Belinda Gilbey knows a thing or two about legacies: her father was a mechanical engineer and, following in his footsteps, she went to the University of Ottawa to study the same thing.
“I was there for a number of years, living in the beautiful city, off of the Rideau Canal,” she says. “I would sometimes skate to school; where else can you do that in Ontario?”
But after graduation, Gilbey had other plans for herself. “I really wanted to get in front of customers and learn about sales and marketing,” she recalls.
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Gilbey ended up working for a solar racking company, soaking in all she could about renewable energies. From there, she started doing strategic account management for an HVAC company, helping building owners upgrade their systems to become more energy efficient.
Within that organization, Gilbey began spearheading initiatives around heat pump retrofits. In 2019, she met Aaron Graben. At the time, Graben was simply a potential customer who owned and operated his own buildings.
“He encouraged me to quit my job and start a company with him,” Gilbey says. It was good timing, too, as Gilbey had already been toying with the idea of starting her own heat pump retrofitting company. “In life, you have to jump in and just see where the adventure will take you.”
And so BONDI Energy Corp. was created, with Gilbey as co-founder and president. BONDI specializes in installing heat pumps for multi-family unit buildings and commercial properties across North America. The company retrofits electrically heated apartments with heat pumps, reducing carbon footprints.
But what exactly is a heat pump?
“It’s a really energy-efficient type of HVAC equipment that can do both heating and cooling with the same piece of equipment,” Gilbey says. “It effectively pumps heat out of the air and moves it from one space to another.”
Heat pumps have two sections of units: one (or multiple) units go indoors and one goes outdoors. In the wintertime, the equipment pumps heat by moving heat energy from the outside to the inside, through refrigerant. In the summertime, it does the reverse.
In the last two years, BONDI has completed retrofits or is under contract for almost 1,500 units, with a recent job including a 325-unit building near BONDI’s Toronto office. The building in question had a woefully outdated heating and cooling system, using an old chiller for cooling and electricity for heating.
“We’re really excited to get started,” Gilbey says, adding that, with heat pumps, it’s possible to have different temperatures in different rooms. “It’s going to be a better living experience for the residents.”
She explains that, where electric heat is a huge “energy hog,” heat pumps are three to four times more energy-efficient on the heating side. She adds that buildings are a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, due to burning natural gas for heating and hot water. Because they’re electric, heat pumps are effectively carbon-free, Gilbey says, depending on the source of the electricity.
“If you can switch a gas-heated building to a heat pump, you’ve decarbonized that building and you’ve taken a huge chunk of GHG emissions out of the environment,” Gilbey says — a move that is critical as Canada strives to reach its GHG reduction targets.
Although it’s only been around for a handful of years, BONDI is already thriving, having recently won the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association (OSEA) award for energy efficiency and grid firming. This makes BONDI one of Ontario’s top 10 cleantech companies.
The energy industry is one that’s been historically male-dominated, but Gilbey is proof that is changing. “I’m seeing more and more women in leadership roles and doing good work,” she says. “It has been nothing but positive for me.”
The Bright Side of Business is an editorial feature focused on sharing positive stories of business success.
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