Distributed generation: How to slay up to half your electricity bill
Ever since I was a little kid three smoke stacks dominated horizon across the lake where my grandfather built a cabin in 1919. Then in 2011 the smokestacks at the old Wabamun Power Plant came down, changing the landscape I had known for 50 years.
During the lifetime of that old coal fired power plant the pace of technological innovation was unprecedented: TVs, cell phones, computers, rocket ships, electric cars and even the Segway have all been invented and perfected.
Despite all of that innovation the electricity system that that power plant was apart of had remained largely the same - a massive centralized hub and spoke electricity generation system connected to ancient, expensive transmission lines. If Edison was still alive he would have recognized our system as the one he drew up all those years ago. If Alexander Graham Bell was still alive it’s doubtful he’d get past the home screen on his iPhone.
“There is no other industry that has stagnated for as long as the energy industry. We’re still looking at 50-year-old powerplants, coal-fired facilities, that are connected to 80-year-old powerlines that are located 200 plus kilometres away from the user,” says Anouk Kendall, the executive director of the World Alliance for Distributed Energy Canada (WADE).
Kendall works with decentralized energy companies on some of the innovative solutions that are starting to rise to prominence today. More…
The Fast and the Electric
Tesla, the pioneering electric vehicle manufacturer made the news recently and it wasn’t about their cars or their flamboyant founder, Elon Musk. No, Tesla made the news because it paid off $465 million in government loans nine years early.
Not only that but Tesla also reported their first profit in ten years. Tesla is also estimating that it will sell 21,000 units of its Model S, its family sedan, in 2013 and they’re also working on an SUV and a new affordable EV for the masses.
When NAIT, Enmax, the City of Edmonton and the Solar Energy Society of Alberta decided to put on the Future of Transportation Symposium on April 27th it was probably the nerdiest show and shine in the world. There were sessions on making your own bio-diesel fuel and the carbon impact of electric vehicles versus hybrids versus gas powered cars. It was full of early adopters and it’s a funny thing about early adopters – they might get some of the details wrong but when it comes to the broad strokes they are usually right on. And it was also no surprise that the four Teslas on display were the stars of the show. More…
Tags: Electric Vehicles
In search of fuel efficiency nirvana Green Energy Futures goes to the car show
Glitzy graphics, a booming sound system and a fancy curtain drop reveal. This was the big media event that we had been invited to at the Edmonton Auto Show. Alas, we weren’t there to ogle the latest concept truck from Ford.
No, this auto show gave us the opportunity to see how North America’s big auto manufacturers are approaching the marketing and sales of their fuel-efficient electric vehicles and hybrids.
Electric vehicle pioneers
Electric vehicles, or EVs, are still in their early stages of development. Though there are several production models available, but sales are soft, especially in jurisdictions like Alberta where there are no government incentives for the vehicles or charging stations like there are in Quebec, Ontario and B.C.
There are five full-on battery electric vehicles for sale in Canada right now. Only three were on display at the Edmonton Auto Show, the Ford Focus Electric, the Nissan Leaf and the Mitsubishi i-MiEV. The Chevy Volt is an electric car too, but it also has a gasoline-powered generator on board to extend its range. Absent from this show is the best selling electric car for the first quarter of 2013: the Tesla S. More…
Car sharing: Spot a car, rent a car, leave a car
What a difference ten months can make.
On July 21st of 2012 Car2Go came to Alberta. Specifically it came to 93 square kilometers of Calgary’s inner core. The on-demand car sharing service charges $0.38 a minute to use one of its 300 bright blue and white Smart Cars. With over 300 of them it’s easy to find and book a car using a smart phone app. Swipe your member card across a data card reader located behind the wind screen and off you go.
The big selling point here is convenience; gas, maintenance, insurance and parking. Oh yes, parking. In a city with downtown parking rates that are second only to New York in North America the convenience of being able to just drop your car off in any City of Calgary spot is invigorating.
“People have responded amazingly. They’ve embraced it with open arms within the first 60 days for Car2Go in Calgary we had 15,000 people sign up right away,” says location manager Jon Wycoco.
The smartphone wow factor is not to be underestimated. Using the app to find the nearest car and even being given walking directions to the nearest one was pretty impressive. The app even tells you how much gas is left in the tank. Run by Daimler, the group behind Mercedes Benz, Car2Go is also in Toronto, Vancouver and 14 other cities around the world.
They’re also gaining steam – Car2Go has 275,000 members around the world. Worldwide there are 1.7 million car sharing members in 27 countries. Car sharing competitor Zipcar currently sits atop the leaderboard with 767,000 members. More…
Net-zero homes: Evolution or revolution
The highly entertaining documentary “How William Shatner Changed the World” is a must-watch for any Trekkie or technology geek. In it, William Shatner hosts and narrates two hours of exploring the real-life advancements that were inspired by Star Trek.
In case after case Shatner explores the rapid pace of technological development. Things like the cell phone or communicator that were mere fantasy in the ‘60s became reality only a few short decades later.
When it comes to net-zero homes it too is an idea that seems more science fiction than anything, especially in the cold climes of Edmonton, Alberta. A home that produces as much energy as it consumes - well that’s just crazy.
It took a group of 45 people more than two years to build the first net-zero home in Edmonton. Simon Knight is the CEO of C3, a social enterprise that works on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Alberta and was there.
“The first prototype we built in Edmonton, when you went into the mechanical room it was similar to walking on the Starship Enterprise – it was very complex,” says Simon Knight who now is a director with the Net-Zero Energy Home Coalition.
Built back in 2007 the Riverdale net-zero home was a 5,000 square foot duplex. It also had a complex space heating system that depended on an over-built solar thermal set-up with a lot of extra engineering bells and whistles. More…
Lawrence Grassi blazes a low-key but effective energy conservation trail
Lawrence Grassi was a trailblazer. An immigrant from Italy he was a respected mountaineer and guide who built and maintained many of the original trails throughout the mountains around Canmore, Alberta.
Short of stature and eschewing alpine guide stereotypes for suspenders and hobnail boots Grassi was one of the key personalities in Canmore’s early history. And the school that bears his name, Lawrence Grassi middle school, has blazed a trail much in its namesake’s fashion. Nothing too fancy, but a lot of hard work and common sense can go a long way.
Lawrence Grassi middle school is 70 per cent more efficient than a comparable building. The difference in utility bills between it and the 1920s era school it replaced is $120,000 a year. And oh yeah, they did it all on budget.
Home to 391 students between the grades of five and eight (and expanding to Grade 4 next year) Grassi is your typical Canadian mid-size school. There is a wood shop, a teacher’s lounge, portables and the building was commissioned in 2008.
Ken Riordan is the facilities manager for this and five other schools in the Canadian Rockies School Division. His school division also built Banff Community High School, the very first LEED certified school in Canada. He knows how to build an efficient building on a budget. More…
Nanaimo and their waste to energy buffet
Ecologist Peter Marshall put it best.
“Waste itself is a human concept; everything in nature is eventually used.”
Head to a forest and see if you can spot any waste. Fungi are breaking down the dead trees, the leaf litter on the forest floor retains moisture and protects the soil from the sun. Even the droppings from the deer and the rabbits are broken down and used by the eco-system around it.
