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SSi Micro founder says he can ease energy woes

Jeff Philipps, founder of SSi Energy, is proposing the creation of a power grid in Fort Providence that would use energy recovered from diesel generators to heat buildings.
graphic courtesy of SSi Energy

Entrepreneur Jeff Philipp is preparing to pitch an innovative power grid that harnesses heat and new battery technology to the hamlet council of Fort Providence.

What’s more, he's offering to build it for free.

The system, which Philipp said would reduce the cost of energy by 40 per cent and dramatically lower fuel consumption, could be in place by the time the community’s new power contract is up for renewal in 2021.

"About three years ago I realized that the big challenge for us in the North was the power infrastructure was not reliable enough and it was costing a lot and our (power supply) was failing," said Philipp.

In the time since, Philipp – the founder of SSi Micro, which provides internet and cellular services across the NWT and Nunavut – started SSi Energy and began partnering with producers of new battery technology to set up new power systems in the North.

"We’re a large cellular provider, in every community in Nunavut," said Philipp. "So we have a recurring revenue stream that allows us to do things that most companies don’t get the opportunity to do, and that’s experiment in different fields."

Philipp presented SSi Energy’s plan to MLAs last fall.

SSI Micro Ltd. founder and president Jeff Philips.
Thandie Vela/NNSL photo

On Feb. 25, in the legislative assembly, Yellowknife South MLA Cory Vanthuyne asked Infrastructure Minister Wally Schumann whether the government had any plans to utilize Philipp’s system.

Schumann said departmental staff are having conversations specifically around the heat recovery and battery options SSi Energy provides.

"I like Jeff’s concept," said Schumann. "I think there is a possibility that something can be worked out in a manner that could work in one of our smaller communities."

Schumann did state, however, that he thinks Philipp’s immediate plans might be too ambitious and that a smaller community than Fort Providence might be a better test run.

Fort Providence Mayor Danny Beaulieu said he wanted to wait until after Philipp’s presentation, which he said was scheduled for March 18, to comment on the proposal.

The proposed system

SSi Energy’s system would use multiple small diesel generators instead of one or two large ones. To reduce costs, some of the generators would be switched off during low usage hours and the system would also employ heat recapture technology.

Diesel generators operate at close to 33 per cent efficiency when running at full capacity, said Philipp. The rest of the energy produced is wasted, mostly as heat.

Because generators in the North are not often running at full capacity, the actual efficiency of them is closer to 15 per cent, he said.

Philipp said his system would allow the generators to operate at maximum efficiency, producing energy that would be 33 per cent usable electricity, with excess stored in graphene batteries.

This is the proposed SSi Energy system in full. Central to it is an "energy server" that would orchestrate the whole operation.
graphic courtesy of SSi Energy

The batteries represent a technological leap and have been shown to charge quickly, hold a lot of energy and operate well in temperatures ranging from -40 to 120 C. Mobile phone developer Samsung has been touting their potential.

The wasted warmth, that makes up close to 60 per cent of what’s given off by burning diesel, would then be used to heat buildings. Leftover energy from this process would be stored in thermal batteries.

Philipp said he’s in talks with other communities about the project but Fort Providence has a chance to get in on the ground floor, on his dime.

"I’ll fund it," he said. "It’s not a risk."

"They can turn on [the] old power plant if ours burns to the ground or fails to produce power."

The local government would own the infrastructure but it would likely be operated by Philipp’s staff, he said.