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A bright day for Georgian College

For nearly 50 years, Georgian College has helped students accelerate their careers in environmental science and technology. The school supports a variety of student and faculty research efforts, but publically-funded colleges don’t always have financial resources to dedicate to new research. Thanks to a sponsorship from Direct Energy Business and several of their public sector customers, Georgian is revving up sustainability research with new technology: a solar-powered electric vehicle charging station.


Powered up for conservation

As an experienced leader in the energy industry, Direct Energy Business offers a variety of solutions for customers interested in green energy. One option is renewable energy credits (RECs), tokens that represent electricity generated by low carbon technology processes. RECs can be a smart option for businesses to reduce their carbon footprint without needing to produce their own power from green technologies, such as solar panels or wind turbines.

But several public sector customers wanted their REC purchases to have a future, net new benefit to local communities. They designated a portion of the proceeds from their purchases to be reinvested into a new renewable energy project.


Bringing a cause to light

Pooling their customers’ proceeds for maximum impact, the Direct Energy Business team began to develop an innovative green energy project that would combine enthusiasm for green energy sources with support for sustainability education in Ontario, Canada.

“Ontario’s post-secondary institutions are ground zero for knowledge generation and for training those who will one day work in the green energy industry,” says Tom Marshall of Direct Energy Business. “Preparing the workforce is an important goal and, as a company serving much of Canada, we wanted to help build that vision.”

And so does tenured engineering professor Ron Sky. It was under Sky’s leadership that the team from Georgian designed  their unique research project, and because of his guidance that it was ultimately selected by Direct Energy Business.


Accelerating for research

Georgian’s new charging station was installed in September 2016 near the Owen Sound Campus in central Ontario. There is a growing demand for electric vehicles in this area, but a limited infrastructure of charging stations. Drawing power from photovoltaic (PV) solar panels, drivers are able to fully charge an electric car in just hours and for free. When electricity generated by the rooftop solar panels is not being used to charge a car, it feeds back into the campus electrical grid.

The funds from Direct Energy Business covered the cost of the charging station’s solar panels. Other community and corporate partners provided necessary technologies for the station’s metering and monitoring.

“Direct Energy Business has provided Georgian College with a phenomenal opportunity,” says Mira Ray, Director of Georgian’s Centre for Applied Research and Innovation. “The new station does even more than help students and faculty participate in relevant research projects. We’re now able to nurture students with experiential and problem solving skills that reach beyond the academic world and accelerate their careers. Many of these students will ultimately put their skills to work right here in our local communities, contributing to Ontario’s ever growing contributions to clean energy.”

Sky, who has extensive experience with sustainable energy technologies like hybrid electric vehicles, wind turbine engineering, and LEED-certified residences, earnestly agrees and understands the potential for such research.

“We’ll use the station’s solar arrays for demonstrations and analysis in our environmental science and sustainability courses,” Sky explains. In these courses today, students learn about photovoltaic system technology and how they operate, but don’t have the real thing to study. “Now we’ll use data from the Owen Sound solar array to analyze capabilities and limitations in the real world. That’s an invaluable, hands-on opportunity for students that many wouldn’t have until they entered the industry.”

Students also have hands-on opportunities with data from the electric vehicle charging station. They will use a student-developed mobile app to track the times, vehicle types, and people who use the charging station.

“Our students will actually gather the data, map out trends and interpret outcomes,” confirms Sky. “That’s another one-of-a-kind research opportunity that can really help students understand the value of green energy and the potential for making these technologies consumer friendly.”


A community intersection

The charging station is the second of its kind for Georgian. The first, also spearheaded by Sky and his team in 2013, is located on the school’s main campus in Barrie and is primarily used by students and faculty. Conversely, the new charging station is conveniently located on a major highway. The team expects it will be primarily used by members of the Owen Sound community and by outbound drivers travelling to cottages.

And while the charging station benefits local electric vehicle drivers, it also gives the whole community a head start. In April 2016, Ontario announced plans to invest $20 million in the province’s Green Investment Fund toward electric car charging stations.[i] Georgian’s station premiered just ahead of nearly 500 new stations that will emerge across Ontario during 2017. Together, this network of stations will address “range anxiety,” a common concern about the distance electric cars can travel compared to traditional ones before refueling.

For Sky, the timing couldn’t be better. “One of our research goals from the beginning has been that we could use data from the electric vehicle charging station to better inform Ontario’s usage policies and plans for future electric vehicle expansions.”

With the funding to put plans in motion, and a research project that’s more relevant than ever, Sky and his team are in the fast lane.



[i] “Ontario Building More Electric Vehicle Charging Stations.” Government of Ontario. Retrieved August 10, 2016.


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