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Funds for battery storage, smart grid, energy tech tops $1B

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The first half of 2017 has been very rewarding for battery storage, smart grid, and energy efficiency companies who received venture capital (VC) funding worth more than $1 billion globally — a 25 percent increase over the $807 million raised in the first half of 2016.

Mercom Capital Group, a global clean energy communications, and consulting firm, published its latest report for the first half of 2017, detailing the combined funding, mergers & acquisitions across the three separate sectors globally covering 89 companies.

The biggest VC deal across all three sectors was the $400 million raised by China’s Microvast Power from CITIC Securities, CDH Investment, National Venture Capital, and others, reports Clean Technica.

Battery Storage Funding

VC funding for the Battery Storage sector, including private equity and corporate venture capital financing, rose to $480 million, compared to $179 million in the same time period in 2016. Microvast’s $400 million in funding for battery storage in the second quarter of 2017 far exceeded Vionx Energy’s $12.75 million, and Moixa Technology, a UK-based battery maker’s, $3.2 million.

The growth of the battery storage sector is a welcome ray of sunshine after a rather cloudy first quarter. Based on second quarter figures, there is a continuing growth trend in the recovery of clean energy investment. Specifically, in the first quarter of 2017, eight VC deals were made for battery storage, amounting to $58 million.

Smart Grid and Efficiency Technology Solutions

Where there is solar energy being produced, storage of that energy needs smarter grids and more efficient technology. Interestingly, VC funding for the smart grid sector reached $304 million over 22 deals in the first half of 2017, compared to $331 million over 29 deals in the first half of 2016.

According to PV Magazine, the slight decline reflects more on “a healthy market sector that is still finding its feet and its audience.”

The top VC-funded smart grid company for the first half of 2017 was Actility, based in France, securing $75 million. They were followed by the $43 million raised by U.S.-based ChargePoint from Siemens.

In the energy efficiency sector, demand-response-based technologies received the biggest share of VC funding. The sector is a fast-growing one as more consumers play a major role in the operation of the electric grid by reducing or shifting their electricity usage during peak periods in response to time-based rates or other forms of financial incentives.

VC funding for the energy efficiency sector the first half of 2017 reached $242 million, compared to $397 million over the same period in 2016. And while there was a slight drop in energy efficiency VC funding, the lions share of the funds went to efficiency lighting companies.

Energy Infra Post reported that there was one deal, involving an Indian company, ION Energy. It is a stealth start-up founded in February this year that is building a layer of infrastructure for highly efficient energy storage systems. They raised an undisclosed amount of angel funding from three investors, Sushil Jiwarajka, Aakrit Vaish, and Swapan Rajdev on May 11, 2017.

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Technology

New IT infrastructure for Gilbane includes LLMs, payment automation, and unified tech departments

A look at 153-year old real estate titan Gilbane’s digital transformation

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Canada’s construction industry has been slower to get on the digital transformation train. Yet virtual design and automation presents serious opportunities for the industry to evolve with digital transformation. 

Research shows that more than 80% of construction companies have room to improve their data capabilities, and the most commonly cited benefits of digital transformation were increased productivity, customer experience and staff safety.

One company that made it happen is Gilbane — a U.S.-based real estate development company worth more than $6.5 billion, with family roots that persevere to this day. In fact, they even have employees in the family’s sixth generation. Despite the “legacy” mindset in the company’s fabric (it’s 153 years old) and business industry, Gilbane boosted risk management and productivity under a brand new modular IT infrastructure. 

Here’s how they did it (and how you can, too):

Unify all digital initiatives under one leader

The company created a position that was responsible for overseeing the progress on multiple tech initiatives, including AI, analytics, IT, and cybersecurity. This helped them avoid the risk of wasted budgets through silos and miscommunication. 

“We believe this structure is the most effective to bring together our data and technology resources to drive transformation and get a real return on invested capital.”Karen Higgins-Carter, Chief Digital Information Officer (CDIO)

Invest in analytics and AI for risk management

Safety is a primary concern in the construction industry. Despite improvements in safety measures, equipment, and training, the construction industry still experiences high rates of death and injury. In fact, in 2022 the National Safety Council ranked the construction industry in the top four most dangerous, noting that it experienced the most workplace deaths.

Gilbane’s team is investing in analytics and AI with large language mode experiments to help them identify similar trends that indicate potential unsafe characteristics on a worksite, Higgins-Carter told CIO. “In construction, our teams are managing the construction of hundreds of projects happening at any one time,” she said. “Our analytics capabilities identify potentially unsafe conditions so we can manage projects more safely and mitigate risks.”

“To help us manage risk, I need to understand the leading indicators of risk on a job, like attrition or high volumes of change order.”Karen Higgins-Carter, Chief Digital Information Officer (CDIO)

Automate payment processing with operation-specific triggers

Higgins-Carter told CIO the company recently piloted an automated payment program for Gilbane to pay subcontractors more efficiently. Powered by videos and photos of work completed as triggers, payments are automatically dispensed to the necessary parties. 

