When Canadian rock legend Bryan Adams kicked off his North American tour in Summerside, P.E.I., on Aug. 31, it wasn’t hits like Summer of ’69 that had Devashish Paul cheering for another encore.
In fact, the founder and chief executive of cleantech firm BluWave-ai wasn’t even in the crowd at the concert venue, Credit Union Place, that evening.
He was back home in Ottawa, keeping a close eye on software that was monitoring whether BluWave’s technology could help pull off a noteworthy accomplishment – making the show the first nighttime concert in North America to be run entirely on solar power.
In an experiment that was hatched on a whim and came together in less than 48 hours, BluWave and the City of Summerside worked together to transfer solar energy to a battery that provided all the juice necessary to mount a three-hour live music show.
The historic feat was Paul’s idea.
For the past three years, his Ottawa-based company’s software has been powering Summerside’s smart grid that runs on wind and solar energy. During a meeting with city officials on Aug. 29, an employee mentioned that Adams was performing a couple of nights later.
"We were like, ‘What if we could run (the concert) all off solar?’ Unless we give it a try, we won’t know."
As it happens, Credit Union Place is right next door to the city’s solar farm. With that in mind, Paul had a sudden burst of inspiration.
“We were like, ‘What if we could run (the concert) all off solar?’” he said, chuckling. “Unless we give it a try, we won’t know.”
The city didn’t hesitate to give the project the green light.
“To showcase our capabilities as a leading North American municipality, we decided to deliver a 100 per cent green solar energy concert experience at our arena,” Summerside director of economic development Mike Thususka said.
BluWave then jumped into action.
The company’s proprietary artificial intelligence software predicted how much solar energy could be produced during the day of the concert and stored in a battery for use that night. BluWave figured it could probably collect enough power to do the job, but there were a couple of mitigating factors.
For example, Paul knew that Mother Nature, being the fickle sort, was going to have a big say in the matter.
“We had a good feeling that there would be a decent amount of (solar) energy, but not the maximum amount of energy possible because it was a cloudy day,” he explained. “The other part was how much energy was Bryan Adams going to actually use? We didn’t really know.”
The company determined that an 890-kWh battery – which has enough capacity to power about 2,000 100-watt lightbulbs for three hours – would be sufficient.
But what if Adams played longer than three hours?
The arena is connected to the city’s main grid, so if even the battery ran out, the show could go on.
'Didn't have the option to refuel'
Even still, Paul – an ex-military man whose competitive side is evidenced by the more than 300 triathlons he’s completed – texted Thususka, who was in the audience, throughout the show for reassurance that things were running smoothly.
“We didn’t have the option to refuel – it was night,” Paul noted.
In the end, the battery proved to have just enough in the tank to get to the finish line, ending the show at about five per cent capacity.
“The technology is there to do it, and we proved it,” Paul said.
Having demonstrated its effectiveness in one real-world setting, BluWave is now looking for other opportunities to put its software to use.
Paul cites hospitals, airports and electric buses as other potential venues where the technology could help solar energy be stored and used at night to reduce the need for traditional grids that are a prime source of carbon emissions.
He’s even considered talking to the NFL about replicating the process at the Super Bowl halftime show, which typically relies on power from diesel-fuelled generators.
“Our goal wasn’t so much to prove that a rock concert can run on solar,” Paul said. “This kind of thing that we did at the Bryan Adams concert could easily be replicated for various industries. That’s really what we were trying to showcase here.”