Accelerating Innovative Energy Solutions: An Interview with FortisBC
FortisBC, a founding member of Project Greenlight, is British Columbia’s largest energy provider, delivering natural gas, electricity and innovative energy solutions to 1.2 million customers in 135 communities across the province. The organization’s first Project Greenlight challenge tasks innovators to propose solutions that employ technologies such as drones, AR/VR, machine learning/AI and EV charging.
We caught up with Mark Warren, director of business innovation at FortisBC, to learn more about the organization’s involvement with Project Greenlight.
Why is FortisBC involved with Project Greenlight?
We want to work with like-minded organizations and individuals who have different perspectives. Many smart people in BC have innovative solutions to the challenges facing our industry. We want to tap into the province’s diverse skillsets to gather new ideas, and Project Greenlight is helping to connect us with local entrepreneurs who can propose interesting solutions to some of our business challenges.
As FortisBC’s director of business innovation, I believe innovation is key to advancing any organization. Companies need fresh ideas, and new ways of looking at existing areas, to achieve growth and opportunity. Along with the Vancouver Economic Commission and Project Greenlight’s sponsors, we’re looking for new ideas and technologies that streamline our work, keep our staff safe and help our business objectives. For us, that means ensuring our customers continue to receive the safe and reliable energy they expect.
What is FortisBC looking to address?
There are five areas in which we hope to work with entrepreneurs:
- Further improving safety. Safety is a top priority at FortisBC, and we have a lot of fail-safes already in place. For example, any time a staff member parks a FortisBC vehicle, the parking brake automatically engages. For staff that work alone, we’re piloting a system that monitors falls and notifies a member of our team that a colleague may need assistance. We’re also piloting a sensoring technology that monitors movement and muscular strain, so we can better understand our staff’s needs and how to keep them safer. Ultimately, we’re looking for new and better ways to keep our staff safe, and we hope that innovators submitting through Project Greenlight can help us do just that.
- Improving how we inspect our assets and vegetation along our rights-of-ways. We have around 56,000 kilometres of natural gas and electric infrastructure across BC that we’re hoping to find new ways to monitor, using advances like drone technology for example, so we can dispatch crews more effectively and better prepare them for hazards they may encounter.
- Staff training. We’re hoping to use augmented reality and virtual reality technology to train our staff on working with complex equipment. This way, they’re more prepared and safer when it’s time to work on the real thing.
- Off-grid electric vehicle charging. We want to make it easier for British Columbians to adopt electric vehicles, but there are still some areas that have little to no electric infrastructure. So, the question becomes, “What types of solutions can we develop that bring electric charging solutions to remote areas where there isn’t electricity infrastructure in place?”
- Analytics for electric vehicle charging. We want to better understand where and when customers are charging their electric vehicles. Electric vehicle loads are higher than typical household loads, so this is a challenge facing all utilities. If we can understand customers’ charging habits, then we can find ways to provide incentives for them to charge at different times, which in turn helps manage the load on our electricity system.
Anything else you would like to share?
I want to reiterate that we’re really interested in hearing from entrepreneurs who can help push us forward. I want to thank the Vancouver Economic Commission and the program’s sponsors for helping to make Project Greenlight a reality. This is the kind of initiative that makes organizations, and societies, better, so thank you for your initiative and leadership.