As a species we’re cottoning on the fact that what we consider waste is often a valuable resource. We’ve featured Edmonton’s waste management system, and Vancouver’s sewage district heating system on Green Energy Futures before, but even mid-size cities like Nanaimo now feature thriving businesses, partnerships and projects that are turning various streams of waste into compost, electricity and carbon credits.
Chris Midgley is the manager of energy and sustainability for the Regional District of Nanaimo. Located on the east coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia the district features the cities Nanaimo, Parksville, Qualicum Beach and Lantzville with around 145,000 people calling it home.
“It's part of a general philosophy around waste where you treat it not as a waste product, but as a resource. Try to recover as much as you can. As a regional district we're responsible for managing all these different streams of waste, so (we) try to find opportunities to generate energy or other benefits from those materials,” says Midgley. More…
The Sunny T’Sou-ke First Nation
During the salmon run the T’Sou-ke First Nation set up their nets on one side of the river and the bears set up shop on the other. And it’s not as acrimonious as you would think.
Respect the bear and the bear will respect you says Chief Gordon Planes. He’s the leader of this small reserve of about 250 people located about 45 minutes southwest of Victora.
It’s with this approach to the world that the T’Sou-ke developed a community plan that led them to build the largest solar photovoltaic project in B.C. and cut their energy use by 75 per cent.
“Our vision is to get back to where our people were dependent on the elements that the creator gave us, and that is the wind, the sun and the tides. We were able to use those energies in the past with a light footprint and I think it's good for us to go full circle and come back to that because I think if anything we all need to do that,” says Planes.
It’s with this approach to the world that the T’Sou-ke developed a community plan that led them to build the largest solar photovoltaic project in B.C. and cut their energy use by 75 per cent.
The T’Sou-ke First Nation embarked on a two-year process to build a new community vision. After dozens of sessions and more than a year of process the T’Sou-ke agreed to focus on four things: More…
Beyond manufactured homes: How robots and innovation are making the home building process more efficient
By 2015, the Landmark Group of Builders says all of its new homes will be net-zero ready. Already Landmark homes have an EnerGuide rating of 82 to 84 and if things go as planned Landmark will make its average home EnerGuide 88 to 89 by 2015. A home rated this high is so air tight and energy efficient that it requires only a small amount of energy production to make it net-zero.
In 2012, the average Landmark Group of Builders home built in Alberta had an EnerGuide rating of 82 and if things go as planned Landmark will make its average home EnerGuide 88 or 89 by 2015. A home rated this high is so air tight and energy efficient that it requires only a small amount of energy production to make it net-zero.
A few weeks ago I toured the Landmark Building Solution facility in Edmonton. That’s really a fancy name for house factory – it’s a spotless, robot-filled showpiece to energy conservation and was more than impressed with the company’s attention to detail and high building standards.
CEO Reza Nasseri is an engineer with a penchant for pushing the limits. He got the inspiration for developing a new way of building homes while touring Germany 20 years ago. More…
Biodiesel: From cruise ship kitchens to tour bus gas tanks
With 17 micro-breweries the 750,000 people who call Vancouver Island home are well served by beer makers. But it’s a different kind of Vancouver Island micro-brew that caught our attention, it’s a plucky little bio-diesel cooperative that went from selling four litre jugs at a farmer’s market to selling between 150,000 to 200,000 litres a year.
As you walk into the Cowichan Bio-Diesel Cooperative’s processing facility in Duncan B.C., it really does look like a microbrewery. Tanks, pumps, hoses and other assorted machinery are all reminiscent of the brew master’s trade. But unlike the yeasty, worty smell that you get at a brewery the bio-diesel processing facility has the faint hint of French fries.
And when you ask a long-time customer about why they spend the extra-money for their home-made diesel she’s got a quick answer.
“I got involved because I wanted to get off fossil fuels,” says Lynn Wytenbroek, a founding member.
And like any microbrewery or small, grassroots organization you need dedicated customers.
“But personally, I prefer to be on 100 per cent as much as possible. I've even driven out to Alberta with the trunk of the car full of biodiesel so I didn't have to fill up at a gas station.” More…
Reduce, reuse, reimagine – How to renew an aging office building
What are the two most common complaints from office workers?
It’s too hot, and, it’s too cold.
Even funnier was that the two complaints were nearly dead even.
These dichotomous complaints are symptoms of a wider problem. Not only do aging, poorly designed office buildings do a terrible job at keeping the people within them comfortable, they are energy sieves that are expensive to operate and maintain.
Canada’s aging office building stock is in a sorry state. They either need drastic overhauls to the mechanical and electrical systems and the building envelope or they need to be torn down.
Tearing down an office building and starting from scratch costs more money, uses more energy, emits more carbon and can take a lot of time that retrofitting and renovating an existing building.
Now an Edmonton architectural firm is helping building owners reimagine and renovate these horribly inefficient, tired, old buildings. The process is called Reimagine and the architects at Manasc Isaac are helping companies renew their old buildings as new, ultra-efficient and highly functional spaces that save energy and are a pleasure to work in.
Tags: Energy Efficiency
The Nest: A polished, slick entry in the programmable thermostat world
When it comes to saving money and growing the economy, energy efficiency isn’t just low hanging fruit, it’s fruit lying on the ground.
As much as I would like to take credit for that quip it comes from former US Energy Secretary Steven Chu. And as long as we’re using the analogy I’d like to think of installing a programmable thermostat as fruit that’s just hanging there at mouth level, needing just a minor turn of the head to lean in and take a bite.
While programmable thermostats have been around for quite awhile the product category has seen a lot of upheaval and innovation in the past few years. Internet connectivity and mobile apps meant people could turn down the heat from across town and keep reliable data on their heating habits.
Nest test drive
Enter the Nest, a learning programmable thermostat designed by the original chief designer behind the iPod. When this maestro of industrial design turned his attention to a fairly ubiquitous (40 per cent of Canadians have programmable thermostats) but unsexy product good things were bound to happen.
According to a study led by the Energy Analysis Department at Lawrence Berkely National Laboratory the majority of programmable thermostat users, 90 per cent in this survey, use their programmable thermostat manually. More…
Tapping (mountains of) trash for landfill gas
Apple cores, pumpkins, Christmas trees and the crusts your mom cut off your sandwich 27 years ago. They all ended up at Cloverbar landfill in Edmonton and as that material breaks down it releases methane.
While the landfill isn’t accepting new waste that methane (which we know from our biogas episode is a valuable resource) can be collected and burned for electricity. It’s called landfill gas recovery and in this case the methane powers a 4.8-megawatt power plant, generating enough electricity to power 4,600 homes.
Neil Burkhard was our very enthusiastic host as we toured Edmonton’s waste management facility, a place that sports a very spiffy landfill diversion rate of 60 per cent. It was 21 years ago in 1992 when Edmonton started sucking landfill gas out of its landfill.
Today there are 60 active wells in the old landfill site and a star-like pattern radiates out from each well to collect the methane. These pipes are 20 metres under the surface and they all feed into a network of pipes that ring the perimeter of the landfill.
What’s collected in those pipes is typically a mixture of methane, carbon dioxide and water vapour. It’s collected by massive vacuum pumps, cleaned up and burned in three different 20 cylinder converted diesel engines. More…
Transforming a steam heating monolith into a green energy Lego system
When you look through the University of British Columbia archives and see photos from the original district heating system being built you can spot Model T Fords in the photos. Now the creaking, turn of the century steam pipes at the University of British Columbia are transforming into a modern, modular low-carbon Lego style hot water system.
