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Growing Greener Innovations: An overnight success, five years in the making

Growing Greener
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Michelle Ferguson
July 26, 2019

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“[As Albertans], we’re blissfully ignorant of what energy looks like outside of Alberta,” Connie Stacey says.

“If you look at a that map,” she continues, pointing at a wall in her northwest Edmonton office, “most of the world — Africa, Southeast Asia, South America — in all these areas, the grid is either not present, very insufficient, or [experiences] major power outages and rolling blackouts.”

The Growing Greener Innovations CEO is talking a mile a minute — pulling up this chart and that report — explaining that a seventh of the world’s population lives by candlelight, while 2.6 billion people have to burn biomass to cook (which has devastating health effects), and that even certain Canadian jurisdictions struggle to meet the ever-increasing demand for electricity.

If you had told the mother of three and inventor of the Grengine — a revolutionary battery-powered energy storage system — that her life would be consumed by time-of-use diagrams and World Bank reports titled Energy Storage Trends and Opportunities in Emerging Markets, she never would have believed you. But the more she looked into the global power market, the more she realized it was ripe for disruption.

Why would you build transmission lines across sub-Saharan Africa, when for a fraction of the cost you could give them a stand-alone, portable system?
Connie Stacey Growing Greener Innovations CEO

The idea for the Grengine came to her five years ago, when she was walking her (finally napping) three-month-old twin boys and came across a construction site running a very loud diesel generator.

“Everything with twins is about sleep,” Stacey says. “I thought: if you wake these boys up, I’m going postal.”

The twins didn’t wake, but Stacey couldn’t shake the thought that there had to be a quieter, more environmentally friendly way to power that construction site.

Drawing on her experience in the IT industry, she began to design a lightweight, portable, battery-powered generator. “The idea unquestionably came from the basis of a UPS (uninterrupted power supply) in a server room,” Stacey explains.

She floated the concept by some tradespeople — roofers and framers that she knew. They all had the same feedback: that would be great, but it’s easier to fill up a gas can than to recharge a battery.

That’s when Stacey came up with the idea of the world’s first portable, plug-and-play, scalable power system. “I thought on it and came back. I said: ‘What if you just swapped the batteries or stacked them up?’ And they said: ‘Done!’”

Grengine’s lithium-ion battery packs fit together like blocks of Lego. This patented design allows users to swap or stack additional power units — safely and instantly creating more powerful energy systems, without the need for a technician.

The generator is input agnostic and can be recharged using an electrical socket, solar panel or kinetic energy. (In fact, Growing Greener is currently developing its smallest kit, the Grengine Micro, to include a foldable hand crank at the request of the American and Canadian militaries.)

Though the Grengine was conceived with tradespeople and oil and gas workers in mind, the opportunities are seemingly endless, given that half the world’s population currently has no or very unreliable access to electricity.

“When you look at that global market all of a sudden you get a little bit of an eye-opener,” she says.

But it’s not just emerging nations or temporary work sites that will benefit from Stacey’s invention. The electrification of vehicles and manufacturing automation are changing the energy industry in developed markets too.

According to Bloomberg’s most recent New Energy Outlook report, global electricity demand will increase by 62 per cent — from 25,000 terawatt-hours in 2017 to 38,700 by 2050 — with electric vehicles accounting for nine per cent of that demand.

“Grid operators are looking at trillions of infrastructure upgrades to meet our future electrical demand,” Stacey says. ($11.4 trillion to be exact.)

Which is why the green tech inventor believes that those currently not on the grid are likely to remain that way.

“Why would you build transmission lines across sub-Saharan Africa, when for a fraction of the cost you could give them a stand-alone, portable system?” she asks. “Whether it’s us or not, [decentralization] will absolutely happen; the economics are just too compelling.”

The more she speaks, the more it becomes clear how lucrative (batteries are an $843-billion market according to Bloomberg) and impactful her product could be.

Global electricity demand will increase by 62 per cent — from 25,000 terawatt-hours in 2017 to 38,700 by 2050

It’s for this reason, she tells me, that Growing Greener will be moving its manufacturing to Canada from overseas. “[IP protection] is always a concern,” Stacey says. The move has the potential to create 500 jobs for the Edmonton region over the next five to 10 years.

It hasn’t been an easy road for the St. Albert entrepreneur. She’s received a lot of push back due to her gender and sexual orientation. Not to mention starting a manufacturing business isn’t cheap. (With the support of family and friends, she invested $750,000 into the first couple years of R&D and prototypes.) But five years since stumbling across that construction site, Stacey is finally gaining the recognition she deserves.

In June, Stacey took home $10,000 at Alberta Innovate’s Inventures conference as the winner of the building smarter cities category. She’s also a finalist in the 2019 National LGBT Chamber of Commerce Biz Pitch Competition in Tampa Bay in August 2019 and received an innovation award from the U.S. Department of Defense in 2018.

The company currently has one product on the market — the Grengine Ultralite — with several more to follow, including the Grengine Smart Switch, a grid-tied system that not only provides back-up power, but allows users to save on utilities through peak shaving, voltage optimization and time of use management.

“What’s the joke?” Stacey asks. “Overnight success, five years in the making?”

Growing Greener will be featured in an episode of CNBC’s Advancements that airs Sunday, July 28 at 10 a.m. MT.

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Grengine

Learn more about the Grengine, Growing Greener's scalable, portable, plug-and-play solution to beating gas generators watt for watt.
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