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 Attendees and speakers at the Innovate Straight event

Calgary Economic Development, Kinetica Ventures and Bennett Jones co-hosted the fourth Innovate Straight event June 28. The conversation continued about getting energy tech innovations to market with a deeper look at piloting.

Where to Start? helps frame the types of questions asked prior to launching a pilot project and looks at the range of approaches used in piloting. Why pilot? How to pilot? Who are the right partners? What scale? What duration? Desired outcome?  

The drivers for pilots are different at various points along the commercialization path and for specific applications. Whether it’s pipeline leak detection, enhanced oil recovery or energy storage projects, energy technology developers and industry need to work together to understand where to start to ensure a successful pilot.  

Innovate Straight will continue into the fall with three more events on the topic of piloting:

  • If you were going to design a new pilot testing system (from scratch), what would the ideal system look like?
  • How do you get from where we are today to that new ideal system?  What strengths do we take with us, and what shortcomings will we leave behind?  This will also encompass screening, selecting for success and funding pilots.
  • The final event in the topic series will explore implementation of a new approach.

The June 28 session speakers included: 

  • Gandeephan Ganeshalingam, Chief Innovation Officer, General Electric
  • Cal Coulter, former Director, Insitu New Technology, Suncor
  • Candice Paton, Sr. Manager, Energy Tech, Alberta Innovates, Energy and Environment Solutions
  • Carrie Fanai, Kinetica Ventures
  • Moderated by: Heather Campbell, Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC)

Here’s a summary of what the panel had to say.

What is working well with pilot testing in western Canada?

We have a long history with piloting and have achieved some very impressive successes that have dramatically changed a number of industries, such as oil sands.  We have also built and run various technology development and pilot testing facilities, including examples such as AOSTRA’s Underground Test Facility, NRC’s CanmetENERGY facility, Surmont and ESEIEH.  We have proven that we know how to engineer and test new technologies.

Where have we failed in terms of piloting?

  • We are taking way too long to do low risk pilots; we need to stop being paralyzed by over analysis
  • The biggest failures are the ones we haven’t done yet – we need to better understand the costs of being overly risk adverse
  • Some developers have a lack of understanding of the company-specific construction / operational standards and specifications required for the sites they plan to test on, which causes uncertainties and delays
  • Technology developers need to understand the internal hurdles that their industry partners face and anticipate challenges early

Where haven’t we been able to translate wins for pilots?

  • Frac water recycling is an emerging area for many companies.  Lessons learned from piloting technologies in other sectors like pipeline technology can be applied to frac water pilots, which may reduce the timelines needed.

Thoughts on pilots

  • We need to develop the ability to quickly analyze why we have failures, use that insight to adjust our next attempt and then iterate our way forward quickly
  • Get our bench tests done, don’t get stuck on getting it perfect
  • Piloting is experimentation, which is very different than steady-state operations – we need to be comfortable with that.

Accommodating digital solutions

  • Companies run into challenges getting access to the right data and getting the context for that data
  • GE partners with start ups to bring their data to collaborate with others on one platform

Intellectual property

  • IP continues to be a big stumbling block in getting pilots started
  • The first question should be ‘let’s solve this problem for industry’, not who ends the IP?
  • The government used to want to take company IP, but these days they want that IP to get into the market quickly and don’t want a stake

Going global

  • It is critical we remain open about the industry challenges we face and keep asking the world for help. i.e. COSIA NRG Carbon XPrize
  • Engage the multinationals like GE. Each of their innovation centre’s have access to all of their business lines, allowing your technology to be tested and commercialized faster.
  • We need to look at what makes Alberta unique- people will look to Alberta’s expertise in heavy oil for example
  • Where can we add value to renewables? i.e. energy storage solutions, grid connection. The value chain gap analysis is key.  Focus on areas where Alberta has a competitive advantage.
  • We are being too Canadian - we need to boast about what we do well to the international markets

Money for pilots

  • If you have a plan for a big dollar solution that makes economic sense, your pilot will be funded. It’s all about market pull and solving industry pain points. 
  • There are some new collaborative funding models between agencies i.e., CCEMC and SDTC, and CCEMC and AI-EES.
  • The ‘redefined’ Alberta Innovates will provide a one stop portal for companies to learn about their options to find capital.
  • We need to fund the entire innovation lifecycle i.e. not just certain TRL levels

What’s the motivation to take risks?

  • Find the person in the company with a problem that’s bigger than the problem you are planning to create with your pilot.

Find key partners that will help share risk and be open to demonstrating

Check out the previous Innovate Straight talks below 

Innovate Straight Talk: a conversation about getting energy tech innovations to market 

Innovate Straight Talk: Part II A conversation about getting energy tech innovations to market

Innovate Straight Talk: Part III A conversation about getting energy tech innovations to market 


Megan Zimmerman Profile Picture

BY Megan Zimmerman

Director, Business Development

Trade, Business Development & Client Excellence


Megan joined the Communications team in 2007 and moved to business development for clean tech and renewable energy in 2014. She works to connect a diverse stakeholder group and promote innovation. She is a fellow with Energy Futures Lab accelerating a green economy in Alberta.

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