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Interview: Paul Cairns of SMARTNet Alliance discusses GEDO 2018

By Helen Lam on September 18, 2018


Fall is in the air, and Ottawa’s annual Green Energy Doors Open (GEDO) is coming around again, with events across the city from September 21–23. Organized by the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association, GEDO brings together Ottawans who want to reduce their carbon footprint, with local businesses and experts who are offering practical solutions.

GEDO is a full weekend for green energy and technology lovers. The great thing about this event is that you’ll be sure to encounter some new technologies each year. If you only have time for one event, don’t miss the Energy and Electric Vehicle Showcase at Lansdowne Park on Saturday, where you can meet green technology developers from across the region. If you’ve ever wondered how solar panels work, or what it’s really like to own an electric car, come by the exhibition to find out.

Pictures provided by SMARTNet Aliiance.

Over the weekend, at other sites across the city, businesses with a strong interest in environmental sustainability are throwing open their doors to the public. Take a tour of NU Grocery (Hintonburg’s zero waste grocery store) or drop in on a Tesla Powerwall demonstration with iSolara Solar Power. If you have access to a car, the tours of the passive houses are a unique experience and worth the drive. In town, you can still see the Alta Vista Custom Home, constructed with a slew of seamlessly integrated energy efficient technologies. As you’ll discover, the clever marriage of form and function are what set these buildings apart from the average Canadian house.

Paul Cairns, Executive Director of SMARTNet Alliance and part of GEDO’s regional partnership, gave Apt613 his thoughts on this year’s event and the state of green energy in Ottawa.

Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Apt613: Last year’s GEDO was a success for the green energy community. What new technologies can we expect to see this year?

Paul Carins: This year we decided to expand our focus beyond technology, to lifestyle. When we did some research, we found that the majority of my fellow millennials are actually doing their part through lifestyle choices rather than tech adoption. Examples include diet, transportation habits like bicycling and car sharing, zero waste, and all those little things we do that have a large impact on our carbon emissions.

So this year we’ve added participants like NU Grocery, Northern Nomad Tiny Home, vegan and vegetarian restaurants, and local organic farms in an effort to help educate people on the day-to-day decisions that reduce their environmental impact. I’m really excited and proud to add that aspect this year.

Now for the awesome new technologies! This year we have some really cool technologies that people have likely not seen before, including Eastern Ontario’s first micro-grid home, which goes beyond net-zero. It’s a home that not only produces power through solar, it stores power with Tesla’s Powerwall. We also have solar shingles and the new Tesla Model 3. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

For newcomers to the green tech scene, give us an example of a technology or idea we can try out.

For the tech side, I highly recommend trying out an electric car. They’re smart, you can charge them at home, they can go really fast, you can control them from your cellphone, and they’re just really cool. In fact, we’re having a panel discussion on dispelling the most common EV myths with local EV owners.

For those that can’t afford an EV, or solar panels, or anything like that, I recommend trying out zero waste grocery shopping. You don’t really become aware of all the packaging until you try to avoid it. Other things I recommend checking out are the community gardens in your area. Just stop in, socialize with your neighbours, and grow food together. And if you’re really not up for those, I recommend eating out at one of our local vegan and veggie restaurants. You’d be surprised how good vegan and veggie food can be—and it’s saving the planet.

That’s what I really love about GEDO, it’s a place to come to learn from people like you who have just tumbled a little further down the rabbit hole. It’s just a bunch of passionate people sharing what they love.

What’s been the most exciting development in Ottawa green tech so far this year?

I’m really looking forward to that micro-grid home. This house is fossil fuel free, with a geothermal heat pump, solar panels for electrical, and battery storage. I’ve seen the energy usage charts and the house is almost independent of the grid. Not 100% yet, but close. The real innovation though is its software system. It essentially takes all of the systems in the home and lets them talk to each other, get the weather report, learn from the inhabitants and automate energy usage. For example, this home will monitor when the hot water is typically run (usually in the morning when people shower), and based on that behaviour, program the hot water tank to turn on two hours before sunrise. The house will use the power from a battery pack, which then is replenished over the day.

What are the opportunities and challenges facing the community today?

Well, I think the challenges are pretty evident. The change in provincial government has definitely put a damper on things, for now. I think it was a good wake-up call for the community to realize that we can’t rely on the government to push this forward, we have to work with consumers and the general public, because ultimately our spending habits have much greater influence over our society than our vote.

We can’t rely on the government to push this forward.

I’m not saying voting isn’t important, I vote in every election, no matter what level of government. What I’m saying is that the green community has to really focus on changing the things we can control, the little decisions we make every day. I think the opportunities lie in community gardens rather than supermarkets, car sharing rather than car dealerships, renewable micro-grids rather than centralized grids, and the list goes on.

I think the opportunity lies not just in technological innovation, but in social innovation. We can re-think the way we consume and purchase products, and coming together as communities to help each other.

How do you hope to see GEDO evolve in the coming years?

I hope to see GEDO evolve to be more than just an annual event. Hopefully, GEDO becomes a community we participate in regularly, and we’ll come together once a year at this convention to share our latest developments.

If you were left on a deserted island with only one piece of green tech, what would it be and why?

That’s a very good question. I’m going to have to make a few assumptions here, but I’m going to assume it’s a small enough island that I don’t need transportation, it’s in a temperate climate where I have food, and it’s a warm enough climate that I don’t need heating. If this is the island I’m stuck on, the only thing I’d need would be a solar panel, so I have electricity to get on social media and invite my friends.

Green Energy Doors Open takes place from September 21-23, at various sites throughout the city, including the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne Park. The event is free, but tickets must be procured at