Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency
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Rural power

A battery being assembled

When a nation’s power grids are unstable, having access to cost-effective alternatives like solar or wind energy can mean the difference in accessing basics like safe refrigeration and lighting.

And the storage that’s required to ensure a steady flow of power around the globe? No problem, thanks to Canada’s only remaining battery manufacturer.

“When the sun shines, solar panels harvest the energy, but then you have to put it all somewhere,” says James Surrette, President of Nova Scotia’s Surrette Battery Company Ltd.

“So, we’re the storage — we provide the uninterruptable power.”

Since 1959, the battery company — founded by James’ grandfather — has been producing specialized products for the railroad, marine and renewable energy industries from their rural facility in Springhill.

Today, the company of 55 employees ships their successful suite of battery products —under their “Rolls Battery” label, as well as other leading brand labels — all around the world.

According to James, the secret to their company’s longevity is a combination of hard work and focus on niche global market opportunities, including growing sectors like renewable energy, which now represents over 50 per cent of the company’s market.

“For developing nations without power in rural areas, renewable energy systems are a cost-effective alternative,” explain James. “Small solar or wind systems can provide electricity to five, six or seven dwellings at one time … and that can be a huge step for people in places like the Caribbean, Central America and Africa.”

According to James, ACOA has provided his company tremendous support over the years, by funding productivity studies, and providing investment and capital.

“They’ve been a huge help to us in improving our automation and finding efficiencies,” he says.

These days, Surrette’s biggest challenges: getting product out the door and keeping ahead of the competition.

“We’ve been very, very fortunate during the recent downturn, product demand has been exceptional. But you can’t have 12, 15, or 20-week lead times on production, because your customers will find another supplier — you just have to keep up with demand.”

“Also, as the renewable energy market has grown, larger manufacturers are taking notice of opportunity there. Add the fact that many of our competitors have excess capacity in these economic times: that can make any market challenging.”

Still, just like the reliable batteries they manufacture, this is one longstanding company poised for steady flow whatever the rough patches.

Published November 23, 2012