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A Modular Solution to Energy Poverty with Connie Stacey of Growing Greener Innovations

“A number of studies have shown that access to energy and economic growth are perfectly correlated. You literally cannot end poverty unless you also end energy poverty.”

Connie Stacey, Founder + President of Growing Greener Innovations

In this episode

Join Connie Stacey of SheEO Venture Growing Greener Innovations, and SheEO Venture-In-Residence Hannah Cree, as they chat about tackling energy poverty with a modular solution that brings dependable, affordable power. Growing Greener Innovation’s core technology is their stackable battery packs that can be clicked together like LEGO™ to meet any power demand, without the aid of a technician.

They also discuss:

  • The beginnings of Growing Greener Innovations, and wanting to counter social injustices
  • 3 needs people have when it comes to energy: plug + play, portable, and scalable
  • Various types of energy poverty, and how it affects billions of people globally
  • How greenhouse gas output from energy use differs based on time of day
  • GGI’s customers and the future of the company

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Podcast Transcript:

The podcast is being transcribed by Otter.ai. (there may be errors, run-on sentences and misspellings).

0:00
A number of studies have shown that access to energy and economic growth are perfectly correlated. You literally cannot end poverty unless you also end energy poverty.

0:13
Welcome to the SheEO.World podcast, where you will meet women who are transforming the world to be more equitable and sustainable. Your host for today’s podcast is Hannah, SheEO Venture-in-Residence. Welcome to SheEO.World.

I am so excited to be talking to you today, Connie of Growing Greener Innovations, venture to venture. Tell me what is Growing Greener Innovations. It’s a great name, but tell me more about it.

0:42
Okay, so it takes a tiny bit of explanation. But let me give you the rundown. So the basics of it are we manufacture battery energy storage systems, which doesn’t sound super cool, but it’s—actually I’ve been told that batteries have become sexy. So who knew right? We made batteries. Because we wanted to get into the space, or more specifically, I wanted to get into the space of creating a product that was environmentally friendly. But even more importantly, helped to conquer some social injustices, in particular energy poverty. And so batteries is a pretty key part of renewable energy. And in particular, our technology, which is patented, allows people to get access to power without the need for technicians and electricians. And anybody who’s familiar with some of the challenges in developing countries or any country actually where electricity is not easily available, we’ll know that having a next door neighbor who’s an electrician or an engineer isn’t everyday for most people. So being able to access things like renewables means that you had to have either a technician or something that was plug and play. And that’s where we came in.

1:56
I love that you have come in on this saying it’s not just a battery, this is around energy poverty that is happening. And how do we get this to be more accessible to more people? Because it seems so many times that innovations come in, and it’s only accessible to the rich? I’ll just say it because we know this is going to happen. We will talk about Elon because there’s frickin batteries involved, right?

2:21
Yep.

2:21
But it’s like, if you have the money you can, you can have innovation here. So how is your innovation being used currently? And how is it really addressing—You mentioned a little bit, but can you unpack a little bit on that energy poverty and how it’s addressing there?

2:37
Sure. So one of the things with our technology is, it’s actually the patent is modular energy storage. And once people talk and say, oh, we’re modular, which means that you can bring in an electrician, and they can make changes at a very high cost. And look, we added batteries, great.

2:54
Of course.

2:55
That’s not what we talked about. When we say modular when we say modular, we talk about literally stacking batteries together with, like Lego with no cables, or any other things involved. And anybody can do it. So literally, we could power a refugee camp of a million people, and you wouldn’t require a single technician. So that’s something that’s very unique in the world right now. And it really I’m kind of talking to the second part first, the energy poverty. But one of the things I discovered when I started to look into kind of the bigger energy picture was that most people really only had three things in common when it came to energy. three specific needs first off, had to be plug and play. Because quite frankly, if your sub Saharan Africa in a rural village, or you’re not living next door to electrician, that is reality. Now, so had to be plug and play, it had to be portable, because that is our life period, no matter where you are, portability becomes absolutely crucial. And it had to be scalable, because our needs are always going up. In fact, there’s a name for it. It’s called the watch addiction. So it’s kind of like you know, he gets a new computer, I know it, doesn’t that make it sound cool. It’s not that cool, actually. But it’s actually a real problem. But what happens is, it’s kind of like your computer, you get a bigger, fancier computer, and then the software gets bigger and fancier, you need a bigger computer, well, the same kind of thing happens with electricity, you get access to some and then that allows you to get access to more devices and tools that you need more electricity and so on. So it had to be scalable. And those were the only things that were common. And when I kind of sat back and I thought about that I thought, well, nobody said anything about transmission lines or distribution lines. Nobody talked about utilities. So I really kind of sat back and thought, Well, how do I solve this problem? And the biggest piece was really around this idea of plug and play. And when I looked at it, it really became effectively trying to find a way to put the engineer and the electrician in the box. And I always like to draw a joke that that’s where engineers belong is in the box. But.

