Interview with CECA Executive

Recently, one of our outreach team members for the 2016 Green Energy Challenge, Nataliya Pekar, conducted an interview with one of our current CECA executives, co-founder, former Projects Manager and current Communications Coordinator, Matheos Tsiaras, about the chapter and what it is up to these days.

The interview was published in a full page spread in The Cannon (, UofT Engineering’s Student Newspaper, and can be read in full below!


Nataliya: First thing’s first – what is CECA and what does the U of T Student Chapter aim to accomplish?

Matheos: Primarily, The Canadian Electrical Contractors Association brings together electrical contractors across the country to share experience and advice. Our chapter is an extension of this initiative to the student community, and we’re the first in Canada! Our goal is to engage students to learn about electrical contracting from firsthand experience, and to bridge the gap between contracting and engineering both within Canada, and between Canada and the United States (our chapter is also affiliated as the 30th chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association, the American equivalent of CECA).

We also host networking and social events, connect students with scholarship and job opportunities, and compete in international design competitions such as the Electri International Green Energy Challenge and most recently the Student Passport Initiative.

Nataliya: More specifically, what have you done so far?

Matheos: The majority of our success has been spreading awareness and increasing excitement around electrical contracting within the engineering community at U of T. With the incredible support of our industry contact with CECA, Tom Vivian, our faculty advisor, Brenda McCabe, and everyone else who has helped along the way, the successful launch of the chapter in May 2014 and a great first year is a huge success on its own.

More specifically, the chapter competed in the 2015 Green Energy Challenge and scored fourth place for their lighting and back-up power retrofit proposal for Good Sheppard Ministries – a shelter in downtown Toronto. Additionally, the chapter placed second in the poster competition for the 2015 challenge. This year, with the help of CECA and several local contractors, our proposal is actually being realized at Good Sheppard, which we are really excited about.

In late fall of 2015 the U of T CECA Student chapter was approached by the Penn State University NECA to join them to construct a solar powered water pumping station for a community of 600 in Roatan, Honduras. This is part of the Student Passport Competition which Penn State won with their proposal last year. Two members of our chapter, Mackenzie de Carle and Dmitri Naoumov, were in Honduras during the week of March 7 to build the station. We hope to join this competition again next year.

Nataliya: Tell me more about the specifics of these competitions.

Matheos: The majority of the work is for the Green Energy Challenge. Typically the project consists of conducting an energy audit of a site and then proposing a renewable energy implementation and a lighting retrofit. We plan a new electrical system, figure out the construction scheduling, and work with local contractors to do a cost estimate. Then we put together a short pre-proposal and then a final proposal submission in April. A winner is picked from a selection of finalists at the annual NECA Convention, last year it was in San Francisco and a bunch of us from the chapter actually attended for the 2015 poster competition!

For the Student Passport Initiative, the idea is similar. Teams who wish to participate submit a short proposal detailing a renewable energy solution that they would like to implement in a developing country or rural community of their choice. The most exciting part is that the winning proposal receives funding to allow the students to go and implement their design.

Nataliya: You went to San Francisco? How was that?

Matheos: It was great! We were able to gain from watching presentations from the finalist teams, and it was here that we won second place for our poster for the 2015 Green Energy Challenge. Aside from this, there were several keynote presentations, including one from Sal Khan, the creator of Khan Academy, and countless networking and social events for students and industry professionals to attend. Attending the convention was a fantastic way for us to get immersed in the electrical contracting world, to meet fellow student chapters and share experiences, and to network with industry professionals. And of course, there was ample free time to explore the beautiful city of San Francisco and all that it has to offer. The team thoroughly looks forward to attending the 2016 NECA Convention in Boston.

Nataliya: Can you expand on participating in the Passport Competition and your trip?

Matheos: Participating in the Student Passport Competition was an incredible experience. Not only was it a great way to get introduced to the competition and how it all works, but Mackenzie de Carle and Dmitri Naoumov, the students who went on the trip, will both say that being able to actually travel to Honduras and help build the solar powered water pumping station and see first-hand the positive impact it will have on the community was a feeling that is tough to put into words. We would like to thank Penn State for allowing us to piggyback on their proposal this year, and we hope to submit our own proposal next year.

Nataliya: What are you currently working on?

Matheos: The 2016 Green Energy Challenge is currently in full swing, and the team is hard at work on it. The competition this year centres on an energy audit, lighting retrofit, and solar PV array installation at a local school, and we are working with University of Toronto Schools (UTS), a high school near campus, for this competition. The team is holding a site visit on March 21 to collect data about the existing conditions of the school, and the final proposal is due on April 4. As well, the team is working on its outreach strategy for the competition, which will likely include an event hosted by the team either at the school itself or on university grounds to spread sustainable energy awareness.

Nataliya: Where are you hoping to expand?

Matheos: As early as next year, we hope to submit our own proposal for the Student Passport Initiative. Into the future, we hope to be a part of the initiative that leads to the creation of more CECA chapters across Canadian universities.

Overall, we want to spread awareness and education and are always looking to collaborate with others clubs at U of T.

Nataliya: So, what can students do if they join your club? What kind of expertise is required?

Matheos: All students are welcome to join the CECA chapter, being an engineering student is not required whatsoever. We hope students are not turned away by feeling their expertise does not match with the work that we do, we welcome everybody as anyone can meaningfully contribute.

We are proud to say participating is a great learning experience for everyone involved. There is something for everyone who is interested in green energy and sustainable design.

Nataliya How can students get involved and where can they get more information?

Matheos: Students can send us an email at if they are interested in anything that the chapter is doing. We can also be found at a booth at both the Frosh Week Clubs Fair and the U of T Sustainability Conference Tradeshow, which occur annually.

Students can also check out our blog at And soon we will have up and running! This blog is being regularly updated as part of the outreach strategy during the Green Energy Challenge, and summarizes all activities surrounding the chapter.

Nataliya: Thank you! Good luck in the Green Energy Challenge!

Matheos: Thanks!


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