The little idea about a generator that could … and did
by Michelle Lindstrom
It was in a newer community about three years ago, her own neighbourhood, that Connie Stacey pushed her three-month-old twin boys around in a stroller while she was on maternity leave. She cringed at what she heard and smelled. The overpowering engine noise and smell from a generator being used to build a new home along Connie’s walk forced her to pick up the pace.
“Do you know how hard it is to get twin babies to sleep?” she asks.
I did not know, but having experienced finicky infant sleepers two separate times in my past, I could take a good guess and understood Momma Bear instincts to provide and protect for your cubs.
That loud and gag-worthy experience triggered Connie’s thoughts into overdrive for the remainder of the walk. “Why on earth are they like that?” she wondered about generators in general. “We can reduce emissions on cars by so much, so why do (generators) have to be so loud and polluting?”
Her questions didn’t end that day. She continued to research the history of generators and determine if what was the global norm was truly the best option for off-grid power supply.
Connie, 42, has a Bachelor of Arts degree, PMP designation, Programmer Analyst diploma and has worked in IT for the past 20 years. The concept of how small engines work – generators, leaf blowers and lawn mowers, for example – was not foreign to her. In fact, she realized the answer to her question of why generators are the way they are was simply a combination of function, cost and ease of use.
“A generator is just a gasoline combustion engine with an invertor,” Connie explains. “You have a combustion engine that creates energy and an invertor that turns that energy from direct current to AC current, which is what we use to plug into the wall.”
Sounds simple, so what’s the problem?
“In Canada alone, you’re looking at generators creating well over one-million tons of greenhouse gases per year.”
“What’s shocking is how bad these things are for the environment,” she says. “In Canada alone, you’re looking at generators creating well over one-million tons of greenhouse gases per year.”
She adds that in many places – the Middle East, Africa and Asia – where a sophisticated electrical grid like North America’s is not found, generators provide much of the power.
“Generators are used in an unbelievable number of circumstances such as construction, any kind of outdoor event, weddings – nobody loves them but you deal with them,” Connie says. “They’re on every train and every sea-can that comes across the water; It’s shocking.”
The alternative would be a battery system but that requires the user to charge the batteries.
The ease of use part of the equation comes from the gasoline component. When the gas runs out, the user just tops it up again and the power continues. The alternative would be a battery system but that requires the user to charge the batteries, which can take up to eight hours or more to recharge, something many construction or industrial workers cannot afford to wait on.
Connie knew that a battery system was clean with the bonus ability of being charged by a solar panel, but it just wasn’t practical for industrial use when the battery charge ran out. Instead of accepting that, Connie addressed the issue.
Really, why bother doing all this research and not actually design and create something better?
It was a long process to create her company Growing Greener Innovations from stemming back to that day walking with her twins past a loud generator. At first, she considered the feasibility of using batteries considering her existing knowledge of them from IT where she worked with lithium batteries and super batteries because they’re in every tablet, laptop, phone etc.
Her research indicated there were already lead-acid (like a car battery) generator options out there and a couple lithium-ion battery systems, too, but none of them were stackable or interchangeable like the system Connie was working on.
She went back to work in IT in April 2015, and around the same time, connected with advisors at Research Canada and an engineering firm in Edmonton but it came down to needing an industrial designer to bring life to her idea. The advisors liked her design and said all the pieces she wants to use have already been invented, she was just assembling the components in a new way, which at first sounds like good news, but the problem was, nobody knew an industrial designer, let alone one who worked with batteries and small engines.
A serendipitous connection with an industrial designer with the perfect skillset came exactly when Connie needed it. She met with a group of friends and spouses on a long weekend in Whistler, British Columbia soon after being stumped by her advisors with where to go and what to do now.
Small chit-chat with Brad Madu, a friend’s husband, during this weekend getaway led to the question of, “So Brad, what do you do for a living?” He answered, “Industrial design,” and not just any industrial design, a broad industry with endless specialties, he explained, “I specifically work with different kind of battery systems like lithium.”
That’s where and how the Grengine came to life: a stackable, interchangeable battery system that powers up a gasoline-free generator (see images below).
The batteries can be stacked so it doesn’t matter how long you want to work, you will have consistent power. Also, you can connect some batteries to charge while you work and interchange the ones that are drained of power as easily as filling up the gasoline tank on a traditional generator. You simply unclick a connector on the bottom of each battery to release it.
