FREDERICTON – When heat pumps became popular in Prince Edward Island it created a problem for Maritime Electric because it didn’t have the generating capacity to meet the demand during peak times.
The P.E.I. utility was forced to consider solutions like buying power from another source or building a new generating station. The island had a plentiful renewable source of power in its famously high winds, but a generating station wouldn’t be operational when it wasn’t windy.
Ultimately, the utility made a deal with NB Power to buy additional energy in peak periods.
Still, PEI’s challenge inspired a Fredericton startup, Stash Energy, which recently received an Energy Efficiency Excellence Excellence Award from NB Power, to come up with an innovative solution: heat pumps with the capacity to store power for use when the winds died down.
“[The island does] have enough wind power to be self-sufficient but wind power is so unpredictable – sometimes it’s not windy when they need the power,” said Jordan Kennie, the co-founder and CEO of Stash Energy.
“The wind picks up just after it gets dark and people have had supper and the evening peak is over. They end up have too much wind power and have to waste it because they don’t have a way to store the excess energy.
If they had a way to store their excess wind-energy for when it’s not windy, then they could be more self-sufficient, buying less energy and not worrying about building new [generating stations].”
For now, the island relies on purchased power to meet the increasing demand, and Stash is working on a long-term solution that’s cost-effective and good for the environment.
The company has developed a prototype that’s being tested by Maritime Electric, and it will soon be mass-produced for use in field trials across the country this winter, with the goal of having a commercial product on the market in the spring of 2019.
Kennie says Stash’s heat pumps, which will be about 50 per cent larger than conventional ones because of the heat-storage units, are a win-win solution for homeowners who save money and the utilities who avoid the expense and organizational challenge of constructing new generating facilities.
The utilities themselves will manage the power storage, which works best for them and consumers.
“We let utilities control when the heat pump stores energy to save people the most money, and then provide incentives for letting the utilities do that and optimize their energy grid,” said Kennie. “Instead of the utilities having to buy a big battery bank, they basically sell our units to their customers and then control the storage remotely.”
P.E.I. provided the entrepreneurial spark for Stash’s heat-storage system, but Kennie says it will be useful in any circumstance where storing heat for later use is an advantage.
For example, heat pumps are becoming a popular, cost-effective way to heat homes. But what happens when the temperature drops below -15 C, which is when many heat pumps drop below optimal performance levels, reducing their efficiency and effectiveness.
As it stands now, homeowners have to use back up heating sources when it gets that cold, like an oil- or natural gas-fired furnace or electric baseboards, and hope it doesn’t stay cold for a long time and drive up their energy bills.
Stash’s heat pumps would store energy for such times, ending the need for pricey fossil fuel backup systems.
“We try to predict when it’s going to be colder and store heat so you don’t have to turn on the natural gas or a second source of heating,” said Kennie.
Stash is being recognized for its innovative solution. The company was selected to part of an energy accelerator in Denver earlier this year and Kennie recently won the NB Power Rising Star Award at an annual awards ceremony that was part of the Energizing Efficiency Conference in late May.
It also recently raised about $500,000 in equity investment from the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation and Island Capital Partners.
“It’s really validating for me know that we’re solving a problem that people really care about,” said Kennie. “I think we’re getting a lot of the recognition because we’re trying to solve a really big problem.
“It’s the biggest problem for utilities and for the energy space and for enabling renewables, which is where the world wants to go. And at the end of the day saving people money, which is also very important to the economy and keeping the world going.”
This story was sponsored by NB Power, which recently gave Kennie the Rising Star Award at its annual Energy Efficiency Awards.