The new hot water style heating system at UBC can now integrate renewable energy systems like biomass, geoexchange, solar thermal and waste heat into this natural gas system all because the barrier for entry is lower. The bouncer at the old steam heating system was pretty strict – you had to be 190 C to get in. Now you only have to get the temperature up to 80 C.
While district heating makes a lot of sense on a university campus it’s still not a terribly popular idea in North America. Canada is still a tiny player in district energy and most of the district heating systems in Canada are either university campuses or hospitals.
“District heating is basically a very old fashioned way of space heating. Instead of every building having its own little boiler and forced air systems, this is a hot water based system and you have pipes that take the hot water out from a heating plant and run it through the buildings and then bring it back to be reheated,” says Nancy Knight the associate vice-president of planning at UBC.
Having a hot-water system versus a steam system is the game changer when it comes to adding renewable, lower-carbon heat sources to the system. The turn-of-the-century steam system that’s being replaced operates at high pressure and at around 190°C, the hot water system that’s replacing it works at 80°C. More…
From poop to power: The story of biogas
French fry oil, molasses, donuts and cow manure. No, it’s not the grossest Tim Horton’s ever, it’s called biogas and Canadian farmers are starting to wrap their heads around this farm diversification idea.
Growing up in Alberta it’s pretty hard to forget the smell of fresh manure being spread on a nearby field. That’s why when James Callaghan, a dairy farmer from Lindsay Ontario, first heard about biogas he was intrigued. Not only was it a way to deal with environmental concerns about local water and animal waste but he could diversify his farming operation by generating heat, electricity, animal bedding and a near-odourless fertilizer.
If you haven’t been to a working dairy farm in the past ten years you might be surprised at the technological whizbangery of it all. Stainless steel is everywhere, cows are brought into automated milking stalls on an elevated platform at milking time and in the barn slow moving, automated pooper-scoopers carry the manure away.
This is how it all works at Maryland Farms, a fifth generation dairy farm about two hours east of Toronto. Callaghan is a genial guy who can crack a joke about the last time the Leafs won a Stanley Cup and then in the next minute get into the intricacies of running an underground cooling field with pipes full of hot gas. He runs the farm with his two brothers and two of his sons, who are getting into the business as well. More…
Run-of-river 101 - Human scale hydro
When I first heard of “run-of-river” I had it way wrong, I imagined a thousand little micro-turbines in a mountain creek turning like pinwheels as the water flows by.
It’s more of a kinder, gentler version of bigger hydro power projects – none of the flooding of massive tracts of land.
Don Gamache of Innergex was our helpful guide. Sporting a mountain man beard, 4x4 truck and plenty of warm clothes he’s the plant operator for the Fitzsimmons Creek run-of-river project and two other nearby run-of-river projects.
For Gamache it’s a dream job. He gets to spend time outside in the mountains, enjoying the fresh air and tooling around on snowmobiles to ensure that these multi-million dollar machines run like clockwork.
The Fitzsimmons Creek project is a 7.5-megawatt power plant right in the Whistler Blackcomb ski resort and it produces enough power to cover the annual energy consumption of the site. Not too bad when you consider its 38 lifts, 17 restaurants, numerous snow-making machines and other buildings and services.
And it’s hard work. It’s only Gamache and one other full-time employee (along with two part-timers) who wade through hip-deep snow to check water intakes, monitor oil levels and do the ongoing preventative maintenance that must be done to ensure that a multi-million dollar machine doesn’t smash itself to bits. More…
This could be the greenest building in Canada
While some buildings feature stylish fountains out front, the Center for Interactive Sustainability at UBC features a slick looking glass enclosed waste treatment center.
The Center for Interactive Research on Sustainability, or CIRS, building on the University of British Columbia campus is a building that nearly lives and breathes. This four-story, 60,000 square feet structure practically pulses with life compared to its cold, clammy, inanimate cousins.
It’s a $37-million living laboratory that aims to be more than just a place to go to class or do research. It’s going after LEED Platinum status, but that is the common, humdrum points-based green building certification program that everyone and their mom knows about. They’re also pursuing a Living Building Challenge certification. This certification is so hard to get, there are only three certified living buildings in the world.
A living building is scrupulous in its materials choices and waste diversion and recycling practices during construction and is self-sufficient in water, electricity, heat and waste treatment.
Water, water everywhere
Alberto Cayuelo is the associate director of the UBC Sustainability Initiative and the CIRS building. When he talks about the building he talks about its regenerative nature and the positive relationships it has with the environment around it.
Waste heat - How Vancouver mined its sewage to heat an entire neighbourhood
Like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles we head into the sewers, pizza in hand, to explore a scheme to bathe the city of Vancouver (or at least one neighborhood) in near-boiling hot water.
No it’s not another evil scheme hatched by the Shredder, it’s a district-heating scheme that mines heat from sewage and saves tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.
When you hear energy efficiency nerds talk about waste heat they’re typically talking about the leftover, excess heat from industrial uses. Today we’re literally talking about waste heat – it turns out you can heat 250,000 square metres (with many more to come) with the water that ends up in the sewer.
The False Creek Energy Centre is tucked under the Cambie Bridge in downtown Vancouver with a five-fingered smokestack lit by purple lights marking its position. Its cutesy exterior belies a serious district-heating machine. It goes deep underground and it feels a bit like an ultra-modern cave troll lair from the future. The deeper you go the louder it gets and it would have been foreboding if I didn’t have the helpful Chris Baber giving the tour.
He’s the neighborhood utility manager for the False Creek Energy Centre and is in charge of the day-to-day operations of this sewage heat recovery operation. And for someone who has to deal with sewage all day he’s a pretty cheerful guy.
“Smells like money,” he says standing on a walkway overlooking the wet wells, as tens of thousands of litres of sewage streams underneath our feet. Ok the gunky sewage is pretty stinky, but it wasn’t as bad as I imagined. More…
Why 12 per cent of all trips in Vancouver are by bike – It’s simpler than you think
As anybody who has seen astronaut Chris Hadfield’s incredible images from space can attest, the single most prominent human-made features of cities like Toronto, Windsor or Edmonton are roads. As seen from space the new Anthony Henday ring road forms a dramatic necklace around our home base of Edmonton.
And ever since the 1950s the car has been the accidental architect of our cities. Billions of dollars have been dedicated to roads, overpasses, tunnels and other car infrastructure. As it turns out this infrastructure isn't always friendly to communities, pedestrians, cyclists or public transit-users.
But now there is a serious movement afoot to in Canada’s cities to reduce commute times, cut pollution and save on very expensive roads.
As our country becomes more and more urban it’s clear that while our cities will continue to grow in size and population there’s only so many roads that lead to the places people want to go. This leads to everyone’s favourite way to wile away a few hours a day – traffic gridlock.
As Andrew Coyne says in Macleans “Traffic is slowly strangling our cities.” Increasing traffic uses more fuel, increases pollution and commute times and Coyne quotes a German study which finds that “being in heavy traffic triples your risk of a heart attack within an hour.”
