In Western Canada and around the world, the energy sector is rapidly transforming to one that promises to be cleaner, greener and more efficient. Each month, the Canada West Foundation’s Energy Innovation Brief brings you stories about technology innovations happening across the industry – in oil and gas, renewables, energy storage and transmission. If you have an idea for a story, email us at:

In this month’s roundup of energy innovation news: 

1. Giant solar pandas fuel China into a greener energy future
2. In Canada, government money is flowing to decarbonize carbon-intensive sectors
3. Researchers want to transform regular bricks into energy storing devices
4. Floating ocean platform provides renewable energy solution for remote islands and coastal communities
5. World’s first hydrogen-fueled plane completes its first voyage
6. The UK is decarbonizing its industrial sectors with the help of oil and gas companies

Giant solar pandas fuel China into a greener energy future

In the Datong region of Shanxi province in China, a giant panda generates enough renewable electricity to power 5,000 homes. That is, a panda made entirely of solar panels. Developed by the Panda Green Energy group, a 250-acre solar farm in the shape of a giant panda supplies 50 megawatts (MW) of solar energy to the electricity grid. To achieve the panda bear colours, the company uses darker monocrystalline silicon and lighter thin film cells to create the visual appearance of black and white. And this panda won’t be lonely for long: the company has plans to construct up to 100 more panda-shaped solar farms throughout China, including another 50 MW solar farm right next to the original one. Together, the two 50 MW solar farms will be able to supply enough renewable electricity to power 10,000 households each year and each giant panda farm will replace one million tonnes of coal over the next 25 years. Read the full story here.

China is infamous for its smog-filled cities. But it is trying to overcome its polluting image by shifting towards renewable energy production – the panda solar farms being one example. In 2017, China was ranked as the third largest solar energy producing nation in the world.

In Canada, government money is flowing to decarbonize carbon-intensive industries

From west to east, governments across Canada are throwing serious weight behind decarbonizing the country’s most carbon-intensive sectors. In September 2020, the governments of Canada and Quebec jointly announced $3.6 million in funding towards electrifying Quebec’s mining transportation. Soon after, the federal government revealed that it will be contributing $100 million through the Clean Resource Innovation Network to support the development and commercialization of emissions reduction technology, ecosystem growth and other sustainability measures in the energy sector. And just recently, on November 2, the Alberta government announced $280 million towards funding for three new emission reduction programs for industry, including for shovel-ready projects (i.e. geothermal, carbon capture and storage, etc.) and energy efficiency.

According to a recent poll, the majority of Canadians (64 per cent) want to see the country bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic in a greener way – a way that also must include Canadian oil and natural gas. For this to happen, government support is needed for investments in newer and better technologies, lower carbon fuels, and energy efficiency. And it appears that, across Canada, governments are responding.

Researchers want to transform regular bricks into energy storing devices

Brick has been used in house construction for eons. It’s durable, fire resistant and can increase the value of your home. But what if it could also transform your house into a giant battery to store and release renewable energy? Julio D’Arcy, a researcher at the University of Washington, thinks it could be possible. After studying the chemistry of rust and bricks with his team at the university, it was discovered that they both contain a conductive substance – hematite or ferric oxide – that could operate as an electrode to store electricity. The theory was proven after they successfully powered an LED light for five minutes using three hematite-containing bricks that had been permeated with two acid vapors to create a polymer called PEDOT to store and release energy. The bricks were able to withstand 10,000 charging and discharging cycles while maintaining 90 per cent efficiency and function regardless of temperature or rain. Read the full story here and the scientific article here.

Don’t start building a brick house just yet. While the brick battery concept seems promising, bricks are not energy dense enough to hold large amounts of power. It is also uncertain if the bricks can maintain their strength after being exposed to the acid vapor – putting into question their ability to be used for construction purposes. However, the researchers suggest that the bricks could be used in addition to solar cells for backup power purposes.

Floating ocean platform provides renewable energy solution for remote islands and coastal communities

SINN Power, a renewable energy company based in Germany, is combining the power of three renewable energy sources into one – an innovation that has the potential to provide renewable energy solutions anywhere that the ocean touches. The company recently introduced a floating ocean platform that combines the power of wave, wind and solar photovoltaic (PV) energy to generate electricity for remote islands or coastal communities that struggle to access renewable energy due to difficult environments, such as tropical storms. The modular unit uses four integrated wave energy converters that can be combined with an array of 20 kilowatt PV cells and up to four small six kilowatt-peak (kWp) wind turbines. What’s more, the floating units are easy to combine and connect to increase the scale of energy generation and are even able to withstand waves up to six meters high. The company is currently constructing a floating platform off the coast of Greece as part of an off-grid energy solution. Read the full story here.

Until now, wave energy technologies have mostly required large, expensive power plants to harness the power of waves, which can be vulnerable to large storms. This has limited the uptake of wave energy around the world. While SINN Power isn’t the only company to have innovated floatable wave energy devices, it is the first to have incorporated them with both wind and solar. A triple clean-energy threat!

World’s first commercial hydrogen-fueled plane completes its first voyage

In a major breakthrough for the aircraft industry, the world’s first hydrogen fuel-cell plane completed its first commercial flight in England in September. Developed by U.K.-based aerospace startup ZeroAvia, a six-seater Piper M class aircraft was retrofitted with a hydrogen fuel cell, and completed a short trip around the airport. The flight was an initiative taken under the HyFlyer program, which aims to decarbonize small and medium-sized aircraft in the U.K. and Europe.  As a next step, the HyFlyer program will work toward completing a longer 250 nautical mile flight to the northern coast of Scotland by the end of 2020 to demonstrate its viability on short but high-demand routes. The company has plans to fly over 100 passengers up to 1,000 miles by 2030. Read the full story here.

The aviation industry is in the midst of a transition to ensure that air travel becomes a sustainable, environmentally friendly industry well into the future. Both hydrogen fuel cells and electric batteries are poised for growth in the sector as non-emitting sources. However, hydrogen cells have the advantage of being lighter and requiring less time to refuel – making it better suited for longer flights. It’s no wonder that airlines small and large, including Airbus, are getting serious about hydrogen.

The UK is decarbonizing its industrial sectors with the help of oil and gas companies

Still not convinced that a low-carbon energy future and the oil and gas industry can coexist – or even thrive? This story might change your mind. Together, BP, Shell, Equinor, Total, Eni and National Grid have formed a new alliance, called the Northern Endurance Partnership (NEP), with the goal of decarbonizing carbon-intensive businesses throughout the U.K. by 2030. Though the group will work in several clusters of business areas, a major focus will be the Net Zero Teesside project, which will involve developing a CO2 transportation and storage system to capture, compress, and transport industrial emissions to the North Sea where they will be stored in an underground reservoir. The project is expected to be operational by the mid-2020s and if successful, will allow decarbonization of nearly 50 per cent of the U.K.’s industrial emissions. Read the full story here.

This project also builds on support from the U.K. government. Together, the U.K. government and industry have invested up to £431 million (C$751 million) in a decarbonization challenge fund, which aims to deploy emissions reductions technologies such as hydrogen, nuclear, and carbon capture and storage in the U.K.’s largest several industrial clusters. This a great example of government and industry working together to tackle a common goal.

The Energy Innovation Brief is compiled by Jade McLean and Marla Orenstein, with this month’s edition featuring contributions by Sumaiya Talukder. If you like what you see, subscribe to our mailing list and share with a friend. If you have any interesting stories for future editions, please send them to .

Banner photo by Chester Ho, Unsplash