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Green energy sector jobs surpass total oil sands employment

December 02, 2014
Canada’s green energy sector has grown so quickly and has become such an important part of the economy that it now employs more people than the oil sands.

About $25-billion has been invested in Canada’s clean-energy sector in the past five years, and employment is up 37 per cent, according to a new report from climate think tank Clean Energy Canada to be released Tuesday. That means the 23,700 people who work in green energy organizations outnumber the 22,340 whose work relates to the oil sands, the report says.

Worldwide, 6.5 million people are employed in the clean-energy sector.

“Clean energy has moved from being a small niche or boutique industry to really big business in Canada,” said Merran Smith, director of Clean Energy Canada. The investment it has gleaned since 2009 is roughly the same as has been pumped into agriculture, fishing and forestry combined, she said. The industry will continue to show huge growth potential, beyond most other business sectors, she added.

While investment has boomed, the energy-generating capacity of wind, solar, run-of-river hydro and biomass plants has expanded by 93 per cent since 2009, the report says.

Clean Energy Canada says the industry’s growth has been accelerated by supportive policies in a handful of provinces. However, despite its increased importance to the national economy, clean energy is still not a priority in Ottawa, it says.

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Ontario electricity gets taken for a spin

November 10, 2014
The trouble with electricity is that no one’s figured out how to bottle it when there’s too much, and uncork it later when there’s too little.

An unassuming industrial building 160 kilometres northwest of Toronto houses an operation that’s trying to store juice — not in bottles, but by using rapidly spinning, four-tonne steel cylinders.

It’s the brainchild of Annette Verschuren, chief executive of NRStor Inc. — which owns the operation — and Cam Carver, chief executive of Temporal Power Ltd. — which supplied the technology.

Storing electrical energy is an increasing challenge, especially as Ontario and other jurisdictions turn to sources such as wind and solar power that vary with the weather.

The province’s long-term energy plan is seeking 50 megawatts of energy storage capacity.

Toronto-based NRStor and Mississauga-based Temporal are testing flywheel technology for this trial: Using energy from the power grid to set the cylinders spinning, then using the momentum stored in the spinning cylinders to generate power and return it to the grid when needed.

It is, say Carver and Verschuren, the first grid-connected operation of its type in Canada.

Carver, the proud technology papa, adds: “It stores more energy than any flywheel in the world.”

The heart of the facility lies in vaults beneath 10 massive, round concrete caps that line the floor.

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Rotterdam’s new condo/market puts Toronto to shame

October 19, 2014
ROTTERDAM -- Imagine this: You wake up, shake last night’s dream away, stretch, and then look out the window, only to be greeted by a giant snail hiding behind a mushroom. Or, perhaps you spy a massive raspberry, shrimp and flower.

No, you haven’t fallen down Alice’s rabbit hole. Rather, you’re one of the lucky few who get to call Rotterdam’s new Market Hall home, and that colourful explosion of produce, grain, insects, fungi and a snail are your constant companions (there’s a cow, too). The largest art piece in the Netherlands, Horn of Plenty by Arno Coenen and Iris Roskam wraps the curving interior walls of the hall with such joy, you won’t want to hang curtains.

Opened to the public just two weeks ago, MVRDV’s Markthal is one of the most breathtaking food markets you’ll ever explore, and not just because of the surreal wallpaper. A long, horseshoe-shaped tunnel, both ends of the building are finished in soaring glass walls to allow light to rain upon the food vendors, as well as deep into subterranean levels; the thick exterior walls contain 228 apartments, most with sweeping views of the rugged port city.

In short, this is a piece of architecture that will quickly become a landmark for locals and visitors alike.

And, says MVRDV public relations chief Jan Knikker, it needs to be. Not only does Rotterdam long for even half the tourists that flock to Amsterdam (only 80 kilometres away), the historic city centre continues to work hard at shedding its 1980s reputation as one of the “drug hot spots of Europe” in order to rebrand itself as a safe, fun destination middle-class folk will live in, and, especially, shop in: “Because the Dutch people are not used to markets, there was this idea that this market needed to be bigger, but then it became a financial issue – how do we create a big building that is a market, but with the low rents that [vendors] will pay for the market-stalls?”

