July 10, 2009
Smart meters can provide real-time readings of energy use, providing more detailed information than conventional meters. Many energy companies throughout North America and Europe are in the process of replacing manual meter readings with these instant, automated systems.
If consumers know the time-of-use prices for its energy consumption, the hope is that they will think twice before doing a load of laundry or running the dishwasher during peak evening hours. The long-term goal will be to reduce overall electricity demand, therefore requiring less generating capacity.
Smart meters can cost anywhere from $250 to $500 depending on features. Critics argue that the cost of installing the new smart meters does not justify the expense, especially when used by low energy consumers, such as homeowners.
The cost of managing old meters is about 50 cents per unit, compared to the nearly $5 per unit for the smart meters. Although expensive to install, the idea is that meters will save money by eliminating the process of sending paid employees on-site to manually read or manage the meters.
Energy savings are expected to be around 10 percent per household, but in order for the system to be truly effective, the smart meters need to be coupled with a sliding pricing rate and data feedback to consumers.
With cooperation and ingenuity, smart meters can be another effective step towards reducing energy consumption.
July 7, 2009
Worldwide, households are rejoicing: the smart fridge is finally here! Do smart fridges make dinner, notify you when the milk needs replacing, or keep a grocery list?
Well, no. But they will save you money. And that’s nearly as good.
Refrigerators are big energy suckers and account for 36% of electricity consumed by all domestic appliances. But if a fridge gets a brain, it will know when to adjust power use to match needs of the grid without us having to lift a finger.
Energy efficient refrigeration can use up to 70% less energy than existing, less efficient models. By redistributing the energy load more evenly, extra power stations won’t be needed to keep the grid stable, allowing more opportunity to use alternative energy sources.
Say it’s time to defrost the fridge. The fridge will do it for you, and save money by delaying the task from happening during peak energy usage hours. So you’ll pay for the same amount of energy at a lower rate later in the day. And your fridge will defrost itself while you’re in bed watching the Late Show.
But wait! There’s more!
Smart fridges have cousins and cute brothers that will also be joining the party. Soon, smart washers, dryers, dishwashers and ranges will be available, complete with displays that notify users of rate changes and critical peak pricing to avoid energy use at those times.
“Sorry dear, dinner is late because the stove won’t turn on.”
July 3, 2009
As the summer months heat up, so does the energy grid.
Air conditioning use is in highest demand on sweltering weekday afternoons. So what’s the solution? In both Canada and the US, governments are offering a Peak Saver program. Consumers are given a free programmable thermostat which is also installed and programmed free of charge.
It gives consumers the power to adjust their energy consumption, automatically reducing consumption when no one’s around. Out of the home or office unexpectedly? No problem—the thermostat can be adjusted via the Internet.
And in the blistering heat, utility companies like Hydro Ottawa, also have the option to “cycle” or remotely access your air conditioning unit to reduce electricity use for short periods of time. Generally, it means that the compressor gets turned off for about 10 minutes each half-hour.
The fan continues to run, meaning that the change in temperature is hardly noticeable. The temperature inside generally falls no more than 2 degrees. So utility companies can manage the sweltering heat outside without having to activate more power plants, and still keep consumers cool and happy on the inside.
Even better, energy savings can be as much as 10%, so there won’t be any blistering energy bills that leave you hot under the collar.
June 12, 2009
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says that approximately 15 percent of the world’s food is grown in urban areas. This number is expected to rise as the population increases, food prices sky-rocket, and environmental awareness swells.
But in places like Cuba and other developing nations, the new Green Movement is old news. When the Soviet Union fell apart in the early 1990s, Cuba’s oil supply was cut off, reducing rations of imported foods. Cuba was forced to become self-sufficient and began planting thousands of cooperative gardens. They have been hitting pay dirt ever since.
Cuba may have been forced to go green, but now busy cities in North America are starting to pay attention. Vertical urban gardens are blooming on rooftops, beside parking lots and in vacant and abandoned spaces. Some architects are even beginning to design urban buildings to incorporate these rooftop gardens right from their inception.
And this ‘growing trend’ is catching on in Egypt, Singapore and Russia. Increasing oxygen production in some of these congested areas is nothing to cough at either. Energy, economic and environmental payoffs make vertical farming such a fruitful solution.
Vegetables and chickens: coming soon to a rooftop near you.
June 8, 2009
What do you get when you cross an environmentalist, an industry chairperson and a former politician? Well, you could probably think of a few answers to this, but if you put a whole group of them together, one answer could be QUEST (Quality Urban Energy Systems of Tomorrow).
It might sound like an odd group of people, or “strange bedfellows” as Shahrzad Rahbar, Vice-President, Strategy and Operations of the Canadian Gas Association (CGA), describes it. But it’s an important mix of people, especially in light of what the group is trying to do. QUEST believes the need for action on climate change must be factored in to urban design and that Canada’s GHG reduction targets can be met through integrated energy systems throughout all of Canada’s communities. QUEST’s holistic view of urban planning includes energy systems that accommodate multiple energy types and long term planning that reduces the urban carbon footprint, such as higher density development, properly matching energy types with energy use, managing surplus heat and converting waste into energy. It’s a big-picture approach that will take time for governments to embrace. But the ball is rolling. Fast.