If it’s too expensive or doesn’t fit with the consumers’ needs, it doesn’t have any impact on the environment because nobody buys it and it never gets used.
“The reason I came up with the name of the company – Growing Greener Innovations – was the idea of stepping towards a greener future,” Connie explains. “If I could build this system out of banana leaves and it could instantly dissolve into perfect compost afterwards it would be ideal, but if it’s too expensive or doesn’t fit with the consumers’ needs, it doesn’t have any impact on the environment because nobody buys it and it never gets used.”
She’s aware that this isn’t the solution to greenhouse gas but it’s a whole lot better than what’s currently on the market and that’s her philosophy: “Do something that is a significant improvement of existing technology but still fits the consumers needs so that it gets widespread adoption and that way we have a big effect.”
The full Grengine system with one battery weighs 25-pounds in total compared to a gas-powered system that is 150-pounds or more. The Grengine battery itself is roughly 12-pounds, which is the weight you would be adding for each additional battery you stack on.
For the full environmental benefit, it’s encouraged to charge each battery with solar panel, which Growing Greener Innovations sells as well, but you don’t have to.
“The leader of the market is a lead acid unit called Goal Zero Yeti and they do a pretty decent system but it’s lead acid and not stackable or interchangeable,” Connie says. “For them, what we do in 25-pounds is 103-pounds for them and their biggest unit is 1,200-watt, which will be close to our smallest one.”
Most of these companies that do the battery system have never really approached the industrial side of the market, which is the biggest part of the market.
Connie specifically chose lithium batteries for the many benefits over a lead-acid battery alternative. These include long-term costs are lower since the batteries last longer and you need fewer of them to provide the same power supply; weight, therefore ease of use; no ventilation space in design required; no maintenance like a car battery; and Connie’s quick-connect system creates a fool-proof system.
The recent safety concern of lithium battery use due to Samsung Galaxy phone fires, is something Connie wanted to address. There are three types of lithium batteries: Lithium-iron phosphate, like a car battery; Lithium polymer, typically found in phones, tablets, laptops because they can be very thin; and Lithium ion cells, which look like an over-sized AA battery and is what the Grengine uses.
As lithium polymer batteries are made thinner to fit into current technology, it brings the poles closer together and increases safety hazards, a reason Connie purposely did not go with this type of lithium battery.
“Most of these companies that do the battery system have never really approached the industrial side of the market, which is the biggest part of the market,” Connie says, adding that Grengine’s stackable, interchangeable design eliminates the industry’s reason to shy away from battery-powered generators. “This is where we’re really hoping to get the patent for so it will help us establish ourselves in the market,” she says.
Growing Greener Innovations has a patent pending on the Grengine system with pre-sales starting this November for their 1,000-watt version.
“I think that we have something really exciting and really different,” she says. “When we’re talking to the innovator tech groups, we talk about the environmental features and push emission-free and the impact on the environment, but when we’re talking to the industrial folk, especially the users not the CEOs, we talk about silent and lightweight. For them, the fact that it’s clean is a bonus not the key.”
I think the goal is to turn Alberta not just into and oil and gas production province but an energy province. Why not green energy?
Something the CEOs and homeowners will be interested in is the compartmentalization Connie specifically worked into the component design. Meaning, if a piece fails, then you just replace that piece, not toss out the whole system – an old battery for a new one, for example. “It’s better for the consumer since they don’t end up spending as much money and it’s better for the environment because we don’t have to waste as much or recycle as many parts,” Connie says.
New and improved parts will still work with the Grengine that you already have, you don’t have to start from scratch. “I really believe that the consumer wants that: They’ll buy into a system where everything is interchangeable and everything allows them to go back to using it again and again,” Connie says. “People are really sick of, every two years, having to buy new cords, adapters and accessories because it always changes.”
“I think the goal is to turn Alberta not just into and oil and gas production province but an energy province,” Connie says. “Why not green energy?”
The generator is not the end of Connie’s designs, but rather just the beginning. “I think the thing that makes the most sense right now is to start with an easy, straight-forward win that can have a big environmental impact and then expand on that,” she says. “There are millions of generators on the market, so can you imagine if 10 per cent of those were clean energy systems in two-years’ time and what an impact that could have on the environment?”
The battery pack system is where Connie sees the future being for her company. They can power up many small engines and provide clean energy. And then, why not try to design her own small engines as well?
The possibilities are endless for Growing Greener Innovations especially since Connie and her team met with buyers at the Camping World Vendor Summit in Bowling, Kentucky (United States) late in September where she and her team had 30 minutes to impress three potential buyers for the Grengine – imagine a scenario similar to “Dragon’s Den.”.
