full year’s worth of the emissions cuts required to limit temperature rises to the UN’s suggestion.

And while bitcoin enthusiasts argue that the conversation around the digital currency and its energy use has been oversimplified, critics maintain that it is an energy nightmare.

“For the sake of the planet, I hope bitcoin dies,” said Morgan.

As for what individuals can do, experts are divided. Some say that due to the urgency of the climate situation, it’s out of our hands and now up to governments, industry and policy-makers.

But others believe that doing something is better than doing nothing, and reducing consumption — including how much we rely on power — is a big part of the solution.

Easy alternatives

For those looking to integrate more sustainable energy sources into our daily lives, Rand says his first suggestion is to look at alternatives to natural gas for heating homes, such as installing a heat pump, which he says, “is super-efficient at pulling heat out of even very cold air, and most importantly, it runs off solar- or wind-powered electricity.”

And while electric vehicles are helpful, reducing our carbon footprint isn’t just about how we get around — it’s how much we travel each day, as well.

Since January 2016, the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward has replaced 98 per cent of its fossil fuel-heating requirements with a heat-pump system that draws heat from seawater. (Dan Joling/Associated Press)

While it may not be an option for workers in all sectors, more Canadians could be working from their homes, using video chat and digital communications tools to stay connected, while keeping cars off the roads.

Even among those like Morgan, who says that battling climate change is no longer a challenge for individuals alone, there still are ways we can use technology to help — by using it to come together.

“The most meaningful thing we can do is to organize politically and push for collective action,” said Morgan.

After all, when it comes to tech and climate change, he reminds us that the challenge isn’t about a lack of tools or solutions; it’s more about awareness and adoption. Technology has repeatedly been used to get people to rally behind causes they believe in, which might be the most important next step.

What we need, according to Morgan, is for climate change “to go viral.”


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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla




Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm




Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover




KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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