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Expert panel discusses the future of the energy workforce

By: Kiki Cekota
July 21, 2017

The Future of Work panel, from left to right: moderator Krista Jones, Matthew Sachs, Gord Reynolds, Sarah Nicholl, Ian Collins and Kathleen Kauth. Image courtesy of MaRS Discovery District.

Is the utility sector prepared to serve increasingly demanding customers, survive the age of competition and address technological change? This was the driving question of the MaRS Discovery District’s (MaRSDD) Future of Work: Building the New Energy Workforce, external link panel, held June 23 at the MaRSDD auditorium.

Topics discussed by the five panelists included the current state of technology trends like AI and big data in the energy sector, how the sector can address an aging workforce and how more innovation and investment in the energy sector can be procured.

One of the featured panelists was Matthew Sachs, COO of Peak Power, external link - one of the startups in CUE’s Clean Energy Zone. Peak Power is an energy storage product developer that focuses on delivering solutions to offset the most costly hours of electrical demand, and provide benefits to utilities and building owners.

The startup has also developed a machine learning based software that “optimizes existing revenue streams and adapts to future market changes” in order to maximize earnings and environmental benefits for the customer.

Sachs spoke about the main theme, disruption in the energy sector, during the panel: “So much of the energy industry is changing, and it’s not just due to big data,” he said. “The changes also being seen by renewables, energy use and energy demand create a perfect storm.

“Right now, we don’t know what the future energy markets are going to look like. I think we’re going to see most of the change coming from smaller companies.”

Sachs also said one of the positive outcomes of disruption in the energy sector is the chances it has given startups to take more risks and be innovative.  

The other panelists were Gord Reynolds, COO of Spark Power, Ian Collins, CEO of CrowdCare, Sarah Nicholl, customer success director of D2L, and Kathleen Kauth, director of partnerships at the Advanced Energy Centre. The panel was moderated by managing director, work and learning of MaRS, Krista Jones.

Responding to an audience question about how Peak Power uses AI, Sachs said it’s good for predicting times of peak energy demand.

“We’re looking at how we as a province use energy. If you can predict when peak events are going to happen, that’s also when energy is at its most expensive. Then you can start to use batteries to take yourself off the grid,” said Sachs.

“If you know when the sun is going to shine and when the wind is going to blow, you’ll have a more responsive grid to be able to ramp up and down the amount of generation required.”

Kiki Cekota is a third-year Journalism student at Ryerson University.

"Right now, we don’t know what the future energy markets are going to look like. I think we’re going to see most of the change coming from smaller companies."