Enter the bicycle. It is the most efficient form of transportation on the planet. You can move five times faster than walking and go three times as far on the same amount of caloric energy. Cars use 50 to 80 times more energy than a bike to travel the same distance and as any public heath expert will tell you North America is suffering from rising obesity rates. More…
What Canada needs to do to become a clean energy superpower
Canada as clean energy superpower – It’s an alluring sound bite. One that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has used, but sadly Canada is more like a gifted but lazy student when it comes to using its powers for good.
Canada has half the population yet is just behind Germany as the sixth largest electricity generation market in the world. Germany is also is the undisputed world heavyweight champion of green energy. In 2012 they installed 32.5 GW of solar and in 2011 they installed 29 GW of wind capacity. In 2011 Canada had one per cent as much, or 289 megawatts of solar capacity, total.
While Germany is a dominant force in the cleantech world, Canada has also only captured one per cent of the $1 trillion worldwide market. And it’s not like we’re not trying. Canada has more than 700 cleantech companies and has a history of being a centre of innovation.
Canada also has plentiful solar, wind, tidal and geothermal resources, Canada has the engineering know-how to follow through and Canada has the entrepreneurial chutzpah to pull it off. And unlike other industries where you might be able to hang back and let another, more ambitious country step into the breech we can’t afford to stand idly by.
Nick Parker is one of the originals when it comes to cleantech investing. The list of organizations, groups and companies he’s been involved in would be too much to go through, but suffice to say he is veteran in the cleantech field. More…
The poop on growing willows as an energy crop
Sewage, biosolids, wastewater, effluent, human waste and night soil – these are all euphemisms for poo, the waste material we produce with near certain regularity.
But instead of looking at it as a burden, as something to be disposed of, why not use it to grow a crop that can heat our buildings, produce electricity or be used for compost? Why not close the loop?
Camrose County, a small county in rural Alberta is doing just that.
If you live in even a medium sized city chances are there’s a modern facility that handles and treats all of your waste. It probably cost several million dollars and employs quite a few people. Small towns, villages and hamlets don’t have that luxury. About 90 per cent of rural municipalities use lagoon systems to treat their wastewater. These are open ponds that are aerated on a regular basis and microbes and tiny invertebrates end up eating the poop and cleaning the water.
As you can imagine these lagoons aren’t the most popular neighbours.
Richard Krygier has spent the last six years working on ways to treat this waste – not with some fancy new whiz-bang process, but with not much more than an irrigation system and a dense stand of willow trees. It’s a low cost, appropriate technology for the problem. More…
Renewable energy everywhere - A year of uplifting green energy stories
When the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland said, “I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date,” he could have been talking about humanity’s transition to a sustainable energy future.
While the pace of our transition to a lower carbon world can be frustrating, we have learned in a short time at Green Energy Futures there are some pretty inspiring and innovative people building a green energy future right now.
Author, Chris Turner laid the task on the table in our opening episode of Green Energy Futures: we need to replace non-renewable energy with renewable energy in the next 50 years.
“We need to move to wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, some small-scale hydro, maybe some large-scale hydro and maybe some nuclear,” says Turner.
While the media seems preoccupied with issues like the oilsands, noisy anti-wind protesters and the political horse race we easily found many amazing people and groups engaged with green energy solutions in their homes, businesses and communities.
One of our most inspiring stories came from an unlikely place, the heart of the oil and gas industry in north eastern British Columbia. When I went to Dawson Creek I was greeted by Councilor Cheryl Schuman underneath a massive 3-megawatt Enercon wind turbine. More…
Nova Scotia's renewable version of the oilsands - tidal energy
Nothing makes you appreciate the power of the ocean more than coming within a whisker of getting tossed into it with a load of camera gear. We were on a zodiac on the Bay of Fundy conducting an interview with Matt Lumley, the communications coordinator for the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy or FORCE, and in the middle of one heck of a spring tide.
In fact it was one of the highest spring tides of recent memory. Of course this all had to be explained in some detail to a land-bound Albertan like me. But it turns out then when the Sun, Moon and the Earth align (called a syzygy) you get a powerful tide. While Lumley held tight to the gunnels of the zodiac, I hit the deck hard. I was grateful to not have ended up in the water but my digital SLR was a useless brick for the rest of the trip.
On an average day about 160 billion tonnes of seawater flows into the Bay of Fundy. That’s more than four times the combined flow of all of the freshwater rivers in the world. We were in the Minas Passage, an area of the Bay of Fundy where the seafloor and the shoreline pinch together. Here, the water goes from moving at about one meter a second to five. It’s like putting your thumb over the garden hose and getting that extra-powerful stream. This is where FORCE decided to put their tidal energy test site.
According to recent models Lumley says there is roughly 7,000 megawatts of potentially extractable tidal energy in the Minas Basin. Of that number, researchers say about 2,500 megawatts can be tapped safely. That’s more than enough electricity for all of Nova Scotia. More…
St. Anne University - The Story of Nova Scotia's Greenest Little Campus
Church Point is a little known dot on the map in rural southern Nova Scotia isn’t exactly a tourist hotspot. I mean it is incredibly beautiful, it’s on the Evangeline trail and it is home to the tallest wooden church in North America, but it’s not exactly Rome or Paris.
But for sustainability nerds it’s an unexpected haven. It’s home to St. Anne University, or Université Sante Anne as it’s known in the Francophone community. This may be the greenest little university in Canada. It’s a small campus, home to about 300 students and it’s also the only fully Francophone campus in Nova Scotia.
While the campus has been green since 2010 the process started back in 2003 when the school was working on a fundraising campaign with some fuzzy thoughts about reducing their electricity costs with a wind turbine and getting Church Point involved in green energy projects.
As part of their municipal district they visited Gussing, Austria. Like Church Point it had had some economic troubles and wasn’t located in a very resource rich area. The town of Gussing developed a model to use local renewable resources to supply its energy needs and actually became a net exporter of energy. Today Gussing produces more heat and electricity than it needs and also produces 8,000 tonnes of bio-diesel a year.
The largest fridge in Western Canada is also super efficient - Walmart's unlikely sustainability story
As you walk past two wind turbines, a rack of solar thermal modules and a large vertical hydrogen tank to get into Walmart’s western Canadian perishable food distribution centre in Balzac Alberta you might think this little ode to sustainability might be over. But head inside and walk down the halls and it’s wall-to-wall educational material on the numerous green initiatives in the building. It’s like walking into an interpretive centre for sustainability.
Some corporate sustainability efforts can be fairly easily thrown into the cynical greenwashing file. And Walmart has certainly suffered reputational slings and arrows for many reasons, but when the largest retailer in the world dedicates itself to a serious sustainability agenda we should probably sit up and notice.
This 37,000 square metre building is the largest fridge in Canada. The building itself is a giant warehouse on the exurban fringes north of Calgary. It has 97 loading bays with round the clock arrivals and departures by semi-trailers who load up fresh and frozen food destined for the 78 Walmart supercentres between Winnipeg and the West Coast.
Can Walmart save the world?
In 2005 Walmart set out some aspirational sustainability goals. They wanted 100 per cent of their electricity to come from renewable sources. They wanted to produce zero waste. More…
Nova Scotia’s green energy plan puts community development, local investment and jobs front and centre
Tour the rolling countryside of Nova Scotia in the fall and it’s like driving right into a post card. The undulating hills are redolent with bright oranges and reds with the odd evergreen to change it up.
