Edmonton entrepreneur seeks to help solve energy poverty

‘Grengine’ will provide clean, inexpensive, off-grid electricity

Connie Stacey is working to tackle big energy issues with a small, environmentally friendly power source – the “Grengine.”

The Edmonton owner of Growing Greener Innovations is on a mission to take her technology around the world, bringing affordable, portable power to people living and working just about anywhere. Later this year, NAIT will help with continued development and testing of the product at its Productivity and Innovation Centre.

“It’s basically a decentralized power system that has removable or exchangeable components,” explains Stacey. It can be used in households, commercial buildings and off the grid. What’s more, it requires no technical skills to set up and use. And it creates zero emissions.

Electricity for everyone

gregine, portable power sourceGrengine kits – scalable, interchangeable, battery-powered generators – can be used in an urban home, where they can provide additional power generation and storage to reduce power bills and to use during a power outage. But they can also be used where access to power is much more difficult, far from a power grid.

The company’s starter kit – its most basic system – includes a palm-sized Grengine, a small, cloth solar panel that folds up for easy storage, and four puck-style LED lights. The package weighs about a kilogram and costs about $200.

For a family living in a refugee camp or in a tiny village without electricity, the portable kit could take them from candlelight to electricity, Stacey explains. Small Grengines can be charged with something as simple as a hand crank or bicycle flywheel, she adds.

A mid-sized Grengine can power larger equipment at a remote work site.

A mid-sized Grengine (about the size of a car battery) can power larger equipment at a remote work site. The Grengine’s lithium battery stores power, but it also includes inverters and charge controllers that allow it to connect directly to a power source – a solar panel, a wind turbine or the power grid – without the need for a technician or electrician.

And Grengines are scalable, meaning several units can be used together for bigger power needs, to replace or supplement a diesel generator. 

Growth of the Grengine

connie stacey, inventor of the grengine

Stacey got the idea about five years ago, while walking her twin baby boys through her neighbourhood to get them to sleep. She noticed the noise and smell from a conventional generator at the site of a nearby home under construction and wondered why the machines needed to be so loud and polluting.

She wondered why the machines needed to be so loud and polluting.

Her initial investigation led to four years of research and development, working with engineers and an industrial designer (her own background is in IT). The first Grengine units were produced last August, Stacey says, on the heels of a successful crowdfunding campaign.

The company now has 18 distributors around the world, from Peru to Singapore. So far in North America, Grengine kits have been bought mostly by individuals to power medical devices like CPAP machines (used to treat sleep apnea) in case of a power outage or while camping.

For now, the company is focusing on demonstration projects to show what the little engine can do for private companies, government organizations and others. For example, two remote communities in Nunavut currently powered by diesel generators are looking at Grengine technology as part of a federal government program to reduce diesel generation in the north.

She’s even talked to a film company about using Grengines to power location sites, where diesel generators create too much noise and deliver power through an awkward maze of electrical cords that must be taped down for safety.

Stacey, a member of the advisory committee for NAIT’s Distributed Energy Management Initiative, will be testing the systems components with the help of NAIT researchers and facilities in the Productivity and Innovation Centre.

In the future, she hopes to bring the technology to developing countries. “That’s definitely where we’re pressing first and focusing our attention because the need is just so high,” she says.

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