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October 17, 2014
It is difficult to get emotional over peanut butter.

But a teddy bear - that symbol of childhood, home and security, often among the only items to survive countless Goodwill purges and to be carried sheepishly into adulthood - a teddy bear is a different matter.

That was the idea behind an advertising campaign for Kraft Canada that launched in April. Telling the story of a girl growing up with the bear her mother gave her, and then giving one to her own child, the ad aimed to make an emotional connection with consumers that would build their affection for its peanut butter brand.

Now, Kraft is going one step further: it wants to be the source of the little teddy bears that people give to children they love. On Monday, in time for the holiday season, the company will launch a line of bears for sale. The dolls are designed after the bears that appear on the product's labels - one with a red bow tie for crunchy, and a green bow tie for smooth.

Unlike many pieces of brandrelated merchandise, however, the bears are logo-free. The Kraft name appears only on the tags that most customers tend to cut off.

"It's an emotive piece. It's not pushing the hard sell," said Leisha Roche, senior director of marketing for grocery brands at Kraft Canada.

According to Ms. Roche, consumer recognition of the bears is high: even without the Kraft logo, many people associate them with the brand. While the company has offered teddy bears for sale before, the new ones are of higher quality and are meant to feel less like a cheap bit of merchandise. (Kraft partnered with plush toy manufacturer Gund for the new line.) The company is hoping that by choosing not to slap a logo on the toys, adults will be more inclined to buy them as gifts - and families will be more likely to make that emotional bond.

A set of two bears will go on sale Monday on the company's website,, for $34.99 (including shipping). Starting in early November, they will also be sold at grocery stores individually for $14.99, with a jar of peanut butter. The company will also launch an ad featuring real children surprised with teddy bears, to promote the new products.

The bears are just one example of how companies can become more memorable by using inanimate objects as symbols for their brands. Unlike a logo, consumers do not associate these symbols as immediately with advertising messages. People who are resistant to the hard sell, then, may be more receptive to the associations the symbol is trying to convey.

"Symbols have the power to connect differently to people just based on a raw emotion," Ms. Roche said. "If I showed you the same pack, and it just said Kraft Peanut Butter and it didn't have the bears, you'd think differently about the brand. ... A descriptor, a word, doesn't have the same impact."

Symbols have come in handy as mnemonics for other brands. TD Canada Trust has its cushy green chair, a symbol of comfort in an industry many consumers find intimidating: banking. Staples Inc. created the "easy button" to suggest an almost magical ability for the retailer to solve all their shoppers' problems instantly. Staples sells a version of the button as an office tchotchke. Labatt Brewing Co. Ltd. may have lost its sponsorship of the National Hockey League to rival Molson, but in 2013 its Budweiser brand launched its Red Light, a real product for sale that people could rig up to go off every time their favourite team scored a goal. That symbol helped to cement the beer brand's link to hockey in consumers' minds. It even raised the ire of the Canadian Olympic Committee this year, which objected to ads featuring the Red Light that it said suggested a sponsorship of Team Canada.

When ING Direct rebranded as Tangerine this year, the new spokesperson in its advertising campaign was shown always holding an orange mug - even when hanging off the side of a moving train, or on the back of a jet ski.

"We chose a coffee cup because it's often what you have in your hand when you're sitting down with someone to figure things out," said Angus Tucker, partner and executive creative director at Tangerine's advertising agency, John St. That symbol was perfect for the approachable image the bank wanted to convey: it already referred to its branches as cafés.

"It takes a long time for a logo to stand on its own and have immediate, emotional weight, Mr. Tucker said. "Like Apple. Now, if I just see that apple with a bite out of it, it makes me feel certain things. Nike, the swoosh. But that's years of advertising. Sometimes these icons, whether they are visual or audio, can quickly establish a more emotional connection than a pure logo can."

There is good reason for companies to try to make a connection: research has shown that emotional messages can actually lead to higher long-term sales than rational messages.