Head west of Truro and not only do you get this scenic drive but you’ll find Nuttby Mountain wind farm - the turbines popping up into view quite unexpectedly. It turns out those beautiful, treed hills also mean you don’t see wind farms from miles away.
I am here with Austen Hughes of Natural Forces, a community wind energy developer. We are here to stand in the shadows of wind turbines to talk about Nova Scotia’s community feed-in-tariff program. A program that supports smaller community scale wind and other renewable energy projects throughout Nova Scotia.
The transformation in Nova Scotia from burning dirty, unhealthy coal to cleaner, greener forms of energy has been remarkable. Since coming to power the NDP government of Darryl Dexter has reduced coal-fired electricity from about 85 per cent of the electricity mix to 56 per cent today. A 75 per cent increase in coal costs was a motivator, but local jobs and investment and positive effects on the environment were the icing on the cake.
Nova Scotia is in the midst of the one of the most aggressive energy transitions in North America. “We are moving from having 15 per cent of our electricity come from renewables when we came to power to having 25 per cent by 2015 and 40 per cent renewables by 2020.” More…
Sunny days ahead for solar in Alberta
When you put the words ‘resource’ and ‘Alberta’ in the same sentence you’re usually talking about the kind of resources that get drilled, steamed or dug out of the ground. Oil and gas are king in Alberta but a new report from the Canadian Solar Industry Association or CanSIA says Alberta has the best solar resource in Canada.
However, when you start comparing Alberta to the largest global market for solar energy technology in the world, Germany, it's clear who's got the better solar resource.
Here’s where you play the sad trombone. Sunny Alberta has 1.6 megawatts of installed solar capacity. Germany has around 30 gigawatts of installed solar energy capacity. Thirty gigawatts equal 30,000 megawatts. This means Germany has 18,000 times more installed solar capacity than Alberta.
However, when you compare Calgary’s solar potential to Berlin’s it doesn’t even come close. The yearly photovoltaic potential in Calgary is 1292 kWh/kW. Berlin’s photovoltaic potential is 848 kWh/kW. (Source) This means a one-kilowatt solar system in Calgary will produce 52 per cent more electricity than one in Berlin.
In fact, Calgary has more solar potential than both Rio de Janiero and Rome. And the numbers are even better for southern Alberta cities Lethbridge and Medicine Hat. More…
Staking energy vampires through the heart
Think of Godo Stoyke as a modern day, energy efficiency obsessed version of Van Helsing. He’s ready to slay the power vampires in your home and seek out energy savings big and small.
What’s a power vampire? It’s a device that “sucks energy and doesn’t give you anything in return,” says Stoyke, the director of carbon of C Returns, a non-profit group dedicated to providing a one-stop shop to green homes and buildings.
Stoyke wrote the book The Carbon Buster’s Home Energy Handbook and has been slugging it out in the energy efficiency world for a long time. He recently started C Returns along with partners Shantu Mano and Anna Bubel to help regular folks find experienced auditors, research and select appropriate energy efficient devices, supervise construction, arrange financing and apply for rebates from the various levels of government.
If you own a home or a business and want to use less energy, you should get a hold of C Returns.
But back to the sexy part, the vampires. It turns out these things are ubiquitous. Think of your computers, printers, PVRs, modems, routers, video game systems, cell phone chargers and laptop chargers. Houses can have up 25 of these little power supplies and these energy suckers can account for as much as 10 per cent of your electricity use in a home. More…
Light up Alberta doubles down on solar electricity
To Warren Sarauer putting a solar electric system on his roof was a no-brainer but when some innovative electricity retailers in Alberta decided to offer almost double the going rate for his exported solar energy he was ecstatic.
Sarauer is a big solar energy supporter – through his company Evergreen and Gold Renewable Energy he puts renewable energy systems into people’s homes. But last year he tackled a project that would set an example for his clients, he built a net-zero office.
Sarauer bought an old, fading grocery store in the east Edmonton neighborhood of Newton and completely renovated it top-to-bottom to build a super efficient, solar-powered office for his company.
Today he powers his net-zero office space with a relatively small 8.5 kW solar system. According to the micro-generation regulation in Alberta Sarauer can sell any excess solar electricity to the grid at the same price as he buys electricity, a price that hovers around $0.08 per kilowatt-hour.
But this year a bevy of Alberta’s small boutique energy retailers got together to do something really different. In Alberta’s deregulated electricity market they launched Light Up Alberta, a program that offers a $0.15 a kilowatt-hour rebate for solar electricity exported to the grid. More…
How the humble pumpjack became a green micro-generator
The slow sway of the oilfield pumpjack, or nodding donkey as some call it, is one of the most familiar sights in Alberta. Drive around long enough and they become just another part of the landscape. But a small, innovative company based in Edmonton, Alberta named Canadian Control Works is reimagining pumpjacks as green micro-generators.
A pumpjack is like an iceberg. The vast majority of it is hidden, mysterious and out of sight. Underneath the pumpjack there are two to three kilometers of rod string which can weigh between five and 10 tons. Moving that weight requires a lot of electricity. Canadian Control Works is the group behind the Enersaver, a device which generates electricity from otherwise wasted kinetic energy created by the downswing of a pumpjack.
Think of it like the regenerative braking on a hybrid or electric car.
“If you took all of those pumpjacks, just in Alberta, you’re looking at 300,000 tonnes of steel that’s going up and down. That’s twice the amount of weight of water falling over Niagara Falls every minute,” says David Gray the past-president of Canadian Control Works. “It’s a huge amount of energy that’s out there. Obviously we can’t capture the same amount of energy that you would out of Niagara Falls, but even capturing 10 or 15 per cent of that would be huge.”
In their home province of Alberta 8,000 pumpjacks come online a year and there over 150,000 currently operating pumpjacks in Canada’s most resource rich province.
Renewable Energy Inspiration
Funny enough it was the world of renewable energy that inspired the Enersaver pumpjack controller in the first place. More…
Solar industry veteran gives the skinny on solar manufacturing in Canada
When it comes to solar panel manufacturing the laws of supply and demand may as well be Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.
Just ask the former president of one of the largest solar photovoltaic module manufacturers in Canada.
“You know we’ve coined the phrase solar rollercoaster, it’s had a lot of great moments and a lot of pretty low moments, but it’s been a great ride,” says Milfred Hammerbacher, the ex-president of Canadian Solar Solutions.
As countries all over the world grapple with how best to build out the next generation of clean, green electricity generation infrastructure they oscillate between wanting as much as they can get as soon as possible and industry collapse.
While these bubbles can be locally catastrophic when it comes to jobs and investment the numbers for the world wide production of solar panels look like a simple exponential function from your high school math class.
That graph comes about via the work of manufacturers like Canadian Solar, the parent company of Canadian Solar Solutions. Based in Guelph, Ontario they are one of the largest manufacturers of solar panels in the world. They operate in 11 different countries, made $1.9 billion in revenue in 2011 and shipped 1.32 gigawatts worth of solar panels that same year.
Milfred Hammerbacher is the former president of Canadian Solar Solutions, a subsidiary of Canadian Solar. He’s an affable, friendly guy who got started in the solar industry 24 years ago. His company S2E Technologies is now doing work in Latin America. More…
The electric vehicle has arrived - Why your next car might be an EV
If anyone has any right to be excited about driving around a new electric vehicle it’s Phil Dayson. The man has paid his dues.
