MI researcher, Memorial alumni aim to win national contest
Friday, April 6, 2018

A Marine Institute researcher and a pair of Memorial alumni are vying with 19 other teams to win a national competition for innovative ideas to solve Canadian infrastructure problems.

In a bid to win the CanInfra Challenge, the team is pitching wind energy — utilizing an array of battery “microgrids” to store power generated by wind turbines — as a reliable, sustainable and clean alternative to diesel-generated electricity in Nunavut, Canada’s Indigenous and northernmost territory. They’ve dubbed their project IceGrid.

It’s the brainchild of three friends with an interest in climate change: Dr. Brett Favaro, researcher and instructor with the Marine Institute’s School of Fisheries; Dave Lane, a city councillor in St. John’s and an alumnus of Memorial University; and Brandon Copeland, principal consultant with St. John’s-based Urban East and also a Memorial alumnus.

“We’re not doing this just for fun,” said Dr. Favaro. “Everything in our pitch exists now and is being used somewhere in the world. Scandinavian countries, for example, use turbines above the Arctic Circle.”Lane-Favro-Copeland-IceGrid

The CanInfra Challenge is looking for “transformational” ideas on the scale of the St. Lawrence Seaway, Canadian-Pacific Railway and the TransCanada Pipeline — major infrastructure projects that revolutionized the country in their day.

Since the contest began in October, more than 70 teams have been whittled down to 20. With help from the Boston Consulting Group, one of the companies sponsoring the contest, the IceGrid trio have polished their pitch for the final round: 10 finalists from which three prize winners will be selected.

The final 10 will be determined by professional judges and social media ballots that must be cast by Monday, April 9. The IceGrid team is hoping to get enough votes to make their final pitch.

“If we make it to the top 10, we go to Toronto and do a Dragons’ Den-style, in-person pitch,” said Dr. Favaro. “I think if we can get it to a national stage, it might take on a life of its own.

“We don’t have to be the ones to build it. What we want is to raise the importance of renewable energy among the national consciousness and hopefully secure some federal funding so these communities can power themselves rather than be dependent on diesel.”

To learn more about the team’s infrastructure solution pitch, watch the video below.

The team proposes Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut, as the ideal location for the first IceGrid.

They estimate one-time costs of about $80 million to build the wind turbines and $133 million to buy and install the battery array that connects to the electrical grid.

Operational and maintenance costs for IceGrid are pegged at about $1.2 million annually — a savings of $30.4 million per year compared with the operation, maintenance and fuel costs of diesel-generated power.

The CanInfra Challenge winner will be announced in May. The top prize is $50,000 and an opportunity to make a pitch to senior government and private-sector leaders. Second- and third-place finishers receive $25,000 apiece.

Photo: Paula Gale/CBC