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Pilot uses electric vehicle to help power Toronto building

For the first time in Canada, an electric vehicle is being used to help power a building under a...

electric vehicle, EV, buildings, energy, Toronto, Smart City Sandbox, SWTCH Energy Inc., Slate Asset Management

An electric vehicle helps power a building under a pilot program in Toronto involving the Smart City Sandbox, SWTCH Energy Inc. and Slate Asset Management. (Courtesy SWTCH Energy)

For the first time in Canada, an electric vehicle is being used to help power a building under a pilot program in Toronto involving the Smart City Sandbox, IBI Group, SWTCH Energy Inc. and Slate Asset Management.

The three-year pilot is taking place at the headquarters of IBI Group and the Smart City Sandbox at 55 St. Clair West. It employs SWTCH’s bidirectional, vehicle-to-grid charging technology to allow (for the pilot program) a parked Nissan Leaf to recharge and store electricity at low energy demand times, then redistribute that electricity to the building during high demand periods. 

All of the transactional information is recorded on a secure blockchain to keep a record of the interactions.

“It’s a third-party ledger system. It can keep track of all the energy transactions that occur within the building, and to really enable that kind of economy to function,” SWTCH CEO Carter Li told in an interview.

“So if I’m using energy to power my coffee machine and my lights and stuff during peak hours from these batteries from these vehicles, (then) the transactions and the kilowatt hours are recorded, and are allocated and billed accordingly.”

SWTCH tracks energy, uses blockchain tech

SWTCH specializes in end-to-end EV charging and energy management solutions for high-density urban environments. The Toronto-based firm also has an office in New York and offers systems for both individual and community charging needs.

The unique technology and model developed by SWTCH includes a financial incentive for EV owners to participate in the program. By tracking when energy is being drawn from a car’s battery and when it’s being charged, the platform creates a history of credits and debits securely managed through the blockchain technology.

Participants can monitor the activity via an application on their mobile devices.

The aim of the project is to improve the building’s energy efficiency, reduce its operational costs and potentially ease the amount of power which needs to be generated at peak times – if the pilot can ultimately be scaled up to much larger acceptance. This would also provide environmental benefits.

Li told the program addresses many of the financial and technical barriers for electric vehicle charging infrastructure in commercial buildings. 

When most buildings were designed, no one anticipated a need for dozens of electric vehicle charging stations. But as these EV systems linked to buildings become more prevalent, the energy profile of the buildings increases. 

This makes things difficult from an energy management point of view, and in terms of knowing which cars are using how much energy. That’s where the blockchain component comes in.

Despite only having launched about two weeks ago, according to Li the program has already received interest from “30 or 40” property management companies and real estate developers. 

That’s no surprise, with an increasing emphasis from the commercial real estate sector on sustainability, the well-being of tenants, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and at the same time lowering building expenses.

Slate encourages innovation, clean tech

“Our goal is to create places where our people and tenants thrive, and to contribute to our communities and the environment,” said Katie Fong, vice president of asset management at Slate in a press release announcing the project.

“Driving innovation in clean technology and finding ways to make our properties more resource-efficient is key to that objective and benefits all of our stakeholders.”

The remaining challenge is not interest, but that electric vehicles are not yet common enough to scale the project for more buildings.

“It’s going to take a bit of time for us to get there, at least marketwise for us to see that prevalence within a building,” said Li. “So this is really to set us up to understand how these can be deployed, and how people like real estate developers and property management companies can monetize this service so that they can save money on electricity.”

That caveat does not apply to the way that blockchain has been utilized here. 

With that in mind, Li sees potential in similar implementations with technology like solar panels, HVAC systems or anything that distributes or trades electricity. That opens up the possibility “distributed energy resources” like SWTCH’s vehicle-to-grid tech could be scaled well beyond one building like 55 St. Clair West, to the level of an entire community.

About the pilot program partners

The Smart City Sandbox is an “innovation hub” led by IBI Group which was created to cultivate smart buildings and infrastructure. 

Partners in the initiative come from a diverse range of interests, and also include the Weather Network, Ontario Power Generation, EllisDon, the Ontario Centre of Innovation, Multiplex, Microsoft, as well as commercial real estate owner and operator Slate Asset Management. 

IBI Group Inc. is a technology-driven design firm with global architecture, engineering, planning and technology expertise spanning over 60 offices and 3,000 professionals around the world. 

Slate Asset Management is a global alternative investment platform focused on real estate. Its platform offers a range of investment strategies, including opportunistic, value add, core plus and debt investments.

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