He got involved with an electric vehicle company that went belly up and he drove a Selectria, a rebuilt electric version of a Geo Metro for eight years.
So when Dayson took delivery of his Chevy Volt it was like Christmas morning. Six months later Dayson’s excitement and enthusiasm about GM’s first commercial offering in the electric vehicle market is still palpable.
But before we get to the Volt let’s back up to Dayson , the EV pioneer. He owned a company, Commercial Body Builders that constructed the bodies for the Dynasty IT electric car. Dynasty Electric Vehicle Limited was the manufacturer and it was a B.C. based company that raised a ton of money on the Vancouver Stock Exchange, built a factory in Kelowna and even had the provincial government handing out $5,000 rebates per car. Unfortunately when Transport Canada ruled they couldn’t drive on the road due to their low top speed the company floundered.
Dayson acquired the company and ended up selling these cute-as-a-button souped-up golf carts to retirees in the Sunbelt. It was a golf cart with turn signals and some safety equipment. You can still see them on the Dynasty website, but the latest model listed is 2008. The company sold about 200 cars in its time. More…
Financial innovation that doesn't blow up the economy - Learn how to ethically invest in solar bonds
It might actually be easier to fit a camel through the eye of a needle than to find investments that not only produce a healthy return but also contribute to a better society.
Enter Solar Bonds from SolarShare in Ontario. The investment side is solid. A $1,000 bond has a return of five per cent for five years. The kicker? That money is invested in getting solar energy projects up and running in Ontario.
SolarShare is headed up by Mike Brigham, a long-time supporter and advocate of green energy in Ontario.
Very early one morning this summer I joined Mike in his Chevy Volt electric car to head off to Mississauga to view SolarShare’s biggest project. The WaterView Solar Project almost completely covers one hectare of the Daimler North American Bus Manufacturing plant’s roof in Mississauga.
Standing there on the roof in a sea of thin-film solar modules Mike Brigham explained that the WaterView project cost $2.1 million dollars, has 3040 16-foot solar modules and occupies 10,000 square metres of roof space.
Checking a solar app on his smart phone Brigham said “Right now we’re putting out about 75,000 watts,” he says with a grin.
This project is one of 18 that are generating electricity and healthy financial returns around Ontario and only Ontario residents can invest. More…
What is it like to live next to a 136 megawatt wind farm? Get it straight from the horse's mouth
Heidi Eijgel (pronounced eye-gel) is an Alberta horse farmer who lives in the last house at the end of a gravel road surrounded by one of the largest wind farms in Alberta – and she’s ok with that.
She moved to the windy prairie of Pincher Creek from the intensely developed Fraser Valley in British Columbia, attracted to the beauty of the fescue prairie landscape and to be close to her husband’s family.
Their property is called Windy Coulee Canadian Horses and they raise well-trained and tough riding and driving horses. Only an hour away from rugged Waterton National Park they’re built to handle the rough backcountry and Eijgel prides herself on the fact that a 20-mile mountain ride is a cakewalk for her stout, muscular horses.
Heidi trains horses, but she is also passionate about the environment. Her and her husband put a conservation easement on their land to protect the natural fescue prairie and riparian habitats and she can wax lyrical about the health benefits that horses get when eating native grasses.
They even approached a wind energy developer to see if they could have project on their land. Unfortunately, its location ruled it out. Being in a coulee, a deep prairie valley, means the wind is too turbulent for wind energy development. That doesn’t mean it isn’t windy though, it’s enough to knock you over on a windy day. More…
A tale of two wind farms
While British Columbia might have a reputation as a verdant hippy haven it might surprise you to learn that B.C just got its first three wind farms in the last few years.
The story of how wind got started in BC is a tale of two dramatically different approaches to energy development – one a local, community-based energy cooperative and the other a large, corporate energy company.
British Columbia’s Peace region is the economic engine of Canada’s third most populous province. Home to the massive Montney and Horn River natural gas plays companies like Encana and Chesapeake have set up shop and invested hundreds of millions of dollars in people, infrastructure and equipment in order to get their hands on trillions of cubic feet of natural gas.
But there is another resource in the area that is just starting to be exploited. It’s a resource where the fuel costs are zero and will last until the sun decides to go supernova – the wind.
The Peace Region is home to B.C.’s only three wind farms, but the story of how it all got started starts not in some corporate boardroom, but around a kitchen table in Dawson Creek. More…
The transformative power of the feed-in tariff - Meet Ontario's Green Energy Act
Alberta and Ontario are, from an outsider’s perspective, remarkably similar. Their residents sing the same anthem, they drink the same double-double’s and a vast number of people in both places live vicariously through the local hockey team. But in one key aspect Ontario is practically another world. It has embraced renewable energy like nowhere else in North America.
Here’s a bold prediction.
The latest quarterly progress report by the Ontario Power Authority on electricity supply in Canada’s most populous province isn’t destined to be on the bedsides of millions of people. But what this dry, chart-heavy document reveals is the plain fact that starting in 2011 Ontario already had 4,125 MW of renewable energy projects operating and 6,255 MW under development thanks the Ontario’s feed-in tariff (FIT) program.
For perspective Alberta, a pioneer of the wind industry only has 967 MW of wind power operational and comparatively very little hydro or biomass and practically no solar.
Or put another way Ontario is Ontario is installing around the equivalent of the Bruce Nuclear Power Plant worth of renewables. More…
Tags: Renewable Energy
The Butterfly Effect: How a single wind turbine led to Ontario's Green Energy Act
Mathematician, meteorologist and chaos theory pioneer Edward Lorenz was the man behind the butterfly effect. The simple, appealing idea embedded in the analogy that if a distant butterfly flaps its wings a few weeks later you might have a hurricane on your doorstep.
Twelve years ago the Toronto Renewable Energy Cooperative formed with a simple idea – build a highly visible urban wind turbine – and it ended with the most robust renewable energy regime in North America.
Deb Doncaster is currently the executive director of the Community Power Fund and former executive director of the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association. She was involved with TREC almost from the beginning.
“I don’t know that there was a big vision beyond bringing renewable energy technologies into the Ontario marketplace and allowing for diverse forms of ownership. At that point in time we hadn’t envisioned a feed-in tariff program, we hadn’t envisioned a Green Energy Act for Ontario, it was really let’s just introduce windmills and let’s introduce the notion of community ownership.” More…
Dawson Creek – A near carbon neutral city in the middle of northeastern B.C.’s shale gas boom
Dawson Creek is in the heart of oil and gas country in the Northern Rockies and is famously located at Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway. Yet, everywhere you look are signs of green energy. From solar powered speed signs to solar thermal hot water systems on the majority of its public buildings you quickly get a sense that this city is already looking beyond fossil fuels.
The pièce de résistance is the Bear Mountain wind park – 34 wind turbines occupy the western skyline of Dawson Creek like green energy sentinels. The 102-megawatt wind farm consists of 34 German-made Enercon wind turbines that produce much more energy than the 12,000 residents of Dawson Creek need.
Standing in front of one of the giant 78 metre turbines City Councillor Cheryl Shuman smiles wryly when I call it a wind “farm.”
