Energy efficiency is playing a bigger and more significant role in our lives every day. In 2010, during the peak of the recession, Pike Research reported a “positive outlook for growth in energy efficient products and services for homes.” They attributed this outlook to increased awareness by consumers, as well as new programs and incentives offered by utilities, governments and product manufacturers that encouraged people to purchase and use energy efficient products.
Natural Resource Canada’s Office of Energy Efficiency notes that, without energy efficiencies, the total energy demand by Canadians would have increased by 37% between 1990 and 2009. However, the improvements made in energy efficiencies resulted in an increase of only 23% during that same time period, saving Canadians about $26.9 billion in 2008 alone.
Advances in energy efficient technology are not limited to products and services for use in consumer homes—although, these advances are, not surprisingly, the ones we are most aware of. Energy efficient technology is also playing a crucial role in the commercial space. One of MaRS’s most active clients in the energy efficiency space is inMotive.
We spoke with Paul Bottero, the president of inMotive, about the energy efficiency landscape, where the idea for inMotive’s technology came from and his advice to fellow entrepreneurs.
MaRS: What inspired you to develop inMotive?
Paul: The inspiration was drawn from a few different sources: successful and motivated entrepreneurs whose vision helped us understand the potential of the Mechatronic Variable Speed Drive (MVSD), our own desire to create a truly innovative product and the desire to make what we do for a living matter. We have had so many people help us along the way—positive people are a constant source of inspiration.
MaRS: Can you explain your technology and the benefits it offers?
Paul: inMotive’s MVSD is a game-changing solution for industrial electric motors. These motors are commonly oversized in order to start a large load (for example, a conveyor during startup), which leads to higher capital costs and significant wasted energy during the vast majority of the motor’s lifetime.
The MVSD will change the way motors are selected by industries. By providing high torque when it is required most, the MVSD allows for a smaller electric motor to be used in place of a larger one, leading to 50 to 70% lower capital costs and 10 to 15% increased efficiency throughout the motor’s life. Given that industrial motors are responsible for 40% of global power consumption, the MVSD’s benefits can have a substantial impact on electricity savings and greenhouse gas reductions.
MaRS: Where did the idea for the Mechatronic Variable Speed Drive came from?
Paul: The idea came from Anthony Wong, our chief technology officer and inventor of the MVSD. He is an avid cyclist and had often thought of ways of making his bike drivetrain more efficient. One day, while riding a streetcar in Toronto, an idea popped into his head: Why move the bike’s chain when you can move its sprockets? In this way, the gears move under the chain rather than the chain moving over the sprockets, which would provide a huge efficiency advantage over any other belt/chain drive, as the chain would never run out of line and would maintain its efficiency no matter the gear ratio.
From this thought, the original founders discovered that there was nothing in the patent database that was quite like the MVSD and at the same time realized that the technology had wide commercial applications. From this point forward we began developing the idea into a commercial product.
MaRS: What is the return on investment of your technology?
Paul: Energy efficiency products like the MVSD are typically measured by their “payback” in years—the shorter the better. Paybacks are calculated by taking the cost of the unit, including installation, and dividing it by the amount of energy the unit saves per year. While the payback is based on a number of factors (price of electricity, size of the motor, duty cycle of the motor), a payback period for a typical MVSD installation would be one year or less. This compares very favourably to the MVSD’s closest competition, which typically has paybacks twice as long.
MaRS: What are the biggest challenges facing companies in the energy efficiency sector?
Paul: While energy efficiency is one of the fastest growing subsectors in cleantech and has been attracting a disproportionate share of investment, overall investment in cleantech is down, which has affected the sector significantly. Another one of the biggest challenges for early-stage energy efficiency companies is time. Solutions like ours are highly engineered physical products that are expensive and time consuming to build. Any entrepreneur will tell you that time is not your friend, and time is a particular challenge for us and for those in this sector.
MaRS: What advice would you give entrepreneurs in the energy efficiency sector?
Paul: Develop your network of interested people, companies and institutions as early as possible—these are the connections that propel you along. Be sure to get well acquainted with government grants, as there are many out there that are focused on helping out early-stage energy efficiency companies. Apply for as many grants as are relevant to your goals and practical for your operations. And you’ve heard it before but it’s true: Nothing is more important than finding the right people to help you start and then grow your company. It is important that you surround yourself with different perspectives so that you can see the bigger picture and not get lost in all of the details of running a business.