5:05
I don’t think they like that joke. But I get it. My dad’s an engineer, I’m like, put them in the box,

5:10
Put them in the box. I know I say it all the time. And they just roll their eyes at me in the back here. But anyway, what we did is the system, the electronics in the battery system effectively allow you to have variable input, which means you could be charging it with anything from a hand crank, all the way to a hydro dam, or the grid or anything in between, it could be bicycle doesn’t matter. So it can have any kind of input, it can have any kind of output. So you could be charging a single cell phone or an entire city. So it had a variable output. And in between, you had a variable number of batteries. So you could be stacking two batteries or 2000 batteries. So there was a lot of variability. And to do that, we had to make the system really smart. And that’s where our technology really kind of comes into play. Because what a lot of people don’t recognize when you talk about energy, poverty, I mean, Canada, and US, most of the SheEO Ventures, you know, around the world, we live in countries where electricity is readily available. And the cost isn’t even that high for most people. But that’s just not the world, the world actually has a totally different scenario. When you look at the bigger picture, there’s more than a billion people that have zero access to energy. Yeah, that’s an eighth of the world, when you talk about not enough energy to cook with, in any way other than burning some kind of biomass, which is horrible on the environment. And even worse on personal health.

6:38
Yes.

6:39
Is 2.6 billion. Do you know that like on that note that more than 2 million people a year die from inhalation from cooking, smoke, and so forth. Basically acute lung—

6:50
2 million?!

6:51
More than malaria or tuberculosis, it’s an each from of course, it’s mostly affecting women, because they are the ones doing most of the cooking.

6:59
Yes.

6:59
So it’s a huge problem, right. And that’s, that’s a third of the world’s population. And then you get to what’s called domestic energy poverty. And domestic energy poverty means you might be connected to the grid, but you might only get energy for, you know, say, a couple hours a day, or it might only be low voltage, or there’s just ramping blackouts. That’s more than half the world, half the world’s population. So we I think sometimes we forget, you know, living where we live, just how much of a challenge it is for other people. So when I kind of saw that bigger picture, that’s what made me actually decide to burn the ships, as they say, and start the business because I thought, you know, I knew I had a product that would have a good market that I could sell. But that didn’t make me want to leave the comfort of a full time paying job. It was when I realized just what a huge impact it had on everybody else in the world. And I thought, you know what, this disproportionately affects women, which is something that’s of huge importance to me. And I’m gonna go for it, because I think I can make a change, I can make something better. And that really was kind of where I got into it. It was really the idea of being able to make social change through business. That was the fundamental thing for me. And the battery. Well, honestly, that was that was how. That’s not the why it’s just the how, it’s a very cool how. I mean, because, you know, they’ve told me that batteries are sexy. So you know, cool how, the why really comes in that whole energy poverty part.

8:31
But I think the cool how is because you are putting that engineer in the box. That you are removing barriers for the rest of the world to be able to have access to it, right. It’s not just like another, it’s one of my pieces and innovation is technology is that we keep on building things, of the people that are actually building it, which are usually white men, right? And so they don’t have everyone in the table to really look at it holistically what a solution would look like. And this is a solution for more than just half the planet because we can see it being used in all of those instances. And I bet we can also see it being used in lots of big money making corporations that can fund you. And then we can provide this to the other half of the world, because that’s what they need.