The buyers were very impressed and are simply waiting for confirmation of when the systems will be available for purchase, which is expected to be in February 2017. Camping World is a camping and RV supply store with 120 locations in the United States (www.campingworld.com), meaning a new and enormous customer base that can have access to the Grengine in a few months.
Where can Canadians find this environmental game changer?
– Connie’s IndieGoGo campaign and official launch is on November 15, 2016 with a public invite to join in the party at South Common’s Rec Room (1725-99th Street NW, Edmonton, AB).
– Like the Growing Green Innovations Facebook Page or follow them on Twitter @GGinnovations for updates on that and more info.
– If you can’t wait for the launch, go to www.grengine.ca to sign up for launch alerts and exclusive savings on the Grengine.
– Look for the Grengine on IndieGoGo’s site (www.indiegogo.com) after the November 15 launch to help fund the production of the first 1,000-watt models.
– A larger, more industrial-focused version (4,200-watts) is set to have pre-sales starting in the spring of 2017.
– Their Grengine Ultra-Lite is 600-watts and is already being sold as a single, enclosed piece without an interchangeable battery. This version is great for tent camping or office presentations as it can be packed under a table easily without any sound or emissions.
– The plan for the future is to redesign the small unit to add it to their interchangeable system by early 2018.
When using the Grengine in real-life scenarios, here are some educated estimates by Growing Greener Innovations of how long the 1,000-watt system would last with one battery before the need for re-charging.
– A tablet or phone could play music for about 120 hours (5 days)
– A full day, roughly 8 hours, of a framer including continuous music playing, intermittent use of a nail gun with a compressor, and then intermittent use of a drill and saw (likely circular)
– Binge-watch Netflix on a 32” LCD TV for 8-12 hours
– Run a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine for sleep apnea for 30-40 hours
– More examples are below.
There is No I in Team but There Are Two in Mad Scientist
Who’s Who in Connie’s Support Crew
Growing Greener Innovations currently is made up of three full-time employees and three part-time employees. The full-timers include Connie Stacey, who goes by Mad Scientist because Founder and CEO was not complete nor fun enough; Zach Amyot, Sales Ninja, who was Connie’s first hire is a master at cold calls and manages to remain “a sweet human with so much integrity;” Brad Madu, the Industrial Designer found by kismet; and finally, Jen Amos, The General, who is “smart as a whip” and can be relied upon to figure out the science behind shipping and barcodes while basically doing a bit of everything. New hires for full-time and part-time are likely in the near future for the company as Growing Greener Innovations production of the Grengine ramps up.
Connie’s wife, Val, is an occupational therapist with no direct connection to Growing Green Innovations other than being a sounding board for new ideas. They are both thankful for their separate careers.
Connie and Val’s two sons, Oliver and Liam, are over three years old now and doing what little boys do: being loud, messy, adorable and making their moms very proud.
Her brother, Greg Stacey, is more than three years older than her and lives in Minnesota. Connie says he’s way smarter than her but she seems to be doing all right for herself.
Connie’s parents are very supportive of her entrepreneurial ways. “We came from a really poor background in Newfoundland,” Connie says. “My parents were so amazing in helping my brother and I do something more with our lives and get more education.”
“When I was little, I wanted to do everything and my mom would always say, ‘Of course you can, but what are you willing to trade for it regarding time, money or effort,” Connie recalls. “She always said, ‘You can,’ I just had to make the choice of what I wanted to do with my time but always felt like I could do everything and that really came from my mom.”
These Numbers Stink
What impact does a generator actually have on our planet?
– A 1,000-watt generator is legally allowed to produce 610-grams of carbon monoxide per kilowatt hour (Guidance Document)
– Running a 1,000-watt gasoline generator at peak for one hour produces 610-grams of carbon monoxide (what is allowable as noted above).
– Compare that to a Honda Civic that would have to drive more than 3,200 kilometres, which is roughly the distance from Vancouver, B.C. to Terrace Bay, Ontario (central), to emit 610-grams for carbon monoxide.(Cars and Light Duty Trucks – Tier 3 ) Honda Civic Emissions fall into the Tier 3 Bin 125=2.1 g/m rating of carbon monoxide.
– If you used your gasoline generator in a work setting 40 hours per week for a whole year, it would be equivalent to driving that Honda Civic around the world 417 times.