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The most terrible naming mistakes entrepreneurs make

October 13, 2014
Your company name will get used more and last longer than any other investment you make in your business. It’s important that you get it right the first time.

Here are some of the biggest naming mistakes I’ve seen entrepreneurs make and why you should avoid them.

1. You believe your domain name has to match your business name.
Tesla doesn’t own the domain name Do you think someone wanting to buy a Tesla gives up if they go there and don’t find the website? Of course not! They type “Tesla cars” into a search engine and find it in no time flat. And they don’t even notice what the domain name is, which by the way is If Tesla doesn’t have to have an exact match domain name, neither do you.

2. You spell your name “creatively.”
This is by far the biggest mistake entrepreneurs make when naming their company. The problem with having a name like Naymz, Takkle, Flickr, or Speesees is that you will forever have to spell it when you say it, because it isn’t spelled how people hear it. (Think about how often you have to spell your own first and last name. Why would you want to have to do this with your brand name, too?)

Plus, Siri and other voice recognition software do not understand names that are not spelled naturally. And if you and your employees have to spell your name out loud for people, you are wasting everyone’s time and apologizing for it, over and over again. Resist the temptation of getting one of these domains just because it’s available for $9.95.

3. You use an obscure domain extension to spell your name.
While it’s tempting to create a domain name using a country code such as .me for Montenegro, .it for Italy, .us for United States, and .io for Indian Ocean Territory, those names are In addition to being difficult to spell, these domain names can be hard to pronounce, especially when unaided by a visual identity. How do you pronounce Is it “Copio dot U-S” or “Copious?” Equally troublesome is that the human eye is trained to stop when it reads a period. So a name like causes people to stop reading (for all the wrong reasons).

4. You business name is too niche.
You don’t want to outgrow your business name. What if Amazon had been named They would be limited to selling books.

One name that outgrew itself is Burlington Coat Factory. When they were naming their store, they didn’t think far enough into the future. When they expanded their product offering, they had to change their tagline to, “We’re more than just coats.” (They also always have to have a legal disclaimer in their ads that says, “Not affiliated with Burlington Industries.” Ouch.)

5. Your name pronunciation is not güd.
Your name should be approachable and intuitive to pronounce in your brand’s country of origin. Don’t rely on punctuation marks or letters in different colors to aid in pronunciation. Your name will not appear in color in the press or in search-engine results and people go batty trying to find accent marks and umlauts on their keyboard.

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Lessons in solar energy from Mother Nature

October 10, 2014
Forget about working like beavers. If only we could work as efficiently as potatoes — or dandelions — we’d really be getting somewhere.

That’s what Sir Richard Friend would like to do.

The Cambridge University scientist is trying to simulate photosynthesis — the process that leafy plants use to harness sunlight and convert it to chemical energy.

Plants, he says, are way ahead of humans in learning to use solar power. He puts it this way. It takes a certain amount of energy to build a solar cell that captures sunlight and uses it to create electricity. And it probably takes a couple of years for the cell to replace the deficit of energy used to create it, and start showing a positive balance of energy created.

Now consider plants. For most, it takes a single growing season — a matter of months — to grow a leaf, repay the energy deficit, and then use the leaf’s energy output to grow new roots, flowers and fruit.

In economic terms, says Friend, the plant’s capital investment is extremely low in relation to the energy produced.

And that’s the challenge for human solar technology: “That’s what I would say is the performance gap.”

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Volvo takes a pass on auto show circuit

September 29, 2014
Brand is instead focusing on refreshed perspective on marketing, public relations

In a move that might surprise some, Volvo Canada announced this week that they would not be taking part in auto shows in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver next year, as part of a new, long-term brand strategy.

Vice-president of marketing and PR Margareta Mahlstedt told me that the brand is backing up its new products with a refreshed perspective on marketing and public relations.

Mahlstedt sees little long-term branding value in the auto show format, where show visitors stream through a booth without any meaningful immersion in a brand’s values.

Instead, the company is embracing a philosophy called “the Volvo Way Forward,” which aims to “engage in a deeper way with the customer, for a longer period of time.”