It’s a park not a wind farm she corrects me and rapidly lists off what people use the space for; hiking, climing, picnics, cross-country skiing, ATVing and even birdwatching.
Bear Mountain was the first large wind project in B.C. and it was developed by a local group of people with considerable public support from residents. In Dawson Creek this commitment to green energy is also evident among politicians, city staff and in the city’s award winning efforts to produce renewable energy, increase energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions.
A Happy Accident
Dawson Creek started as an accidental settlement by folks on the road to the Klondike. Settlers slowly drifted in over the years to homestead and take up farming, but people started arriving in numbers with arrival of the Northern Alberta Railway in 1931.
The City’s head of infrastructure and sustainable development Kevin Henderson says it’s these agricultural roots that have ingrained the concept of sustainability into the people of the region.
Passivhaus inspired super efficient new construction in Dawson Creek
Designed by Lukas Armstrong and built by Max Karpinsky this super efficient new home in Dawson Creek was partially inspired by Passivhaus (a super energy efficient German building standard) and partially by a desire to build as sustainable and low impact a home as possible.
Armstrong and Karpinsky wanted to consider as many available strategies as possible while still remaining cost effective. These included the obvious, such as orientation, insulation, and air exchange but also durability, longevity, universal access and toxicity. Almost every detail and choice in the home involved a discussion
Green lighting for dummies – Getting the skinny on LEDs, CFLs and light multiplying fixtures
In 1812 you had to harpoon a 40-ton sperm whale and drain its oil to get a little bedside reading done. In 2012 you can flip on an LED bulb recently created by Phillips that won a ten million dollar prize.
Switching a light switch on and off may have entered society’s collective muscle memory, but the changes that are coming mean billions of dollars in savings and investments as everyone from Walmart to the Jones family makes the switch to LEDs.
According to Natural Resources Canada lighting accounts for about 11 percent of electricity use in a Canadian home. That average Canadian home also has an average of 30 light fixtures and the average Canadian spends about $130 per year on electricity to light their home.
Lighting is also the easiest and best way to use less energy. The return on investment for buying energy efficient lighting is off the charts compared to things like solar panels on your roof. They also have the distinct advantage of being a lot cheaper.
The $10 million dollar lightbulb
There is no better way to illustrate the coming wave in energy efficient lighting than the story of the Phillips Ambient LED.
The Phillips Ambient LED was the very first winner of the $10 million L-Prize, an initiative by the US Department of Energy to accelerate the shift from inefficient, dated lighting to high-quality, high efficiency solid state lighting products.
It took three years for a company to win the very first L-Prize, which aimed to the replace the standard 60 watt incandescent bulb. As the 60 watt bulb makes up nearly half of American incandescent light bulb market it only made sense.
The winning bulb had to recreate the size, dimmability, light pattern and warm white glow of a regular bulb all while being five times more efficient. The trickiest part? Recreating that comfortable color temperature we’ve all grown up with. With early stage LEDs suffering from a cold, bluish cast, the engineers at Phillips came up with an interesting workaround. More…
Geothermal: Learn how a reverse refrigerator heats over 100,000 buildings in Canada
Of all of the sources of green energy, geothermal is probably the least sexy. Solar panels glint in the sunshine and wind turbines spin majestically but there are few evocative descriptors for the humble ground source heat pump.
Once it’s installed there is little visible evidence of its presence in the home except for a few pipes coming out of the basement floor into a furnace-like appliance.
Yet what it lacks in sex appeal it more than makes up for in effectiveness. With over 100,000 ground source heat pumps installed in Canada it’s a proven way to heat and cool homes and buildings.
Geothermal energy is the classic example of an energy supply that is out of sight, out of mind. When student Preetpau Atwal started taking the Alternative Energy Program at NAIT she found that studying geothermal was the most interesting part of her studies.
“It just blew my mind how effective it is – you take energy just sitting there in the ground and you can use it for cooling and heating – it amazes my mind,” says Atwal.
Energy is more than just electricity. Heating a typical single family home in Canada takes up 60 per cent of that family’s total energy consumption. We prefer an ambient temperature of around 20 degrees Celsius. The inside of a natural gas-fired furnace reaches 1,200 degrees Celsius, a ground source heat pump reaches 65 degrees. Which one sounds like the safer, more human scale heating solution?
How six degrees becomes 65 degrees
If you’ve ever dug an outhouse or a foundation you’re probably familiar with the concept of the frost line. Below the frost line the ground doesn’t freeze. If it doesn’t freeze, then by definition, there is heat there.
In fact 46 per cent of the energy that comes from the giant power plant in the sky is stored as heat in the top 150 metres of the Earth as geothermal energy. So from two meters down to 150 meters you have stored, latent energy just waiting to be tapped by an enterprising home or building owner.
So if the heat is there how do we access it?
The answer is a ground source heat pump. A heat pump isn’t exactly the most exotic piece of technology. Everybody already has a heat pump in their home – your fridge. More…
Dan Balaban, the CEO of Greengate Power, is not your typical wind energy entrepreneur
The small, sleepy town of Halkirk, Alberta is home to 121 people. Its biggest claim to fame is being the birthplace of longtime NHLer Shane Doan. Well that and the yearly Halkirk Bullarama, where cowboys take their turn on some pretty rank bulls.
But it’s a different kind of cowboy that has shaken the town up. For the next two years the population of Halkirk will more than double as around 200 workers build the massive 150 megawatt Halkirk wind project.
That’s the kind of effect a wind energy cowboy can have on a town.
Dan Balaban is the president of Greengate Power and a wind energy entrepreneur. He has gone from no experience in renewable energy to cutting deals for the largest wind farms in Canada in five years.
He’s brash, bold and confident and he’s pulling off big projects in a province that doesn’t have any subsidies and has an electrical grid dominated by coal.
“This is the third business that I’ve started up so it’s not my first rodeo,” says Balaban.
A dedicated entrepreneur Balaban got his start running a software company that helped oil and gas companies manage everything from inventory to greenhouse gas emissions. When he sold his company he knew the next thing he wanted to do was in the green space. That was when he started Greengate Power, a privately held wind developer.
You’d think going from the oil business to the wind business would be like trading easy money for a fruit stand in the Okanagan, but Balaban says wind is big business.
“The green industry is one of the best business opportunities of the next decade. In wind energy alone it’s been estimated there’s going to be over a trillion dollars invested in wind energy and related infrastructure over the next decade.”
You don’t get rich opening another neighborhood laundromat and Balaban wasn’t interested in developing just another wind farm. While many other wind companies were wrestling over limited space and transmission capacity in the windy Pincher Creek corridor of Alberta, Greengate headed up the highway in the opposite direction. More…
Net-zero home builders push the envelope
The idea that a home could produce as much energy as it consumes has been a reality for at least five years. Called net-zero homes, cutting edge homebuilders have pushed the envelope and created monuments to efficiency, air-tightness and insulation.
Now comes the slightly less sexy but just as important next step–take the best ideas from the net-zero concept homes and work them into everyday Canadian homes.
Les Wold is a part of this second wave of net-zero home builders. A baby-faced 38-year-old he’s a managing partner with Effect Homes, an Edmonton based homebuilder that currently builds about 10 houses a year.
