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Gregory LengProfile: Gregory Leng

Director’s energy project software cleans up

A university student’s innovative software program, developed as part of his master’s thesis, has turned into a product that helps thousands of people around the world plan projects that use renewable energy technology.

An engineer by training and now the director of RETScreen International at Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), Greg Leng couldn’t have predicted how many people would eventually use his software—let alone how many billions of dollars would be saved along the way.

Global standard

Known as RETScreen, the software evaluates energy production and savings, emissions reductions and financial variables such as cost, viability and risk for various types of renewable-energy and energy-efficient technologies (RETs). It also includes hydrology and climate databases as well as a training course. And best of all—it’s available free on NRCan’s website.

“The software is used to help people decide if they should install a clean energy project,” says Greg. “The target audiences are typically engineers, architects, scientists and university professors.”

” There is no tool
worldwide that does
such a comprehensive
analysis.”

He gives an example of how RETScreen works: “Let’s say you’re in electrical utilities and you’re interested in installing wind energy. It will help you determine what the actual power output would be based on the local average wind speed. Next, you need to know how much it costs, so there’s a cost-analysis model. Then there’s a model to calculate the greenhouse gas savings. And finally, there’s a financial analysis model to determine the returns from the investment.”

One of the most remarkable things about the software is how widely it has spread. “It’s the global standard now for analyzing clean-energy projects,” says Greg. “The software is available in 30 languages. That covers two-thirds of the world’s population. We probably have 10,000 unique visitors a week.”

A major appeal of the software, says Greg, is how it can make clean-energy initiatives easier on the pocketbook. “Ultimately, we think about impact. We’re trying to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save people money. This software saves users about $3 billion worldwide, so the impact is huge.”

A toolbox of innovation

While software programs that make similar calculations exist, none is as multifaceted as RETScreen. “There were tools that would handle individual components. NRCan brought these technical and financial areas of expertise together. There’s no tool worldwide that does such a comprehensive analysis. We really are the main leader and innovator in the world.”

Greg’s team is always searching for ways to improve RETScreen. “We’re constantly innovating, with new advances from both the scientific and engineering side—such as advanced engineering models—and from the software side, using the Internet.”

In the future, Greg says they plan to make the program “smart” enough to do some human-like thinking.

“We have a very active research and development program that produces new, advanced models for applications like energy efficiency. We’re also in the process of building intelligent decision-making capabilities for the software so that it actually helps you narrow down your options.”

A long time in the making

Gregory Leng

Intrigued by the use of alternative energy ever since high school, Greg’s idea for RETScreen was first developed as part of his master’s degree in energy engineering at the University of Massachusetts. In 1993, soon after graduating, he was approached at a solar conference in Québec by Dr. Gilles Jean, Director General of CANMET Energy Technology Centre–Varennes, who invited him to join NRCan. Greg declined Gilles’ offer.

But Gilles didn’t give up and a year later contacted Greg again, this time in India where Greg was managing an office for the International Fund for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency. This time Greg accepted the offer, and he was soon put to work developing the content for RETScreen, which was still in its primitive stages.

Now that RETScreen is fully functional—with costs, tasks and technical support shared with partners from industry, government and academia—Greg spends more time on the management and strategic side.

“I’ve always had this dual interest in clean energy and software, and I’ve been very fortunate to be able to combine the two in my government work.”


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