Vancouver portable energy company turns gaze to Hollywood
Portable Electric brings clean and silent power to filming locations, festivals
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A Vancouver company is offering an alternative to noisy gas generators by renting out renewable power systems and aims to ride its success with the local film industry into L.A.
Entrepreneur Mark Rabin founded Portable Electric when he realized there was no alternative to gas-guzzling generators that people use to power everything from food carts to power washers. Rabin, who studied geology and energy economics, set out to build a solution.
“At first people were like, no one can replace a gas generator, this is crazy. And we were like, watch us.”
Rabin created a mobile power system, called a voltstack, that stores energy in lithium ion batteries and can draw from various renewable energy sources, including solar, wind, or even pedal power. Unlike gas generators, voltstacks make no noise at all.
Then he invited a few potential customers to his workshop in Strathcona to showcase the prototypes.
“The first day we opened our doors, people paid us money to rent the prototypes,” he said.
That was a little over a year ago and the company is growing rapidly. Employees were building several new voltstacks when Metro visited Portable Electric’s workshop in Vancouver’s Strathcona neighbourhood. The company has a 15-unit fleet in Vancouver and has clients in Toronto, Calgary, and Oregon as well.
“Even now, we’re building more units and we can’t even keep up with the demand that is coming in,” said Rabin.
About half of his clients are event organizers – Portable Electric powered last year’s Blessed Coast festival in Squamish with solar panels and recently powered Vancouver’s Car-Free Days on Main Street and the West End. The other half of his customers – and this is the sector Rabin is focusing his efforts in – come from the film industry.
The quiet volt stacks are a natural fit with the film crews’ sensitivity about sound on film sets, he said. For instance, Portable Electric recently worked with a production company filming at a nature reserve, where gas generators were not allowed.
After finding success renting portable power systems in Hollywood North, Rabin wants to expand his business into L.A. He says he is already in talks with Fox, Sony, ABC Disney, and others.
“The time is now to mobilize what we’re doing here in Vancouver, the clean tech scene here and bring those products down to the U.S. market and make a difference there.”
Rabin’s product reflects his philosophy about “clean tech.” He says being sustainable doesn’t necessarily mean companies have to turn their operations upside down.
“It’s bridging the gap between old world business as usual and new world technology, business as usual.”
All innovative technology should be designed with the environment in mind and striving to be green should be a foregone conclusion, he said.
“If we’re talking about sustainability and clean tech 10 years from now, we’ve done a poor job.”