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Mole hills can build mountains

By Leo Valiquette

Labarge Weinstein hosted yet another well-attended and informative Startup Drop-in event last night for The Ottawa Network, and the theme of the evening demonstrated how seemingly innocuous things can have a most profound impact when duplicated on a large scale.

The theme was cleantech, featuring Ron Dizy of Sempa Power Systems, a Vancouver firm that specializes in hybrid power systems that help cut utility bills for commercial and industrial buildings. Ron talked about how customers can cut their power bills by 10 to 30 per cent by switching to electrical heating during off-peak hours and back to fossil fuel-based heating when the demand for, and the cost of, electricity is at its highest.

The evening also featured three of Ottawa’s rising stars in the cleantech sphere.

Energate, which helps consumers and utilities manage and reduce energy use in the home, was represented by chairman and CEO Niraj Bhargava. He emphasized the simple truth that we’re all creatures of habit unlikely to adopt methods of energy conservation if they mean curbing our use of the domestic comforts we’ve all come to take for granted, such as heating and air-conditioning. Energate’s speciality is managing energy use in ways we can bear to live with.

Dave Gerwing, president of Menova Energy, talked about how much power there is untapped in the rays of the sun. (I believe he said enough sunlight strikes the earth in one minute to power the planet for six months. Any error in that statement is entirely mine). But the trick is to capture it. Menova has developed a high-efficiency solar concentrator that captures this clean power source for electrical power, heating and lighting, hundreds of times more efficiently and at a fraction of the cost of traditional solar power technology.

But the most profound illustration of how the little things can add up to monumental proportions came from Scott Feagan, CEO of TireStamp. His company is in the business of making devices that allow corporate fleets to monitor and manage tire pressure and condition. Sounds like a practical enough solution, but not much of a “Wow” factor, is there?

Well, then Scott started talking about how quickly an under-inflated tire wears out, how under-inflation impacts fuel efficiency, how many gallons of oil are needed to make a replacement tire, the highway fatalities attributed every year to blowouts on commercial vehicles, and the billions some of the big parcel companies pay each year in fuel, no one in that room was left with any doubt that proper tire inflation and maintenance is a huge factor in reducing global pollution and resource consumption.

As individuals, we often wonder what we can do to make a difference. The truth is, there is no magic bullet to cure our environmental challenges. But, as last night’s event demonstrated, all those little things we can do, either at home, on the road or in the workplace, can add up in a big way.

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