Electricity usage fluctuates throughout the day, with significant spikes in both the morning and early evening. These fluctuations cause huge issues for utilities as they are forced to run more power plants in order to meet increased demand.
Three Canadian entrepreneurs look to solve those challenges, and help consumers save money in the process. Recent graduates of the University of New Brunswick’s (UNB) Engineering faculty—Jordan Kennie, Daniel Larsen, and Erik Hatfield—have created a thermal energy storage system for use with residential heat pumps.
Their startup, Stash Energy Storage, is now working with utilities to help deliver rebates to consumers using the Stash solution.
“Some utilities charge customers more during peak times — sometimes twice as much as they charge overnight. What our product does is use a heat pump to store thermal energy overnight when electricity is cheap. We then use that thermal energy in peak periods when electricity is expensive to reduce electric bills and save consumers money.” says Kennie, the company’s CEO.
Opportunities NB (ONB) spoke with Jordan Kennie to learn more.
ONB: Where did the idea come from?
Kennie: Our COO, Daniel, was listening to a PEI radio station; a utility was on discussing increased output it would have to facilitate due to customers switching from oil to heat pumps. They noted they would need to build a new power plant, which could cost around $70 million. It was that or pay customers to keep oil heat. Daniel thought there had to be a better way.
Daniel and I are electrical engineers, and [CTO] Erik Hatfield is a computer engineer. We created the Stash solution as a final design project for our engineering degrees.
ONB: New Brunswick’s primary utility, NB Power, does not charge extra for peak period usage. With that in mind, where are your initial targets?
Kennie: At the moment our target clientele is primarily in Ontario and Nova Scotia, as well as 13 U.S. states that do charge consumers more during peaks. The challenges faced by our initial target markets are by no means exclusive to those regions, however. There is plenty of opportunity for growth in the long term.
We have spoken with NB Power several times, however, and they’re very excited about the product. We recently joined their Smart Grid Innovation Network (SGIN) which they have partnered on with Siemens and UNB. Stash now has access to UNB’s Smart Grid Research Lab, Siemens’ Interoperability Lab, and NB Power’s Products and Services Lab which helps validate new products.
ONB: Any early Adopters?
Kennie: Yes, we approached the municipal utility in Summerside, PEI; they have real need for a product like ours. Much of their power is wind generated and they are looking for more ways to manage that. We’re now currently developing a pilot project with them for early 2017 which will see 10 Stash Energy products in municipal government buildings.
ONB: Is yours a competitive sector or are you fairly unique?
Kennie: We’re relatively unique; there are a few substitutes but no direct competition. Most notably there is Tesla’s Powerwall which uses a lithium-ion battery to store electricity for later use. Our product stores as much energy as two of those. Two Powerwalls would cost about $7, 700 (CAD) plus installation costs. We anticipate selling our solution in the neighbourhood of $2,500. Lithium is quite pricey to mine and it’s really environmentally harmful; our solution produces no harmful ingredients.
ONB: Let’s talk about the entrepreneurial ecosystem in New Brunswick. You recently participated in UNB’s Summer Institute, tell us about that.
Kennie: The Summer Institute was incredible. It was a natural progression for us coming out of the Technology Management and Entrepreneurship (TME) program with our design project. The Summer Institute takes engineering ideas, as well as those from artisans, and develops them into businesses. They do this via access to various mentors and designers, and a host of great workshops. It was an interesting experience, working with so many people of varying skill sets. It’s eye-opening to see how businesses develop in similar ways, regardless of sector.
ONB: Any other organizations supporting Stash in the early going?
Kennie: The New Brunswick Innovation Foundation (NBIF) helped fund us early on. We were the 2nd runner up in their R3 Student Innovation Challenge. UNB has also provided financial support via their Technology Commercialization Program (TCP). We’ve also worked with Futurpreneur Canada, another great organization for young entrepreneurs.
ONB: What do you see as advantages of starting a business in New Brunswick?
Kennie: The biggest for us is that support network. You have NBIF, UNB, the TME, ONB, Ignite Fredericton/Planet Hatch — there’s such a huge startup community here, particularly in Fredericton. This is part of why UNB has developed a reputation as the most entrepreneurial post-secondary school in the country.
All of these organizations are so closely linked. You get in with one and they introduce you to the next one, and so on. It’s easy to network, and this is a great place to start a young business.
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TME event image via Rob Blanchard – UNB Media Services