B.C. maker of emissions-free generators eyes global market

B.C. film sector striving for sustainability as Portable Electric strikes deal with studio supply firm

Portable Electric CEO Mark Rabin plans to deliver his Vancouver-based company’s electric generators to clients in the European film industry by the end of 2018 | Submitted

A visit to a Vancouver film location a decade ago would reveal more than a few cringe-worthy moments for a city that touts itself as a leader in sustainability.

“We’re [now] very familiar with recycling, we’re very familiar with not idling the car, reusing sets and so on,” said Mark Rabin, CEO of generator maker Portable Electric.

“But energy’s really been one of those out-of-sight, out-of-mind [subjects].”

Roaring diesel generators are mainstays for an industry that needs quick access to power for camera equipment, lights and monitors.

But Portable Electric’s silent, emissions-free electric generators began turning heads in the Canadian film industry after being showcased at the Crazy8s film festival in Vancouver in early 2017.

The devices – a 50-kilogram, 2.8-kilowatt-hour battery and a 136-kilogram, 5.6-kilowatt-hour battery – plug into walls to recharge or else use solar power for remote locations.

This past summer the Vancouver-based company signed a deal to deliver nine of its electric generators to Sim International Inc., a supplier of studios, production equipment and post-production services to the film industry.

Sim has support hubs in Los Angeles, Vancouver, Toronto, New York and Atlanta.

“When I imagine the way we once did things 30, 20, 10 years ago, and I consider a [scenario] in which we didn’t change, I think that … we’d be destructive to our communities had we not changed. That if we still existed, we would be seen as a dinosaur on our way out,” said Eleanor O’Connor, Sim’s president of studio, lighting and grip.

“We can partner with [Portable Electric] and work with them in managing some of the design so that it works well for film and television. And they’re open to our suggestions – and there have been many.”

Portable Electric began manufacturing electric generators in Vancouver in 2016 with the main intention of supporting large events.

Recently, the devices were used for a 10-day shoot in a moving bus and a live shoot in an active hospital ward.

Both locations aren’t conducive for the diesel generators typically used in the industry.

But Rabin said his electric generators were able to supply all the power needed for cameras, monitors and lighting.

“We see a big opportunity to take what we’re doing here in terms of sustainability and take it to the rest of North America,” he said, adding Portable Electric is on track to begin supplying crews in Europe by year’s end.

Meanwhile, Jacqueline Dupuis, executive director of the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF), said the economic case for sustainable practices within the local industry has been getting stronger.

This year VIFF is hosting a Sustainable Production Forum to push industry leaders to adopt green practices.

“There is a strong business case for sustainability. It may not pay off in the short term, but it does certainly pay off in the long term,” Dupuis said.

Portable Electric claims that the cost of renting its devices is comparable to renting a diesel generator once fuel costs are accounted for.

And as a long-term investment, the company touts that the electric devices won’t have maintenance costs anywhere near what diesel generators require.

“It really makes sense,” Dupuis said. “It’s just really the culture that needs to shift around it to actually move the agenda forward.”