9:17
Yeah. Yeah, actually one of the things—and there’s a really neat environmental piece to this that a lot of people don’t recognize we’re actually in preparation to launch a residential system effectively. We’ll be launching it here in Canada first. And it’s interesting. Look, a lot of people don’t realize the amount of emissions that are produced by your electricity is actually varies based on the time of day. So during low peak times, we’re able to use more renewables, wind and solar, etc, right. But during high peak times, they turn on what’s called peaker plants. And peaker plants are almost exclusively natural gas or coal. So that dinnertime energy when it’s peak is actually creating a lot more emissions than it does during non peak times. And just to give you an example of the difference in Ontario, your average or non peak emissions is 20 grams of carbon dioxide equivalents per kilowatt hour of energy. The peak emissions is 394 grams, equivalents per kilowatt hour. And it’s not really I know, the grams and things like that probably won’t make a lot of sense to people. But it’s the difference, right. So one of the things that our residential system will do is that it gives people the opportunity to do a couple of things. First off, get into something that will set you up for renewables like solar on your rooftop or lowering your emissions and things like that by basically using the battery to make sure you’re using non peak time energy. So effectively, you buy the electricity, when it’s usually cheaper, at non peak times of the day, store it in the battery, and then when the peak load is on, you use it from the battery. And so you actually use lower emissions. And it’s a huge difference. Average household over the course of a year, if they’re not using non peak energy would be producing about 15,000 grams of carbon dioxide equivalence. But at peak energy times that is just shy of 300,000 grams. I mean, it’s night and day.

11:19
It’s night and day.

11:20
Yeah, so this residential system, a lot of people have an in home backup, they’re set up for solar when they want to add it, you can scale it, you can add extra batteries if you want it to be bigger later. So you can start small and build onto it. And you lower your footprint. And in areas like Ontario, where they pay time of use fees, so they pay more for their electricity and peak hours, they actually get a savings on their electrical bill. So that’s kind of something we’re launching this year.

11:45
Wow. That’s amazing. So right now talk about who your customers are. You’re going into residential. That’s great. Who are your customers right now? It just sounds like such a game changer kind of invention. And yeah, so what does the future look like for you? And who are your customers?

11:59
Well, we’re just kind of going through the commercialization stage right now. So the early customers were anybody who was willing to buy, cuz that’s what you do to keep afloat, right.

12:09
And thank you to the early adopters.

12:11
Thank you to the early adopters out there. A lot of our small systems we release first went to people in camping, actually, people use C pack machines while you’re going camping, for example, our little units, like few 100 bucks, and you’re you’re good to go. Once all your devices and all that kind of stuff. Those were our early customers, where we’re going, really, it’s the gonna use the Robin Hood here, rob from the rich to pay to give the money to the poor, we don’t rob anybody, don’t worry. But the big corporations use systems like these, this type of technology to save money, because they pay so much less if they can lower that peak time use and their peak demand. So the money that they would pay for those systems helps us offset the costs. For people in other areas where quite frankly, it’s just not as affordable. So that is definitely part of our philosophy. The other piece with it is actually and this is kind of my big grand vision or part of it. But basically because the system is fully plug and play, eventually, when the whole thing is fully commercialized, you’ll be able to go into your garage or basement, wherever your system is stored, pull the battery off the rack, go camping with it, come back, put it back on the rack, oh, I’m gonna mow my lawn, I’m gonna snap it onto my lawnmower. You can go out to the park and have a picnic. And whatever you want to do, you just add and remove them from the racks as you need. Because it’s fully plug and play, you don’t need an electrician. So that’s kind of part of where our bigger picture is. The other thing that’s really kind of unique in what we do is within the battery industry, there’s a there’s a lot of people, No, actually I think we’re the only ones who don’t do it this way. So let’s just say the norm is to spot weld a bunch of cells together. So an individual cell, if you can imagine is like an oversized double A battery. And they spot weld them together in you know, say 200 of them to create a bigger battery. And what happens is, if one battery one battery fails, or one spot weld fails, they throw all 200 cells. Can you imagine that? One fails, they don’t know which one it is it could be in the production of them. It could be in the use of them, one fails, and the whole thing is trashed. By contrast, we don’t do that we don’t spot weld. So we actually built the system such that the it uses kind of a pressure contact is the best way to describe it. And effectively the cells are all individually housed in and so we can tell right down to the individual cell what cell is a problem if there is one, so we can replace one cell and we keep the other 199. If someone actually needs servicing right now the there is no service at the back in the industry. If a battery fails, even if it’s a single cell, the whole thing is trashed. By contrast, we could have a battery come back, replace a single cell and put it back into production, or sell it as a refurbished unit, which, you know, is going to have 99% of the capacity is as though you had bought it new. So those are some of the things are really quite unique to what we do.