In a rather serendipitous turn of events Les Wold responded to a community newsletter ad from Jeanette Bowman and Kevin Taft when they were looking for two other families to build net zero homes with.
Together they embarked on the Belgravia Green project to build three super energy efficient homes in the mature Edmonton neighbourhood of Belgravia.
Two attractive, modern infill homes now bookend a net-zero show home with a large solar array in the middle and all three feature different heating systems, which brings home the point that there many ways to get to net-zero.
The big net-zero heating test
While all three homes are airtight and super insulated with R40 foundations and triple pane windows all three homes have different heating systems. This gives Effect Homes the opportunity to see how different heating systems work for future net-zero projects.
All three heating systems have replaced the typical gas-fired furnace. None of these three homes has a gas line connected to it.
House #1: Geothermal heating
Its heating comes from a geothermal heating system that uses a ground source heat pump. It’s easiest to think of this kind of heating system like a reverse refrigerator.
02. NAIT digs deep to fill the green tech knowledge gap
Kolton Kasur sees plenty of green in his future. The 22-year-old from rural Bashaw Alberta is enrolled in a new Alternative Energy Program at NAIT, a polytechnic school in Edmonton.
“I think there’s going to be a huge future in alternative energy as technology develops,” says Kasur. He believes there will be “a constant growing demand for energy as population increases; and there’s always going to be demand for more sustainable energy.”
The green and renewable energy industries are growing rapidly. Wind is growing about 20 per cent per year in Canada, According to the Canadian Wind Energy Association, Canada’s production of wind power is going to double in the next five years. Many people are surprised to learn that there are over 30,000 geothermal heating systems installed in homes and businesses across the country.
NAIT’s Alternative Energy Program aims to help meet this increasing demand. It’s a two-year program that teaches students how to design and install a broad range of green technologies ranging from solar to wind and even exotic technologies like fuel cells.
There is a “definite knowledge gap out there regarding many of the green technologies,” explains instructor Don MacIntyre. He specializes in geothermal energy, a technology that uses the ground as a giant battery, drawing heat in the winter and cold in the summer.
“What NAIT is trying to do in this Alternative Energy Program is bring together a number of leading technologies in the area of green tech – bring them into a single curriculum and give the students enough of a knowledge of all of them to put them into the working world with a genuinely good understanding of how these technologies actually work and work together,” says MacIntyre.
It was NAIT’s past-president, Sam Shaw, who helped establish the renewable energy program. He noticed an increasing number of Albertans were interested in purchasing renewable energy products, but there were few technologists trained to service the industry.
03. Enmax makes solar energy for the masses easy
Karl Kovacs’ bungalow in the Argyll neighbourhood is like many other Edmonton homes – a small front stoop and a tidy front yard on a pleasant tree-lined street. Yet Kovacs’ home offers something different. On his roof, glinting in the bright spring sunshine, are 24 solar-electric modules that generate electricity for the Kovacs’ home.
“This has been something that has been brewing in my head for 20 years. I think since I bought my house. I have always loved solar. I was tinkering around with solar kits when I was a kid at science fairs,” explained Kovacs. “I am also very passionate about the environment.”
Being enthusiastic about solar, doesn’t make it easy to invest in solar. Over the years, Kovacs has made several attempts to install a system on this own. He found it was complicated, expensive, and rife with red tape. That was until last October when Kovacs stumbled upon a solution.
“It was through an internet search. I found this program called … Generate Choice from EasyMax. They had this program running in Calgary and I started pestering them and endlessly calling them until they came and took a look and said yes we’ll do it. That’s how I got involved. This was last October. They did the installation, start to finish in October.”
Off the Shelf Solar Systems
One of Enmax’s goals with the Generate Choice program was to remove every hurdle for consumers who want to invest in solar energy. It’s Alberta’s first “off the shelf” solar program. The process is meant to be as simple as walking into your local grocery store, picking a solar system off the shelf, and plugging it in at home. Or perhaps even a little easier – as there’s no heavy lugging involved.
One of the key objectives is to ensure the program handles the additional costs and permits that often surprise homeowners installing renewable energy systems, says Rob Harris, vice president of distributed generation at Enmax...
01. Green Energy: Chris Turner takes a leap
Author Chris Turner calls it “the great leap sideways, the big jump we all need to take that leads to the brightest possible future.”
The leap Turner is referring to is to replace non-renewable energy with renewable energy in the next 50 years. “We need to move to wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, some small scale hydro, maybe some large scale hydro, and maybe some nuclear.”
Inspired by the attention that wasn’t being paid to climate change Turner started writing about solutions instead of problems.
And that is the idea and purpose behind the Green Energy Futures series. We will seek out and tell the stories of people engaged with green energy solutions in their homes, businesses and government.
My own inspiration for the series came while serving on the City of Edmonton’s Renewable Energy Task Force. I was very surprised to learn about all of the exciting green energy initiatives that we don’t hear about. I realized that interest in green energy is very high and that it cuts across traditional ideological lines.
Chris Turner inspired many people with his first book, The Geography of Hope. Like his latest book The Leap, it’s focused on telling the stories of the people who are succeeding in implementing green energy solutions. We caught up with Chris Turner in Calgary, Alberta.
“The core idea in The Leap is going all the way in your thinking,” explains Turner.
“The grand narrative of the industrial revolution is in some ways about people seizing opportunity,” said Turner. Today that opportunity is in renewable energy where not only can we seize a sizable economic opportunity but avoid catastrophe at the same time.
Whether motivated by climate change, the finite nature of non-renewable resources like oil or a sense of pragmatism that sees diversification of the global energy supply as a good idea, we are in the midst of a great energy transformation.
Alberta’s “Gas City” looks to the sun to start a sustainable energy revolution
Medicine Hat is known as the “Gas City” — it’s even on their signs.
About four years ago, a new crop of city Aldermen decided to look to the future and inject a little sustainable energy into their natural gas-fired electricity supply. They set $1 million aside and called the program “Hat Smart.” They even bought an efficient little Smart Car for their staff to drive around in. Hat Smart provides financial incentives for solar and other renewable energy and energyprojectsundertaken by residents, community groups and businesses.
Within the first few years, more than 2,700 utility customers came out to energy efficiency seminars put on by the City — that’s 10 per cent of the ratepayers of Medicine Hat.
Sure, it helped that they received $100 coupons for energy audits just for attending, but the turnout was strong and the seminars paid off. More…
Solar powered dentist
Dr. King wanted to do something to reduce his dependence on non-renewable energy, so he called Rick Dunsmore of Goose Creek Renewable Energy and convinced his two independent partners to each install 10 kilowatts of solar power on their shared building . More…
Tina Regehr, citizen greener
When the City of Medicine Hat called Tina Regehr and asked if she wanted to get a solar system as part of a pilot program with ENMAX, she thought she’d “won the environmental lottery.” More…
Medicine Hat's solar powered menswear store
When you walk in Steve Moore’s store “Stu Moore Clothiers” in the heart of downtown Medicine Hat, Alberta, you might think it’s Larry King himself standing behind the counter. The only thing missing is the suspenders. More…
Built Green with geothermal - heat in winter, cool in summer
When you walk into Donald Cranston’s home in the Medicine Hat community of Ranchlands, you are struck by the cool air circulating through this very quiet home that overlooks the beautiful South Saskatchewan River. More…