Interview with the President and Co-Founder of Innovia Geo
August 17, 2022
What is your Name and Title?
Andrew Lee, President and Co-Founder of Innovia Geo.
What is your company (describe your value proposition)?
Innovia Geo – we are focused on decarbonizing heating and cooling in buildings and homes. We are doing that by developing innovative geothermal heating and cooling technologies to drive down the cost of clean and renewable geothermal heating and cooling systems.
What inspired you to start your company?
If we look at energy usage in our buildings and homes, the vast majority of that energy (over 70% in North America) is used for heating and cooling. Looking at the market, there aren’t many options for decarbonized versions of heating and cooling. That was the main objective of what we are trying to do, to create options to affordably decarbonize heating and cooling.
What does your company name mean to you?
It started because my partner in the company has an existing building services consulting company. We incubated the geothermal company within his company. His company name is Innovia Corporation so when we spun out with the geothermal technologies business, we wanted to keep the spirit of how it originated. That’s why we chose to keep the Innovia name and added Geo at the end of it.
How does your company/technology work?
Conventional geothermal systems exchange heat with the stable temperature in the ground. The ground is stable in terms of temperature all year round by about 30 feet deep. That’s why the systems are extremely efficient because of that temperature being so stable. As an example, you can think of your AC in the summertime, when it’s fighting to cool your house when it’s 30 degrees outside. We are doing the same thing with the geothermal system, but it is 10 degrees in the ground, so it is more energy efficient to cool your home. The same applies when you are heating with the temperature from the ground as well.
But the challenge with the existing way geothermal systems are installed, it requires drilling holes in the ground, 100s of feet deep to insert plastic pipes to circulate fluid to exchange heat with the ground. Although they are extremely energy efficient, they are very expensive to install upfront. While they can be economical for large buildings like hi-rises, it can be tough to make it work for low and mid-rise buildings and homes. To unlock that segment in the market, we’ve taken a completely different approach. We’ve developed a way to access the same geothermal resource but much shallower. Our technologies are able to function in as little as 50 feet deep, and at those shorter depths we are working with the foundation construction industry to repurpose techniques they use to be able to install geothermal systems much faster and cheaper.
Who is your ideal client?
Our customers would be property developers, focused on development of low- and mid-rise commercial buildings and new residential sub-divisions.
Describe your team.
We are small team right now. The core people are myself and my partner who has a lot of experience within the building construction and real estate development industries. My background comes from renewable energy where I worked in my career before. We find this is a really good connection between renewable energy and construction with the experience that we both have. We also have a research partnership with Toronto Metropolitan University that has helped us conduct most of our research and development. We have been working in close collaboration with them, for over 3 years now, on developing our technologies.
What do you consider your biggest accomplishments?
We have a full-scale pilot project that has been up and running for about a year and a half, located in Waterloo. It is being hosted at a facility that is owned and operated by Enova Power (formerly Waterloo-North Hydro Inc.), one of the electricity and power distribution companies for the region of Waterloo.
What are new and exciting things you are working on?
We were accepted into the first cohort of the i.d.e.a. Fund, supported by Haltech and TechPlace. We will use this funding to help us develop a solution focused on new single-family homes for new subdivisions.
We are speaking with a number of large property developers who expressed interest in our technology.
What is your special talent or hobby that no one knows about?
Like to cook!
Long-term vision for your company?
We want Innovia GEO to become the premier provider of clean and renewable geothermal heating cooling systems for low and mid-rise buildings across the world.
What is your take around society’s changing approach towards renewable energies and how we are positioned for it?
I think there’s been a shift, not just in the market but within society as a whole. We are becoming a lot more aware of the impacts to the environment. We are seeing it more in terms of extreme weather and its devastating impacts and also sensitivities to energy supplies and prices. These are recent events but ones that brought much more attention to the environment and our use of natural resources. There is a change that’s happening, not just within governments but importantly within companies. Fortune 500 companies are saying “we are pledging to make our operations net zero by 2050”, as an example. I think change is happening at all levels across sectors. This is the kind of the groundswell that’s needed to really make this change permanent.
In terms of investment in renewable energies and overall CleanTech, do you see more activity nowadays?
I think there seems to be more investors interested in the clean tech space. It’s growing. It is more top of mind, there’s more attention to it, which draws more investments. It’s the future, so investors want to be part of growing industries, growth opportunities and as the world becomes greener, that’s the big business opportunity for the future.
How can anyone reading this assist you or be a part of your company?
We’re always interested in connecting with property developers and building owners that want to be more green and get their operations towards net zero.
We’re also preparing to look for a seed round funding so happy and interested in connecting with investors that that might be interested in speaking with us.
How would you describe TechPlace?
Definitely a sense of community, the close-knit community. For me personally, when I joined TechPlace first, I had just moved to the region. It was a great connection with entrepreneurs and leaders and mentors within the business community. It’s great to be able to have a place where I can make those connections.
How can we get in contact with your company/you?