15:23
I love it. Yeah, where do you see your company in the future? I mean, I’d say years from now, but I’m really interested in where you see yourself in five to 10 years.

15:33
Well, you know, what the plan is, you know, there’s some other pieces of technology that I’ve worked on, that I can’t announce yet, because I want to get my patents in place, mostly because I don’t want the big big corporates to gobble it up and, and make their profit off of it when I’m hoping to use it for social change. But eventually, the the idea is I want to create a series of technologies that will allow a person to live a fully clean, sustainable lifestyle, without the requirement of having to be tied to a big corporation of some kind of utilities, etc. So you should be able to get clean, drinkable water anywhere, anytime you don’t require utility, clean energy anywhere, anytime, no utility. So kind of building out that idea that you should be able to stand alone, and operate and live a sustainable and full life. without needing to go back to the big corporates all the time,

16:32
Is Growing Greener Innovations actually gonna get us off the grid?

16:36
That’s the idea. The grid is actually—it’s interesting, because I think the grid will stay. But the grid will become a support for it won’t be the the real kind of meat behind it. One of the things that happens with energy storage, and actually smart cities, in particular, when we talk about new incoming technologies, like electric vehicles, we actually have a bit of a problem with the grid. So some people are aware of this and some art, electric vehicles are a huge demand on the electrical grid. And right now, yeah, I know, right? Right now in a lot of neighborhoods that say, you know, were built in the 50s.If you plugged into electric cars, on a level two charger on the same street, at the same time, you’ll have a blackout. TWO. So what happens is when everybody has them, so one of the ways to solve this problem is what’s called decentralized energy storage. So if you think about the grid being like a pipe that electricity passes through, like water would like a hose. Instead of having making the pipe bigger, you have buckets all over the place where energy is stored, so that when demands are really high, you don’t have to use, you don’t have to push it through that pipe. And the difference here is that you don’t have to upgrade the infrastructure, which would cost millions of dollars across North America. And you and you are able to use more renewables because you’re not reliant on peaker plants, you load up your buckets, if you will, at low times, and use renewables and then that energy is locally available to help offset those, those loads. And that’s where it’ll help with things like electric vehicles.

18:20
What about the environmental footprint, because there’s been a lot of pushback even on the electric vehicles of saying, you know what, this is better, it’s longer, but it’s like the batteries have an incredible bad footprint too on how they’re made, even to, you know, if the car goes down, then what happens, it still goes into a landfill like, there’s a lot of conversation around people are acting like that’s the solution. But there’s still a lot of under—

18:45
100%. That’s actually why or one of the big reasons why I wanted a system that wasn’t spot welded. Because we’re talking about, well, 1/200 of the loss, when you have one cell go down, you replace one cell instead of 200. So that part of our manufacturing is very, very much targeted at reducing our carbon footprint. The other things that we’re looking at is actually trying to source as local as possible. So they’re actually some pretty cool companies. One in particular, that we’ve developed a relationship where they’re actually looking at and they’re technology’s pretty cool at being able to refine and get the lithium here in Alberta, so we won’t have that big transportation component of the carbon footprint. And interestingly, and this is something that I have some moral issues about, but most of the lithium probably 80% plus, of the world, comes from South America. But South America does not produce a single cell. Not one, every last bit of it gets shipped off out of South America, almost exclusively to Asia. And then they make it into cells and sell to companies like me who Then turn it into batteries and advanced electronics. I have a real problem with that. Because I think that a huge environmental footprint here, because you’re talking about, let’s say, I think you can buy a lithium ion cell for $16. So you have one cell and with $16, how much of the cost of it was just shipping it from South America to Asia, to Canada?

20:24
Yeah, the shipping alone on something like that. And it’s huge. And the footprint of it?

20:31
Yeah, absolutely. It’s huge. So one of the things that I’ve explored a little bit, to have an opportunity to meet with the head of energy for the Inter-Americas Development Bank. And we had an interesting conversation. And when I indicated I would love someday to have cell production locally done in South America, instead of seeing it shipped offshore. Say that 10 times fast shipped offshore. He shared, he said, if you want to make cells in South America, we will back it.

21:02
Oh, I bet, hey.