This is not the first time the auto show circuit has been shunned by an auto manufacturer in Canada.

Most notably, Porsche stepped away from auto shows in this country for the 2009 season, instead focusing on drive events where potential buyers were invited behind the wheel.

The strategy paid off for the German brand, as it experienced recordsetting growth in the years that have followed.

Immersing the consumer in the rich culture of Volvo is part of Mahlstedt’s plan moving forward, although she is not quite ready to reveal the types of events the company is planning.

“We are looking for partners that are reflective of the brand to create opportunities in Canada,” says Mahlstedt, adding that exposing consumers to the Swedish brand’s culture is a key element to its growth in the future.

I was employed by Volvo at a time when everyone involved with the brand was passionate about Volvo. During the years while the company was owned by Americans, the passion seemed to vanish both from the products and the company.

The executive tells me that under the current Chinese ownership, Volvo has a unique level of autonomy, which is enabling global management to rekindle that passion internally.

The hope is that the Volvo Way Forward will allow consumers to reconnect with the brand as well, when they announce their first events within the next month or so. CarCostCanada offers 5 smart tips for drivers It may still be summer officially until Monday, but in most of our minds, that season came to a close when the kids went back to school.

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SolarShare grows as ‘green bonds’ heat up

September 17, 2014
A small Toronto co-op is tapping into the huge appetite for green investing by letting individual investors buy into solar projects across Ontario.

SolarShare has raised $5-million in the past three years from about 700 “members,” who in return get a stake in a portfolio of rooftop and small ground-mount solar projects. The co-op members get a guaranteed 5-per-cent annual return on their bonds, which can’t be cashed out for five years.

This week, the co-op is cutting the ribbon on its 25th project, and its biggest so far, a 600 kilowatt rooftop solar installation on a mixed-use commercial building in Brampton.

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Letter perfect How to add flair to your home decor with beautiful type

September 08, 2014
There’s no polite way to put this, but it’s true: Typography nerds – those lovers of all things lettering – tend to be huge snobs. They turn up their noses at poorly spaced or ill-conceived letters the way a wine aficionado might grimace at an off bouquet.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing – and it’s not just because they are fussier than the rest of us. It’s because they’ve obsessively studied the subject and appreciate the look of a perfectly proportioned typeface that is well balanced, properly set and evenly tracked. Beautiful type is like a symphony for the eyes, whereas fugly fonts (we’re looking at you, Staccato) are like daggers to the retina.

This discernment seems to be spreading beyond the world of graphic design. Despite the long-lamented death of the printed word, people seem more curious than ever about the physical form of our language, especially when it comes to accessorizing their living spaces. Words and letters have been elevated to an art form, gracing the interiors of our homes and offices, living rooms and lives like a fine painting or photograph. The writing, it seems, is now literally on the walls, but not always as intelligible text – sometimes it’s just a giant A or Z reclaimed from a vintage sign and recontextualized as a stylish objet. If incorporated with care, they look sharp and unexpected, even sexy.

It’s possible that our collective fascination with fonts is a direct result of computer programs like Microsoft Word. Seriously. When we were all trying to change the default from the ubiquitous Times New Roman, we pulled down the font tab and realized how many other options are out there, from Arial to Verdana.

More likely, though, it’s because type touches something that makes us uniquely human – the deep-seated need to communicate. After all, the roots of typography go way, way back – beyond the invention of the printing press in 1450 to cave drawings and quills and letters hammered into stone. Its history is codified in type itself.

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Happy 100th Birthday To Legendary Graphic Designer Paul Rand

August 15, 2014
Legendary graphic designer Paul Rand is revered as the creator of logos for corporations like IBM, ABC, UPS, and NeXT, and author of many books including the seminal, recently reissued Thoughts on Design. He passed away in 1996, but would have been 100 today, and his legacy is still as strong as ever.