Educate the entire team and inform new processes with their experience

Hold meetings and training sessions to ensure executives and employees  understand the benefits and functions of any new tech or business processes. 

“We can’t deliver technology if we don’t understand our employees’ experience. If I go out to a job site once a month, then my team will too.”Karen Higgins-Carter, Chief Digital Information Officer (CDIO)

Read the full article on CIO here.

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The Northern Lights Technology & Innovation Forum navigates AI, economic concerns and upskilling in Alberta

Panelists dive into how innovation and collaboration may help navigate the changing industry landscapes

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While rapid advancements in AI are reshaping industries worldwide, they’ve sparked discussions about innovation and community resilience through ongoing economic challenges. At this year’s Northern Lights Technology and Innovation Forum, panelists explored how technology could drive positive adaptation.

​​Moderated by the Calgary Economic Development’s Geraldine Anderson, the panel featured:

  • Mark Little, co-founder and CEO Jotson Inc, and board member of General Fusion
  • Anna Baird, culture and innovation evangelist at Google
  • Dan Semmens, SVP and head of data and IT at ATB Financial
  • Arthur Kent, Canadian journalist and author
  • Joy Romero, executive advisor innovation at Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL)

Approximately 250 attendees gathered for the forum at the Calgary Petroleum Club on Feb. 8. Filled with industry leaders and burgeoning entrepreneurs, the forum focused on collaboration and knowledge sharing in the tech sector.

Over the past five years, Calgary has seen a 22 per cent increase in tech talent and total tech jobs, emerging as one of North America’s top markets for young tech professionals.

“The talent pool here is amazing,” said ​​John Givens, vice president of sales at C3 AI and one of the event’s organizers. “So how do we leverage our talent here? How do we share that knowledge?”

In response, this year’s forum included the inaugural “Mentors and Makers” initiative, where a dozen industry experts pinned green buttons to their lapels, signaling to anyone in the crowd that they’re open to a conversation.

Shawn Mahoney, another event organizer and co-founder of Spare Parts & Gasoline, said in his opening remarks that the initiative speaks to “creating the new innovators that we need to solve tomorrow’s problems.”

And with that, the panel took the stage to dig into the big questions: What are the challenges and opportunities for Alberta as a growing tech market? How will AI continue to change industries across the board? And if it does, will that be a bad thing?

The Alberta advantage

The panel conversation was kicked off by the first question asked by moderator Geraldine Anderson: “What is the Alberta mindset, or the ‘Alberta advantage?’” 

Mark Little. Photo by DX Journal / Digital Journal

Mark Little, co-founder and CEO Jotson Inc, said Alberta has a lot going for it — including having the highest GDP in Canada, a younger population, and high education levels — but those aren’t the advantages that stand out to him.

“There’s a resilience and an entrepreneurial spirit here,” he said. “As a result of that, we’re seeing innovation … I think 10 to 15 years from now we’re going to lead this country in innovation and it’ll be every sector you could imagine.”

Hailing from Vancouver and the only panelist not based in Calgary, Google’s Anna Baird said she considers herself an honorary Albertan based on the “sheer grittiness and roll up your sleeves and work together” attitude she’s witnessed. 

“The grittiness takes us into innovation,” said Baird. “We’re willing to try new things, we’re willing to fail — hopefully fast and cheaply, as is Google’s ethos. But we’re also willing to borrow with pride and give kudos to the people we’re borrowing the pride from so we can have building blocks.” 

The panelists’ discussion kept coming back to the importance of adaptability, innovation, and collaboration. While the province faces significant hurdles, including global market fluctuations and environmental concerns, they spoke with optimism about the potential to emerge stronger by investing in the future.

Dan Semmens, SVP and head of data and IT at ATB Financial, calls it an “opportunity” for both the province and country to focus on investing in the next generation.

“I think the opportunity there is continuing to invest in our most precious resource, which is our young people,” he said. 

When it comes to AI, “it’s on all of us” to level up our own skills

Joy Romero. Photo by DX Journal / Digital Journal

AI is already impacting most industries globally, and it shows no signs of slowing down. But it’s not new either.

Joy Romero, executive advisor of innovation at Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL), said she was using AI neural networks 20 years ago to take ecological data and process it through oil sands facilities. 

“Why?” she asked. “Because that would allow us to improve our processing and our productivity … So for me, digital is our world. That’s productivity.”

The day of the panel, Google announced that Gemini Ultra 1.0, the largest version of their large language model, is being released to the public. 

Baird was asked about the implications of the new AI model, and while she acknowledged there will be challenges, she maintained that “the train has left the station.”

“It’s on all of us here in the room to level up our own skills,” she says. “With an announcement like Gemini, like you have to get in there, you have to play, you have to try.”

Anna Baird. Photo by DX Journal / Digital Journal

Transitioning to the realm of media and journalism, Canadian journalist Arthur Kent highlighted the increasing role of AI in newsrooms. From assisting journalists in gathering and analyzing data to content creation, journalists are experimenting with AI for efficiency and detecting false information.

