Écotech event aims to implement eco-friendly solutions through technology

Young professionals recently took part in EnergyHack, an energy efficiency hackathon. The event, hosted by Écotech Québec on Sept. 28, prompted participants to choose and solve one of two challenges provided by the city of Varennes, an off-island suburb of Montreal, and the borough of Saint-Laurent. The winning teams from each competition will work to bring their project solutions to fruition. They will also travel to the Smart City Expo in Barcelona this November, courtesy of Air Canada.

The event started with a welcome address from various speakers in the tech industry. Throughout the day, mentors were available to answer questions from participants; they also presented a series of workshops covering topics such as business savviness, challenges that experts in the field face, and artificial intelligence (AI).

The first challenge was proposed by Alan DeSousa, the mayor of Saint-Laurent. He asked for a way to install an intelligent ventilation and window-opening control system in an existing building in Saint-Laurent. Meanwhile, Martin Damphousse, the mayor of Varennes, asked for plans that would integrate eco-efficient solutions when constructing a new municipal workshop in Varennes. Participants used data on energy consumption, carbon emissions, and architecture plans to propose AI solutions.

Seven teams took part in the event: Four were assigned to the Saint-Laurent challenge and three to the Varennes challenge. David Fauteux, an advisor at the Institut de Développement des Produits (IDP), advised the participants to stay patient while searching for solutions.

“[The] issues come from not finding the good stuff at the beginning,” Fauteux said. “If you don’t have much reflection, and you go too fast, you go [for] the quick solution, and then it’s not always a good option. With these kinds of events, […] it’s more about […] how you make sure that your reflection is good, [and] what have you done to make sure that not only your family and friends like your idea.”

Participants came from all around the Montreal area. Claude Belizare, founder of Human Level AI, heard about the event the day before and travelled from Trois-Rivières with his son. Club Poly Énergie, a group of engineers and data scientists from Polytechnique Montréal, won the Saint-Laurent challenge. Ultimately, all participants, no matter where they came from, attended the event because they were interested in using AI to help Montreal residents. 

“It’s [about] what your idea can do for people,” Amir Nosrat, a founding director of the environmental charity Climatable, said during a speech about different kinds of business pitches. 

The event also illustrated that AI can be a useful tool for solving many problems. Jean-Baptise Débordès, a mentor at the event and Founder of SEED AI, emphasized that AI is not the killer robot that it is made out to be.

“It is a tool to make better decisions, better run our lives, our businesses, our cities, do smarter thinking,” Débordès said in an interview with The McGill Tribune.

The winners of the Varennes challenge were Pierre Manach, a consultant at Solution Techso, and Guinel Garçon, an energy analyst at ENGIE. The two, who are also the founders of an energy podcast called La Patate Chaude, kept Nosrat’s advice in mind with their winning idea.

“From [La Patate Chaude], we’ve talked about different issues around the energy sector, and we’ve come [to EnergyHack] […] to help with the management of energy,” Pierre said.

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