Harnessing the Sun to Grow a Green Economy

A progressive work environment

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Heliene office employees are encouraged to bring their dogs to work. Pictured above is Heliene CEO Martin Pochtaruk with Sebastian (Sebbie), his Chief Canine Officer.

Heliene is a solar panel manufacturing plant located in the west end of Sault Ste. Marie. It opened its doors in 2010 with a specific goal in mind: to capitalize on the transforming energy sector that is moving toward clean, renewable power generation.

“By 2050, more than 50 percent of power generation in the world will come from solar,” affirms Martin Pochtaruk, CEO and Founder of Heliene, citing the International Energy Agency annual power generation forecast.

With that in mind, Pochtaruk is positioning Heliene to be at the forefront of change. Repayable contributions from the Government of Canada, announced in September 2019, are assisting the innovative company with the development of green technology that will help diversify its product mix.

Approximately $707,000 in FedNor funding is supporting the development and piloting of solar-powered charging stations for electric vehicles, an alternative to gas-emitting automobiles. The self-generating charging stations will operate independently of the power grid to meet the accelerating energy demands of tomorrow.

“We don’t see too many electric vehicles and their related public charging stations here in Northern Ontario, but it is a growing infrastructure investment all over the world,” adds Pochtaruk.

In a separate project involving Sustainable Development Technology Canada, a FedNor loan of $650,000 is assisting with hardware and software development for an intelligent module that will increase the efficiency of power generation, enable remote monitoring, and react quickly to an increase in demand. Pochtaruk says he expects to have a prototype by March 2020 that will provide utility companies with several advantages.

“It will give them eyes on the hydro line, if you will, that will serve as a monitoring instrument that will alert a control room should there be an interruption in power,” explains Pochtaruk. “With it, companies will be able to quickly discern where the problem is located, thus speeding up down time. Adding active and reactive power to those lines will lead to conservation. This will be particularly useful in remote locations.”

During the past nine years, employment numbers at the company’s corporate headquarters and centre for research and development in Sault Ste. Marie have fluctuated. The facility currently has 78 people on its payroll, and another 87 across North America.

“In 2017, we had one person whose responsibility was engineering and quality assurance,” states Pochtaruk. “Now we have an engineering department made up of engineers, as well as technicians from Sault College, and two persons dedicated full-time to quality assurance.”

Sault solar panels ready for export

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Under its contract with a satellite company, Heliene is shipping out 1440 solar panels every two weeks.

André Augé, Heliene’s Engineering Manager, says it’s an exciting time in the company’s history. Recently, Heliene signed a five-year deal with a global leader in the satellite business to provide solar panels to power 60 satellites. With each satellite requiring 24 panels, Heliene is under contract to manufacture and ship 1440 panels every 14 days. The panels will be the only source of power for a global satellite-based WiFi network that is being established to bypass the need for towers in rural areas. Solar modules made in Sault Ste. Marie are already in space.

“We are under pressure to perform,” admits Augé. “Everyone on the team is contributing ideas. We’re working long hours with all hands on deck, but the whole team is energized to be part of such an innovative and exciting project.”

In May 2019, the company passed its first trial for the satellite project with flying colours, developing a prototype within three to four hours. It was unchartered territory, but the impressive feat edged out what little competition there was in the field. It’s precisely that entrepreneurial spirit that also has Pochtaruk and his team partnering with Niagara College to monitor a pilot project of specialized solar panels for greenhouse roofs. The panels will power the greenhouses, in addition to polarizing light to stimulate faster plant growth.

Heliene’s ground-breaking projects are now attracting prospective employees from far and wide interested in working for a company whose values align with their own. “There’s never a dull moment,” quips Pochtaruk, and the smile on his face says that he wouldn’t have it any other way.

These projects are examples of the types of initiatives funded by FedNor that support the federal Prosperity and Growth Strategy for Northern Ontario (PGSNO). Learn more about PGSNO.

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