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Clayton Bear: Small, portable turbines power a village

Clayton Bear, president and chief executive officer and chief technology officer of New Energy Corp. Inc.

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Any one wanting to see the full extent of Clayton Bear's innovative thinking needs only to head east – to the other side of the world.

And once you reach the small town of Ringmo, Nepal, you'll even be able to recharge your smartphone thanks to the portable water turbine he helped install in a small stream there.

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"It was about a three-day walk, there are no roads, and so we had to carry everything in," says Mr. Bear, president, chief executive officer and chief technological officer of Calgary-based New Energy Corp. Inc., which developed the turbine. "They had to work with the local people to set up the site, they had to build what they call gabions, which are just rock and chicken wire that you see alongside highways when they want to stabilize the slope and such.

"And so they helped out and we did the installation and it worked and now that village has power and it has never had power before."

The project, a collaboration between New Energy Corp., Advantage Products, the World Wildlife Fund and U.S.-based Werth Family Foundation, is just one of a number of installations carried out by Mr. Bear's company, which first got its feet wet, so to speak, by installing one of its systems in the outflow of a waste water treatment plant in Calgary.

"What distinguishes this from, say, wind or solar is that it's continuous," the 53-year-old says. "You produce power 24 hours a day because rivers don't stop running."

With a technical background as an engineer, Mr. Bear had been an entrepreneur a couple of times before he founded New Energy Corp. in 2004 as a way of furthering his interest in harnessing power from tidal and ocean energy. The advantage his vertical access cross-flow turbines have over much of the competition is that they can be placed "where the water speed is the fastest, because that's where there is the most energy," he says.

So rather than place them on the river bed, they are suspended between two mooring points or even on a pontoon boat.

"Innovation is something that's in your bones," he says. "Even when I was working for an oil and gas company, I ended up in the special projects group where we developed new and different things, and it's just where I gravitate no matter where I go."

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With other installations in Northern Canada, Alaska and India, Mr. Bear's company is just getting going. The new government of Myanmar is particularly interested in its units, which cost upward of $20,000 each, after a meeting a few weeks ago, with the first shipment ready to go to help power a school that's never had access to electricity. But that's just the tip of the iceberg.

"They've said that they have 40,000 communities that don't have access to power," he says. "They're all along rivers and we have a letter of intent … that they would like to buy between 100 and 1,000 systems from us. If that happens then we're on our way."

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