“We can become even better if we harness artificial intelligence to do that,” said Kent. “So we constantly have to be developing and pushing ourselves forward, to keep pace with this.”

However, he emphasized the critical role of journalists in maintaining integrity and discerning between fact and fiction in an era of AI-generated content. 

“Journalism is always going to be a human process, because journalism is based on their location, and verification, verifying leads, tips, and figuring out rumour from fact,” said Kent. “So far, none of the machines that I’ve seen associated with artificial intelligence, have those human characteristics. However, there is also that human aspect called temptation.”

Arthur Kent. Photo by DX Journal / Digital Journal

In the financial services industry, Semmens said the impact of generative AI “poses an existential risk” to the relationship banks have with their clients. 

Despite this, he says incorporating AI technology into banking is “an incredible opportunity” to personalize experiences for customers more effectively and efficiently, and he expects to see a lot of changes in open banking in the next three to five years. 

“With all the disinformation that is out there, a trusted source is going to be a high commodity,” he said. “And so I think in banking, being a heavily regulated industry, there is an opportunity for us to really show up from that standpoint.”

Dan Semmens. Photo by DX Journal / Digital Journal

An innovation forum’s charitable roots

The Northern Lights Technology and Innovation Forum’s story begins over a decade ago. The organizers, including Givens, first banded together for the Gordie Howe C.A.R.E.S. Hockey Pro-Am Tournament in support of Alzheimer’s research and education. 

As the cause drew more attention they opted to expand the tournament into the forum as a way to expand their reach. All of the event proceeds go to Gordie Howe C.A.R.E.S. Centre for the Alzheimer’s Research and Education Society — and this year they broke their record, raising a minimum of $40,000 thanks in part to a funding match made by Google. 

“It’s amazing,” Givens said at the end of the night. “I always knew the potential of our community. And I explained to people that the community is the draw … It’s about education. It’s about doing the right thing. It’s about just finding ways for other people to get involved in doing the same thing. There’s enough energy there. Now we just have to harness it.”


DX Journal is an official media partner of the Northern Lights Technology and Innovation Forum.

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Business

Generative AI fascinates many, but how are businesses addressing the societal effects and talent gaps?

A look at Deloitte’s latest study of the state of AI in 2024

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Across the globe, 2023 was heralded as generative AI’s breakout year, and it hasn’t really slowed down since. So now experts are asking what AI trends will come this year and what the business impacts will be.

Tech and finance consulting giant Deloitte recently studied the state of generative AI in 2024, examining common use cases and goals, as well as broader societal implications. 

Here are some highlights from the report, as well as practical tips to leverage AI safely in your organization: 

Generative AI for more productivity and efficiency

The research surveyed more than 2,800 leaders across various organizations currently piloting or implementing generative AI. Most (62%) cited emotions of excitement, as well as fascination (46%), while 30% reported feeling uncertain around generative AI.

The majority saw the technology as a tool to gain more efficiency within their businesses, along with these cost benefits: 

  • Improve efficiency and productivity: 56%
  • Reduce costs: 35%
  • Improve existing products and services: 29%

From the respondents who sought more productivity, here’s where they plan to reinvest in that newfound efficiency: 

  • Encourage innovation and growth: 29%
  • Shift workers from lower-value to higher-value tasks: 26%
  • Uncover new ideas and insights: 19%

Talent still a barrier to successful generative AI adoption

Less than half of the respondents cited having sufficient employee expertise or education on generative AI, with about 55% planning to improve their learning and development strategy in the next one to two years. 

This is a consistent challenge that we’ve seen across multiple research studies, including IBM’s for the Canadian market

So how can an organization turn these plans into action? According to the respondents, the top three investments are being made in:

  • Generative AI fluency and education: 74%
  • AI recruitment and hiring: 74%
  • Reskilling: 73%

Global collaboration and governance needed for equity in generative AI

The IMF recently found a whopping 40% of jobs will be affected by AI globally, with more advanced economies seeing that number jump to 60%. The advanced economies see the tech as a compliment, while lower-income countries and emerging markets experience more job replacement. 

Will this disparity contribute to a wealth gap? Many of Deliotte’s respondents seem to think so, with 51% saying they expect generative AI to increase economic inequality.

The majority of respondents agreed that responsible AI development requires more global collaboration (72%) and governance (78%). 

Deloitte suggests these results reflect an understanding that generative AI could be too powerful for individual organizations to regulate themselves — but that doesn’t absolve them from behaving responsibly.

For individual businesses, this means paying close attention to government guidelines on responsible AI use and research on AI’s effects over time. Additionally, collaborating and sharing information across different businesses, industries, and even countries can help maintain responsible use of AI in society.

While companies are racing to keep up with these rapidly evolving AI solutions, “the key is to maintain a beginner’s mindset” reads the report. No matter how much of an expert you think you are, there’s always more to learn.

Read the full of the report here

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