In the 1980s, the telecom industry started to experience a wireless technology boom. Forty years later, wireless technology could be at the cusp of a similar revolution involving solar power.
Solar is the fastest-growing renewable energy in the world, and companies like Toronto’s Clear Blue Technologies are working to increase efficiency through the use of off-grid energy systems.
Traditional solar-power systems can be costly, especially up-front, and require connections to existing grids. Going wireless is becoming a more appealing option, especially as multinational companies like Tesla and LG Chem develop more reliable battery storage systems.
Cue Clear Blue’s platform. The firm has created an off-grid power system running on a cloud-based platform which is not only powering street lights, but Internet of Things (IoT) devices like security cameras, traffic lights and more.
“We look at the world of power and believe that it is going to evolve the same way that the telecom industry has evolved,” said Miriam Tuerk, the co-founder and CEO of Clear Blue Technologies.
About Clear Blue Technologies
With operations in 35 countries, 24 U.S. states and eight Canadian provinces, Clear Blue’s operations are not small by any means, and the firm’s wireless technology has never been more in demand. Tuerk brought her experience working in the online banking, e-commerce, cloud-computing and data sectors into Clear Blue when she founded the company in 2011.
Now Tuerk is helping to re-imagine what our cities, and, more importantly, their energy infrastructures could look like. She is banking on her technology, coupled with solar and wind-powered off-grid systems, to replace endless miles of cables and wires running above or below city streets.
“There will come a day where anybody who suggests that you’re going to put power distribution and cabling to every pole, down every road, they’ll look at you like you’re crazy,” she predicted. “We’re going to be wireless powered and off the grid.”
Although Clear Blue’s technology is already installed in projects in many Southern Ontario cities, Tuerk knows going wireless won’t happen overnight. But, she expects it will only take between five to 10 years for wireless clean energy to become the norm within the telecom industry, especially when service providers see the cost savings and reduced environmental impacts of not having to install and maintain wired infrastructure or dig up city streets.
“The environmental impact that we’re delivering punches way above its weight class as compared to what we all think of a traditional solar set into the grid,” she said.
Clear Blue’s smart devices can be operated off the cloud to power different parts of a city, and help make them smarter.
Benefits of an off-grid system
Tuerk highlighted a recent project on Bloor Street West in Toronto, led by the local business initiative association, in which the estimated savings was $1.4 million and resulted in light poles which feature wifi-enabled hotspots.
“Almost every major city in Southern Ontario is already a customer of ours, they’re already using our solar off-grid street lights,” she said.
Not only is there a benefit to the pocket book, but Tuerk notes there are other substantial benefits to being off the grid, especially in places where inclement weather is common.
“The devices are all running independently, because they’re all separate independent miniature electricity grids,” she explained. “So you get better resiliency and reliability.”
Tuerk and her team have been focused on creating technology to take energy out of the solar panels through the off-grid controller. This, paired with Clear Blue’s cloud software, ensures systems are performing at all times while isolating any problems that may occur.
“We have focused on the control algorithms, the brains of the system to optimize performance. We get the most out of that solar panel to get the most out of that battery,” she said.
Clear Blue isn’t alone in the sector, with companies such as Hakai Energy Solutions, TerraTek Energy and Modern Outpost offering competition. Tuerk anticipates as the shift to solar power continues, some larger companies might also enter the space as well, but said Clear Blue is prepared for that.
“We believe we have a leadership position that people won’t be able to easily take away from us,” she said.
Major opportunity for underdeveloped nations
Tuerk said the most important benefits of the technology might not necessarily be seen in the Western world, but in smaller and underdeveloped nations and communities – particularly locations which struggle to get on a grid due to affordability and connectivity.
“The old utilities used to be highways and a water system: you needed a road to your little village and you needed a water system. In 2021, it’s all about power and electricity,” she said.
Close to 3.8 billion people worldwide do not have access to the internet and in the digital age, Tuerk understands the damage and impacts that can have on those communities. She insists that rather than working in a non-government organization, if Clear Blue scales the right way it could really make a difference in getting people up to speed.
“We as a company are driven to tackle this problem. We’re going to make change,” she said.