2020 may have surpassed 2016 as the hottest year ever, according to global climate tracking by NASA and the UN. One clean energy company out of Canada is hoping that by helping businesses and communities shift their power needs to clean energy sources, it can make a positive impact in the fight against climate change.
Clean energy developer Grasshopper Energy Corporation currently owns over $1 billion of assets across Canada, the United States, and Japan, with a development pipeline of $6.5 billion. The company is actively developing projects in core solar markets throughout these countries and is continuing expansion into targeted markets like Brazil, Italy, Vietnam, and Australia.
The company has developed, constructed, and managed over 4000 solar residential projects and 200 commercial projects in Ontario alone, effectively employing thousands of people without relying on government assistance to fund its operations.
Grasshopper Energy was founded in 2007 by Azeem M. Qureshi, a mechatronics and artificial intelligence specialist who previously advised Fortune 500 companies on how to optimize their business process management. Over time, he noted increasing interest in corporate social responsibility in the industry but felt that companies were treating the concept as a trendy, inconsequential part of their business, instead of an integral aspect of their operations. Quershi decided, upon leaving this advisory position, to form Grasshopper, a company that would embrace corporate social responsibility at a fundamental level.
The initial vision for the company, Quershi says, was to “take the complicated patchwork of sustainability incentives that were being offered at the time by federal, provincial, and local governments, and ensure they were conveniently and efficiently delivered to the public.” Grasshopper also performed energy audits for the Canadian National Railway and in the residential sector, where the company would evaluate a building’s overall efficiency and suggest ideas of how to make it greener.
Over time, Grasshopper’s business shifted its focus to developing solar projects at both the micro and macro levels. The company sought to set itself apart from others in the sector by offering a unique combination of expertise in the
technological, regulatory, and finance aspects of solar development. Grasshopper’s Senior Vice President of Global Government Relations Tudor Ulianovschi asserts that, “Our ultimate goal is to accelerate the fight against climate change by reducing the carbon footprint of companies around the globe, and Grasshopper has been incredibly successful in that regard.”
In the last year, Grasshopper has joined the Ontario Energy Council and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) – the national trade association of the U.S. solar energy industry. The company has also invested in a large portfolio of solar projects throughout Pennsylvania.
Ulianovschi proudly touts the company’s work with the United Nations and the organization’s commitment to sustainable energy. Following the UN’s ‘2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,’ which set 17 interlinked global goals to address some of the world’s most pressing issues – chief among them climate change – Grasshopper has committed to helping the world fully implement these international climate commitments.
“In Canada and abroad, public support for clean energy is higher than it has ever been and continues to grow,” says Ulianovschi. As of April 2020, nearly 1,500 jurisdictions in 29 countries have issued declarations of climate emergency, many of which include plans and targets for more renewable energy-based systems.
Clean energy is also more cost-effective than it has ever been, as wind and solar energy prices are comparable with conventional sources of electricity generation, and wind energy is now Canada’s lowest-cost source of new generating capacity. Ulianovschi observes that the cost of generating power from solar power has fallen by 90 percent since 2010, and the prices of onshore wind and solar are now even with gas power and cheaper than coal and nuclear power.
“Canada is undergoing a fundamental transition in how it generates, manages, and uses energy,” Ulianovschi says, and the rest of the world is starting to follow suit thanks to the work of Grasshopper and other companies in the sustainable energy sector. “If the average person cannot afford clean energy, we will not be able to put [these programs] into action, no matter how good it is for the environment. Because of this reality, at Grasshopper, it is important to us to take the products in the marketplace… and using our technological, financing, and regulatory expertise, deliver an elegant and cost-effective solution to various consumers.”
Grasshopper has also been at the forefront of several initiatives in its local community. In 2019, the company invested over $100 million into the Ontario economy via its renewable
infrastructure projects, providing opportunities to more than 5,000 workers with a strong emphasis on employing female and minority workers.
The company has also flexed its philanthropic muscle with regular donations to organizations like The War Amps and local food banks. In 2020, Grasshopper contributed over $50,000 to the Mississauga Food Bank and donated more than 10,000 surgical masks and additional COVID-19 protective equipment to local Ontario hospitals.
Now, in the coming weeks, Grasshopper Energy will be dispersing an aggregate total of $368,000 in annual rent payments to 1,070 residential partners in Ontario who, under the MicroFIT program, partnered with the company in 2015 to outfit their homes with solar panels. Since 2015, the solar panels installed through these residential partnerships have generated 114,139,161 kWh of clean, carbon-free electricity. This is the equivalent of offsetting the CO₂ emissions generated from the electricity use of 13,663 homes in a year.
Ulianovschi considers the company’s biggest challenge to be that people from all walks of life do not understand the gravity of the climate change crisis, and unremitting debate on the matter leads to unproductive divisiveness. “Most of the other challenges we face as a company or as a sector tend to
precipitate from that root cause,” he explains.
A hostile stance in any given region to fighting climate change tends to choke potential capital for sustainable energy measures and drive it to more climate-friendly markets. This leads to price increases for clean solutions and low adoption rates in those markets, slowing or preventing volume pricing from ever being achieved. “All of us, including the clean energy sector, our partners in government, the media, and elsewhere must do more to educate people about climate change,” Ulianovschi emphasizes.
He knows that the message must be conveyed to reach even the harshest sceptics. This means that the shift to clean energy must not be put forth as an extreme, overnight proposition. Clean energy proponents must highlight how powerful clean energy can be in creating jobs and driving economic growth, to naturally sway lead manufacturers and providers away from fossil fuel dependence.
As 2021 begins, Grasshopper will deploy more clean energy assets around the world. Ulianovschi sees South America as a market for serious consideration where the company intends to “put shovels in the ground,” as he puts it. Grasshopper plans to continue raising capital for further development while increasing education about climate change. Additionally, the company will continue to advocate for clean energy on the global stage, working with international bodies like the UN to further educate about the climate crisis and “to accelerate the development of a sustainable world” – the company’s vision statement.
“In 2021, we are focused on business development, community
engagement…exploring different clean energy technologies, like batteries, storage, and [electric vehicle] charging,” Ulianovschi says of carbon reduction technologies.
The company has received multiple national industry awards for its ongoing efforts, including being recognized as the solar innovator of the year, project finance innovator of the year, and solar developer of the year by the Canadian Solar Industries Association (CSIA). But the Grasshopper Energy team is trying to achieve much more than acknowledgment; they understand that climate change is the defining issue of our time. Grasshopper’s goals for the industry are as vast as its global reach, and its entire team remains motivated to provide a more sustainable world and a greener future for all.
“Climate change impacts our communities, planet, children, and future generations. We are doing this for the well-being of our local and global community,” states Ulianovschi.