Making Waves in the Electrical Contracting Student Chapter World

This group of undergraduate civil engineers at the University of Toronto are going where no students have gone before; at least not in Canada. Only one year ago, the first student chapter of the Canadian Electrical Contractors Association was founded at the university, and this chapter was the first international chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association of the USA. Since their inception, the U of T student chapter has made significant progress in advancing the electrical contracting industry amongst its students. In 2015, the chapter competed in the Electri International Green Energy Challenge, where they designed a solar PV microgrid system and back-up power plan for Good Shepherd Ministries, a homeless shelter in downtown Toronto. They placed 4th overall at the annual NECA Convention in San Francisco, CA in October.

For 2016, the chapter has even bigger and better plans. In addition to spearheading the creation of more student chapters across Canadian universities, the chapter is participating in both the 2016 Green Energy Challenge and 2016 Electri International Student Passport Initiative. The 2016 Green Energy Challenge entails the design of a solar PV array with an accompanying educational component for grade 7-12 students at University of Toronto Schools, a local high school.

The Student Passport Initiative is the chapter’s most exciting project for the year. The initiative is open to all student chapters, and it allows chapters to submit designs and develop a plan for installing or adding to electrical service available to an underdeveloped community somewhere around the world. This year the chapter is joining Penn State University on a trip to Honduras in March 2016 to help build a solar powered water pumping station with the help of local contractors. As part of the outreach effort for this endeavour, the chapter raised $6,000 to help fund travel and construction expenses. The chapter would like to thank Alltrade Industrial, Fitzpatrick Electric, and Fusion Energy for their generous contribution.


2016 Green Energy Challenge Underway

Less than one year after returning from the NECA Convention in San Francisco with a 2nd place certificate and $750 cheque from the 2015 Green Energy Challenge Poster Competition, and the satisfaction of a very respectable 4th place finish in the full challenge, the Northern Lights Solutions team is back at it again with the 2016 Green Energy Challenge, with the goal of improving on last year’s results.

This year, the theme for the Challenge is called “Eco-School Business Development”. Teams are challenged to design an energy upgrade for a school facility (K-12) in their community that will include the design of a small-scale PV system that will serve as a teaching and learning tool for students. An emphasis will be placed on detailed technical solutions for proposed systems, including lighting retrofit and integrated window treatments/controls, detailed design of 4-5kW PV system based on system specifications, and the re-design of an energy efficiency upgrade to a facility that responds to the unique needs of the building and climate. Teams will be expected to develop efforts to support the engagement of teachers and students in the building and in energy and sustainability education.

The Northern Lights Solutions team is very excited to be working with University of Toronto Schools (UTS) for the Challenge. UTS is a university preparatory school, grades 7 through 12, affiliated with the University of Toronto. Located on U of T’s St. George Campus, UTS offers high-achieving students a specialized curriculum and a unique co-educational learning environment that encourages creative interests and physical activity as well as a sense of social responsibility.

More information about UTS can be found at their website,

Much progress has already been made on the 2016 challenge thus far; the team recently submitted the Pre-Proposal document, which outlined the existing conditions of the building and potential retrofits that can be made to improve its energy efficiency.

Stay tuned for more progress updates throughout the remainder of the project!


Pictured above: University of Toronto Schools exterior view from Bloor Street, Toronto

Energy Jeopardy Event

As the ice begins to melt and the birds begin to chirp, more signs of spring begin to show. When our outreach team had a goal back in late February to create CECA’s first energy related event, we did not exactly know how much planning would be involved to become successful. We wanted our event to be both informative and interactive for students and practical with the school schedule. So why not create a game show? And one of the most watched game shows on TV where intelligent people battle for prizes, Jeopardy! It is a great way to engage students and come up with several intellectual questions. With a refreshed excitement for Energy Jeopardy as we called it, we settled on a date, March 27th.


Planning The Event

While organizing the event, we knew one of our challenges would be convincing students to come to our event if it conflicted with exam or main project periods. Through the few weeks prior to the CECA Jeopardy event, the room was booked, game show questions were created and a budget was created for many delicious snacks, drinks and of course prizes! We wanted enough questions to allow many challengers to learn as well as have a chance to play. Our topics were energy efficiency through transportation, home, buildings, sustainability, science and sustainability.

Closer to the Energy Jeopardy gameshow date, Outreach worked with the remainder of the CECA members to gather volunteers and create one of the more creative parts of our event planning, posters to advertise. Initially we had set our sign ups to teams of two with a goal of having at least five teams. Although close to the event we only had a few individuals completely signed up, we were still confident our work would pay off and with a better reaction from our Facebook Event page, we knew the show must go on!


Game Time!

March 27th finally arose. Our 30 questions were finalized, and a busy day was still to come. To start, we organized the room to resemble the actual Jeopardy game show. To our pleasant surprise, by game time we had reached our goal of five teams of two plus additional audience members. To keep the game interesting, we asked each team to provide a name for their team as well as an animal sound in lieu of a buzzer. Some of the more interesting team names were Shear Excitement, Dip n’ Karrots and Gneiss and the animal sounds ranged from bird chirps, cow moo to a the meow of a sexy kitty. The combination of different animal sounds being called out across the room was definitely one of the most entertaining aspects of the game. After many interesting “What is” answers to our questions, several cheese sandwiches and chips later, the top two teams finally emerge! Congratulations to our first and second placed teammates Sharon Mandair, Patricia Josefina Escobar, Mary Lo, Carlos Ignacio Benzecri and Matthew Lattavo for winning the first ever CECA Energy Jeopardy Challenge! They won 4 free Cineplex movie tickets and were so incredibly happy when they realized that not only did they win the game, they also won a prize!