21:03
Yeah. Because I mean, you think about it, you’re taking a natural resource from people there to ship it somewhere else where the better value for the product is realized. So I’m not cool with that. I’d love to see more like regional production of our stuff when we get there. So we would have work with local partners doing extraction and making cells so that we can turn it into batteries and start shipping it all over the world because I think batteries, their biggest carbon footprint comes in the logistics of it.

21:36
Hmm. Yeah, absolutely. And then how they’re fusing them all together, and all of those other wonderful things. You sound like you are so passionate, you are deeply involved, you hear this bigger vision. And I know that so many times, I will just call it the old world of doing business. We look at these types of innovations. And we say to the founders, how are you going to scale? How are you going to go go go? Where’s your hockey stick? And, and you better get that check from Elon, which I’m wondering how many times that’s been asked to you. To me, it sounds like you’re in this for the long haul. And like, what’s your what’s your vision on that or, or your response?

22:11
You know, it’s funny, ever since the day started, everybody has asked me what my exit strategy was, like, folks, I’m still working on an entry strategy. What are your exit, let’s start with how I’m going to enter. And you know, you’re bang on for me, this is a long haul thing. And my role in all of this might change. You know, I’ve certainly learned a lot about myself and where my best skills are. But the impact of this and where it’s going, is something I will always be involved in. This is something that I’m passionate about. And from the day, I’ve committed myself to doing this until the day I die, I will stay to working towards these goals, whether it’s through the company or not. So yeah, everybody wanted to know about exit strategies. There’s been lots of Oh, Elon Musk of Canada, and I kind of cringe a little?

23:04
No, please. No. Yeah, I better than that.

23:09
I feel like a lot of those products are made for the ultra wealthy, I mean, you can’t actually buy a power wall right now, unless you buy it with solar panels. And only in the US. They’re not even selling in Canada right now. Which means you’re looking at, let’s say 30 to $40,000. Who can afford that? Even, you know, even a double income family, that’s a stretch. So these are products that right now are a bit too elite for my taste. So you know, we really hope to make a change there and get products out where people can start at something affordable, like under $100 a month and at year five, it’s paid off, instead of like 30 years, and you’ve paid off your house, but you’re still paying off your solar. You know, like, that’s just crazy.

23:53
Yeah. And it’s so unrealistic for the world we’re in also, you know. Gone are the days where we, you know, it’s very rare for someone to live in same house for 30 years anymore. And so we need things like this where we could take that system with us, potentially, you know, and go through that. So I think it’s incredible. And you were definitely, you know, this whole poverty energy, like that word was so interesting to me, because I’ve worked in poverty, in a different realm of employing people, and have quite often had employees where they couldn’t even afford the electricity, and those types of pieces. So it’s really important that we address that type of technology with the social issue.

24:36
There’s actually a number of studies that have shown that access to energy and economic growth are perfectly correlated. You literally cannot end poverty unless you also end energy poverty. So the Gates Foundation has said they’re ending poverty. I’m going to work on the energy poverty part of that. See if we can accelerate the plan.

24:56
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. How can we help you? What is your Ask to the community?

25:01
Well, I guess first off, spread the word. Because that’s, that’s number one is there’s always people out there. Businesses that need this type of thing, people who might want it in their home. That’s a great, great way to help out. The other would be you know, go and buy a product, buy it when our residential comes out— there will be a big announcement. When that comes out, think about getting it in your home. You have a backup from working from home, you’re save money, you’re going to be better on the environment. You’re ready for solar when you can. So yeah, I guess just support us by spreading the word and, and if the product is helpful for you then jump on board.

25:39
Growing Greener Innovations, what’s the website so they can go there and spread the word and buy all the batteries?

25:47
All the batteries, it’s grengine.com, so GR engine, Grengine, I wanted something I could trademark. Dot com, and that’s it.

That’s amazing. Thank you Connie for the work you’re doing and inspiring others and being in this innovation tech space with a social impact lens. It is refreshing. So check out Growing Greener Innovations with Connie, SheEO Canadian Venture. Thank you for the work you’re doing. Love you so much till next time.

Till next time. Thank you.

26:20
Thank you for listening to the SheEO.World podcast. Like, comment, subscribe, and share this podcast with your friends. We invite you to join a global community of radically generous women at SheEO.World.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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