By his early twenties, Rand was already receiving international acclaim for his designs, in part for his covers for Direction magazine, which he produced for no fee in exchange for full artistic freedom. Painter and photographer Laszlo Moholy-Nagy was among the many who took notice of him, saying:

Among these young Americans, it seems to be that Paul Rand is one of the best and most capable [. . .] He is a painter, lecturer, industrial designer, [and] advertising artist who draws his knowledge and creativeness from the resources of this country. He is an idealist and a realist, using the language of the poet and business man. He thinks in terms of need and function. He is able to analyze his problems but his fantasy is boundless.

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June 24, 2014
Rice University scientists have created a one-step process for producing highly efficient materials that let the maximum amount of sunlight reach a solar cell.

Rice scientists have reduced to one step the process to turn silicon wafers into the black silicon used in solar cells. Here, a cross section shows inverted pyramids etched into silicon by a chemical mixture over eight hours. Courtesy of the Barron Group

The Rice lab of chemist Andrew Barron found a simple way to etch nanoscale spikes into silicon that allows more than 99 percent of sunlight to reach the cells’ active elements, where it can be turned into electricity.

The research by Barron and Rice graduate student and lead author Yen-Tien Lu appears in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Journal of Materials Chemistry A.

The more light absorbed by a solar panel’s active elements, the more power it will produce. But the light has to get there. Coatings in current use that protect the active elements let most light pass but reflect some as well. Various strategies have cut reflectance down to about 6 percent, Barron said, but the anti-reflection is limited to a specific range of light, incident angle and wavelength. To read the full article please click here.


June 05, 2014
Wind is big business. Earlier this month, Siemens won a €1.5bn contract for a Dutch offshore wind park that will also give Europe's largest engineering company its biggest-ever energy service contract.

The order for the Gemini wind park, 85 kilometers offshore from Groningen, Netherlands, comprises 150 wind turbines with a capacity of four megawatts apiece, the Munich-based company said.

"We have considerably improved our service approach for this wind park," said Markus Tacke, the head of the wind-power division at Siemens. The provision of equipment accounted for about half of the contract's value, he said.

Siemens has tempered its willingness to bid for big-ticket work since Joe Kaeser became chief executive officer in August. Delays to projects connecting windfarms to the grid have led to charges topping €1.1bn since 2011, prompting Mr Kaeser to promise investors the company would be more circumspect in future contract tenders.

The company signed a power transmission contract last month with TenneT Holding under more lenient conditions, intended to avoid a repeat of such charges, which have also burdened earnings at Zurich-based competitor ABB.

Siemens is also building a £160m wind turbine factory in northern England to improve its ability to serve the North Sea offshore wind market. Britain's 3,689 megawatts of installed offshore wind capacity represent more than half of the 6,930-megawatts global total, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. To read the full article please click here.

14-Year-Old Proves U.S. Can Save $370 Million by Changing Fonts

May 21, 2014
Font nerds, get ready to rejoice. Typefaces aren't just fun — finding the right one could make a huge difference to the nation's bottom line.

Changing the standard typeface used by federal and state governments could save the United States roughly $370 million a year in ink costs, according to a peer-reviewed study by Suvir Mirchandani. The best part of the story? Mirchandani is just 14 years old.

It all started when Mirchandani, a student at Dorseyville Middle School near Pittsburgh, Pa., noticed that he was getting a lot more printed handouts in class than he used to in elementary school. He wondered how wasteful it was, and then discovered just how expensive ink is. At up to $75 an ounce, he points out, it's twice as expensive as Chanel No. 5 perfume.

Using software called APFill Ink Coverage, he calculated how much ink was used in four representative fonts — Century Gothic, Comic Sans, Garamond and the default choice of most word processors, Times New Roman.

The ink-preserving winner: Garamond.

Changing Times New Roman to Garamond on all handouts, Mirchandani calculated, would save his school district $21,000 a year. But he didn't stop there. Encouraged by teachers, he applied his calculations to the U.S. government's ink budget, which runs to $467 million a year.

In a paper published in the Journal for Emerging Investigators, Mirchandani lays out how switching to Garamond would save the government $136 million a year on ink alone. If you add up all the publications produced by U.S., the annual savings rise to $370 million.

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