As hydrogen becomes an increasingly important part of the Edmonton region's economy and its net-zero ambitions, RUNWITHIT Synthetics (RWI) has created a way for stakeholders to envision the implications of such development.
The augmented-intelligence company has created a "synthetic Edmonton region," mapping out the built environments and populations of 14 municipalities and districts in the metro area. This helps decision-makers understand what the region will look like through to 2050, and how decisions made today will compound in the future.
"We had a very early and enthusiastic champion with Edmonton Global, who brought together agencies and institutions and different sectors in the Edmonton region to sponsor the kickoff of how we synthesize the region and then make that a synthetic environment available for interested stakeholders who have questions," RWI co-founder and CEO Myrna Bittner told Taproot's Bloom podcast.
Mapping out the implications of hydrogen was one of the first uses of the synthetic Edmonton region, some of which was presented last April by Edmonton Global in conjunction with the Canadian Hydrogen Convention.
"We utilize that environment already to look at things like the phasing of hydrogen, the workforce around hydrogen and energy, and how that might shift and grow," Bittner said, adding that RWI has also looked at the use of hydrogen in heating and heavy-duty trucks. "There was some really exciting work done there."
The City of Edmonton has a carbon budget, for which it has received both criticism and awards. Bittner suggested that RWI's holistic platform might be a better way to consider the climate implications of every decision.
"Everything we do, we can measure its impact on emissions," she said, listing factors such as carbon pricing, changing consumer behaviour, electrification, heat pumps, or the tree canopy. "We can take several approaches where we say ... 'What is your target?' And then we can actually look at and configure and sandbox the things that might get them closer or farther."
RWI's synthetic region also comes in handy when it comes to planning for growth. Through entities such as the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board, the Edmonton region has a coordinated growth plan.
"We were helping to actually physically sandbox that and dial forward what the growth plan was ... and whether or not the built environment that we are setting out to create here in the Edmonton region is what we will need to sustain the two million people that we are expected to be at by around 2044," Bittner said. "It was really fascinating to be able to look at everything from emissions to consumption patterns and changes to social burden, economic burden, housing burden, and really ensure that the density that we're planning matches what we need to hit targets."
The synthetic region will continue to yield answers, Bittner added. "We're still in the process of delivering all of the information that people are looking for from the environment. And we can do so even on a holodeck that we built."
The RWI Holodeck is a three-dimensional augmented intelligence simulation and data platform. It doesn't offer the fully immersive experience imagined by the creators of Star Trek, but it does make it possible to input live data and run scenarios on tabletop computers, as RWI did when it launched the holodeck in April 2022 at the Convergence Hub for the Exploration of Space Science (CHESS) workshop in Washington, D.C.
That demonstration was set up to simulate the effects of a massive solar storm, taking into account not only its effects on infrastructure but also on people, considering the wide range of vulnerability within a population.
RWI had a chance to build on that work through participation in the AWS Sustainable Cities Accelerator for Infrastructure in late 2022. That experience helped RWI explore how to make its data more broadly available "so we can do more good around the world," Bittner said.
The company also participated in a Low-Carbon Hydrogen Accelerator with Greentown Labs in Houston in May 2022. That has led to ongoing work in Nashville with the Electric Power Research Institute, among other projects, Bittner said.
RWI has hired a chief of U.S. operations and has been amassing a growing team that met in Edmonton this week. The company is largely revenue-funded, with some help from government funding such as a $900,000 matched loan facility from the federal government to support its work in clean energy transition modelling.
Another help has been the local organizations that saw the potential of RWI's synthetic cities platform, Bittner said.
"It has really been the innovators in the community who have got together and decided to be some early adopters of what we do," she said. "That has been amazing to ... have people step forward and take that risk that we all talk about and see on the side of the building downtown."