All in all, the entire team felt that the event was a smashing success! Despite the stress of planning an event in such a short period of time and managing our time between this and work, we managed to get students excited about energy efficiency and to learn more about it.  


Finally, a special thanks to our Project Manager Matheos who not only volunteered at the event but also presented updates on CECA and the Green Energy Challenge to our Jeopardy crowd before the game. And another thank you goes out to all the participants and volunteers. You all helped us make this event awesome!

We hope to see many more at our next event!


Northern Lights Solutions Outreach Team


Northern Lights Solutions- 2015 Green Energy Challenge Blog

Hi! Welcome to our blog. The Northern Lights Solutions is a new organization which has been created in January 2015 as the official team of the Canadian Electrical Contractors Association (CECA)/ National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) University of Toronto Student Chapter. We have created this initiative mainly to provide information about the Northern Lights Solutions’ latest project, the 2015 Green Energy Challenge. As you continue to read, I will elaborate on the history of our group and touch upon what the Green Energy Challenge is really about.


This past summer was when our chapter was officially founded. In April 2014, the NECA Board of Directors approved our incorporation! During the summer, certain individuals I am personally close with helped step up to create an executive team. I took on the President position and from there our organization started to expand. From my Civil Engineering classes, Kate Kazlovich became the Vice-President and Stephanie Daou became the Treasurer. We began working to develop all the relevant governance documents and seeking incorporation with local university institutions (such as the Engineering Society). We became the first CECA student chapter as well as the first NECA student chapter outside of the United States! Our mission statement, as described in our constitution, became: To attract the “best and the brightest” to a career in electrical contracting, as well as provide students and contractors with an opportunity to impress each other. Through the summer of 2014, we elaborated a plan incorporating several initiatives to achieve this goal, such as participating as clients in design courses at the university, organizing and promoting networking events and seminars and structuring a team to participate in the 2015 Green Energy Challenge, a (now) international competition organized by ELECTRI  international. In order to achieve these goals, we incorporated a fourth position to our team, the Project Manager (Matheos Tsiaras). Soon after, the last member of our executive came on board, our Communications Coordinator (Tiffany Ongtenco) to assist us in managing the club’s communications portfolio.

The Green Energy Challenge Formation of the Team

Since September 2014, Matheos has taken the lead in developing all the necessary preparations to participate in the 2015 Green Energy Challenge. He established a set of goals for the team to be achieved between September 2014 and January 2015, when the competitions Request for Proposals (RFP) would be released. The efforts during this period consisting of reviewing proposals of past competitions to familiarize ourselves with the format of the competition, and outreach to the students to encourage them to join Green Energy Challenge team . We managed to construct a team of 27 members, divided across 5 different sub-teams: Lighting and Systems, Energy Audit, Renewable Energies, Finance and Estimation, and Outreach. Each team was given clear instructions of what their role was so that their members could begin familiarizing themselves with the competition. After the winter break, and with the full RFP released, the team assembled and formed the official name for our team, Northern Lights Solutions. Following this general assembly, our Project Manager and President worked hard to identify potential clients for the competition, and eventually came across Good Shepherd Ministries (thanks to our industry contacts). After consultation with the team, Good Shepherd Ministries became our client, and the project began to take more shape.

About the Competition

The topic for the 2015 competition consists of the development of a back-up power system and resiliency plan for an existing facility with demonstrated critical power needs. The full scale of the project consists of: conducting an energy audit to assess the current conditions of the site, developing the back-up power system and resiliency plan and designing a lighting retrofit. Moreover, teams are expected to promote energy awareness through the project by developing an outreach strategy and lastly, they are required to cost the project and propose an implementation schedule.

About our Client

Good Shepherd Ministries is a charity organization that helps people struggling with homelessness and poverty in the City of Toronto. They describe themselves as being a place to get a hot meal, clean clothes, and a safe, clean bed for the night. It’s a place to go when you need someone to listen, someone to help. Every day, they serve thousands of meals and provide overnight accommodations for 91 individuals. Considering how important it is that their facilities remain operational through the toughest weather conditions, our team decided that a back-up power system was a very much needed enhancement of their building. Moreover, most of the lighting is provided by fluorescent bulbs, highlighting a need for a lighting retrofit to reduce their operating costs. You can find out more information about Good Shepherd Ministries on their website

Project Status

Our team has conducted the on-site visit component of the energy audit and is in the process of analyzing the data, and developing the first deliverable for the competition which consists of a pre-proposal introducing the client, the project and highlighting the results from the audit. It is busy times for Northern Lights Solutions, while we ramp up the efforts of the audit, our other teams are working hard to do the preliminary work required to develop the back-up power system design as well as the lighting retrofit.

 Written by: Ernesto DLP