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Can Vancouver Avoid Hollywood’s Wasteful Energy Practices?

Hollywood is famously hypocritical when it comes to green energy; Vancouver shouldn't follow suit.

Global Influencer

Global Influencer
Global Influencer

Vancouver has been called many things – from Silicon North and the Greenest City in the World to Hollywood North. With a great quality of life, nondescript neighborhoods that can double as any US city streetscapes and tax credits, Vancouver is worthy of the moniker Hollywood North – not only for movies, but television as well. It’s a booming business!

There’s been a 40% increase in filming in 2015 over the previous year, which works out to over $2B in production spending. There are 12 ongoing streaming productions happening at any given time, well-trained crews, lots of talent; studio space, the strong US dollar and you have the perfect environment to succeed.

I’ve seen the filming of Ryan Gosling’s Deadpool and Star Trek Beyond in our city streets. I’m more fascinated by the way crews setup the equipment than the actors, but I’m a techie, so that’s natural. I watch the crews set up thousands of feet of cabling so professionally managed its like an art form in itself. When you track down the source of the power, you will find portable generators spewing smelly, disgusting diesel fumes. I asked a technician one day: Why so much wire? These generators are big and bulky, and since they run on diesel, are noisy no matter what type of suppression they use.

Due to the noise and fumes, they need to position these power units a good distance from the movie set. What continues to blow my mind is the incredible amount of power required to run a full-blown production. It is staggering.

This is in sharp contrast to the City of Vancouver’s well-publicized green program. Generators are a necessary evil for any film or television production using outdoor sets. While huge production supply companies like William F. White have gone to great measures to make their power equipment greener, they are still stuck with the problem of diesel generators creating pollution. We’re not talking about your little Honda (HMC) generator here – some of the power units are so large they create 1600 amps of power and need their own 5-ton truck to make them mobile.

Despite retrofitting generators, low-sulfur content diesel and fine-tuning fuel injection systems, these diesel generators still are a polluting piece of machinery, but the film industry still cries out for more power.

It’s clear that in green Vancouver, the 100-year-old film industry needs to become more environmentally friendly. Vancouver has a target of becoming the world’s greenest city by 2020. The film industry is a large contributor to generator use around the city, and they don’t want a reputation as being a polluter. To their credit, industry execs are always looking for ways to become more sustainable.

A Vancouver entrepreneur has come up with a disruptive solution, and from the excitement built around this company; Vancouverites and the film industry are listening.

Changing the Way Movie Sets are Powered

Mark Rabin, CEO/Founder of Portable Electric is changing the way movie sets are powered, with two models of mobile power stations (large rechargeable battery systems) rather than the generators. The film industry is Rabin’s focus, but the resource industry, construction and events are a few of the applications.

One model, the VoltStack Mini produces 2kW/2kWh of electricity and can be quickly recharged from solar/cycle or 120 V grid plugin. It’s Portable, and is great for plug and play for off-grid applications. It’s big brother the VoltStack Boss produces13kW/55kWh. That’s more energy than the Tesla (TSLA) M3, BMW i3 and Nissan Leaf. It’s designed to power large events, stages, sound systems, film sets, lighting and more. It comes on it’s own sleek, towable trailer – and of course, since it is a battery it is noise and emission free.

This is a big deal!

The portable/mobile power industry has not seen a change like this since its’ inception more than 70 years ago. Portable-Electric (P-E) is creating the future of film and event power by providing clean energy as a service for the entertainment industry. They build, rent and lease mobile power stations, removing the technological barriers to renewable power through their plug-and-play energy ecosystems.

P-E has built their power system as a hybrid with lithium chemistry that is agnostic meaning that is designed to be compatible across most common systems. Alongside Vancouver-based disruption startups like Freightera and Parcel Pal (both Uber-type disruptors), Portable Electric is making sweeping changes based on their research and development.

Battery technology is at the pinnacle of its development, but the Vancouver film industry was skeptical that P-E’s silent power could live up to the claims. Not only did the company prove that their units could manage the power needed, but the early prototypes they used to convince the industry has been generating them revenues as rentals for indie film, events and festivals.

Lithium Batteries Replacing Fossil Fuels

There is competition in the power generation field, but not where you might expect. Yes, there are some battery-powered competitors but the main competition is the diesel/gas generator. Battery power always seems a bit suspect, but Mark Rabin told me that “traditional lead-acid batteries are on the way out and will not be used in power systems going forward, and so is the use of fossil fuels, will be done in conjunction with hybrid power systems.” With his lithium batteries, units providing a recycle (charge) life of 9000 cycles, these things will last for a minimum of 15 years.

Rabin said, “This year alone, over 40 events/festivals in both British Columbia and Alberta were provided clean power by PE; including corporate clients ranging from TD Bank (TD), Microsoft (MSFT), FIDO, Telus, Car Free Days, Canada Running Series, Calgary Stampede, Vancouver Pride, FolkFest and many more. Units can be rented individually, or hired as a complete event energy solution.”

The business model is to rent and lease the units mainly to the film industry, as well as to event and power rental companies. They explained that they’ll accomplish this by “retaining ownership of their products allows them to update and innovate in the early phase, while generating recurring revenues and developing their playbook for potential franchising.”

Even though Portable-Electric has been deployed since June of last year they are still an early stage company. CEO Rabin, with a Master of Science degree in Energy Economics and an MBA with a focus on innovation and energy, knows that his power units will always be moving toward next gen products and is seeking money in a seed round to do that. He knows how to hybridize and integrate power systems and he’s hoping this disruptive technology will be a fast-scale move throughout Canada and the US.

Portable Electric is seeking $1.5MM in equity financing with potential return of 18x on exit after five years (IRR of 84%). This investment will be complimented with debt financing for their asset-based business. Use of proceeds will go to fund R&D (IP/Patent), support a small team, marketing and provide sufficient runway for the next 18 months of operations.

As the global power market is expected to double in value to $25B by 2021, the market is ripe for their technology.

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