Let’s go back to the beginning. About two years ago, CGA had been involved in a series of conversations with the federal government regarding mitigating climate change and reducing the industrial carbon footprint of the energy ‘distribution’ sector. It was an ongoing conversation in which one important factor was soon realized to be missing from the equation. “You see, in the gas world, two-thirds of emissions are from end-use and one third is from exploration, production, transmission and distribution,” explains Rahbar. “The distribution piece of that one third is less than one per cent. So we had an ongoing conversation about managing reductions in the less than one per cent of the oil and gas upstream side.”
Initially, CGA had very little luck in generating a fruitful conversation with the government about this end-use piece of the equation. QUEST started out as nothing more than a conversation between Rahbar and Ken Ogilvie, former executive director of the NGO, Pollution Probe. CGA initially approached Pollution Probe to see if they felt their concerns about the demand piece of the GHG equation were valid and to see if it was worth trying to spark a serious conversation. Turns out it was.
Both Ogilvie and Rahbar turned to their own networks for support and insight into the “end-use” concept of GHG mitigation and eventually, what was an informal nod of agreement by many heads, turned into a focused, productive and official brainstorming session in Niagara on the Lake, that later resulted in QUEST’s first white-paper on the subject. Participants walked out of that meeting with a reenergized conviction of the importance of “end-use” in conversations about emission reduction. “We knew the solution was to have an integrated approach to land-use, transportation, water, waste and energy,” said Rahbar. “Good things happen when you look at those things as a whole instead of the silos we have been viewing them as.”
Ogilvie, a former competitive chess player, relates QUEST’s proposition to his game of choice. “It’s one thing to know how all the chess pieces move and to start moving them individually,” explains the QUEST consultant, “but it’s another thing to understand that the pieces can work together harmoniously and you’ll be playing a much more sophisticated game.”
From Ogilvie’s perspective, after walking out of the Niagara-on-the-Lake meeting, one of the big challenges wasn’t necessarily getting participants to recognize the need for a holistic, integrated view on sustainable communities, but rather figuring out how to coherently bring everything together. During that first meeting, QUEST didn’t even exist as an official organization and all the participants had come from disparate backgrounds; there were people working on green buildings and net zero energy homes, leaders of associations for solar, wind and biomass as well as big players like Ontario Power Generation.
“We had a big idea of what we were shooting for but no real coherence,” explains Ogilvie, adding that if someone is an executive director of an association, it is that person’s job to help its members by lobbying for good policy and providing technical support. But it’s not that person’s job to go and plan an urban centre. “As an association leader, you may be aware of how different technologies can and should work together, but your mandate is dealing specifically with your own technologies. So who would try to quantify some of the benefits of integration, get politicians interested and disseminate the information?”
QUEST would. And it did. The organization continued to grow, albeit organically with no fixed organizational structure or budget. When the organization began, there wasn’t as much of an appetite for the end-use discussion, and now, three years later, the policy landscape has shifted. Governmental entities such as the Ontario Minister of Energy and the House of Commons Standing Committee on Natural Resources are actively listening to QUEST’s ideas. Cities like Guelph, Ontario and Vancouver, British Columbia are already making efforts towards accomplishing integrated energy systems. Karen Farbridge, Mayor of Guelph, is piloting a Community Energy Plan that shares the QUEST mission and vision and has major utility companies on board. She is preparing a guide so the knowledge sharing process between cities can begin.
Today QUEST is chaired by Mike Harcourt, the former Mayor of Vancouver and 30th Premier of B.C. Harcourt’s first interaction with QUEST was the Niagara-on-the-Lake meeting but prior to that, in 2003, he was part of a Canadian team in the International Sustainable Urban Systems Design Competition which was held in Tokyo. The competition’s focus is planning for long-term sustainability and Harcourt’s team, Cities PLUS, ended up winning the competition. The team, which was sponsored by CGA, used Vancouver as a model to demonstrate the transformation of a large urban centre into a sustainable community.
“We put together a document that showed how you could pick the future you want,” says Harcourt, who was asked to Chair QUEST last year. “The idea is, instead of forecasting where a given city will be in the future, we did backcasting where you pick your future and work backwards to create the path you need to get there.”
So how far into the future is the energy utopia that QUEST envisions? “I think it’s going to happen very quickly, like before 2020,” says Harcourt, adding that within ten years he envisions a dramatic change of attitudes among consumers that will be analogous to changing perceptions about smoking. A few decades ago, the Marlborough Man was considered cool. Now that people are aware of the harmful affects of smoking, it is very uncool to smoke. “The same thing will happen to people that drive SUVs and live in big mansions in the suburbs that can’t be served by transit,” Harcourt adds. “People will think ‘What? You live like that?’”
In fact, the shift has already started. According to Harcourt, 75 per cent of new housing construction around Vancouver over the last 15 years has been multiple family and only 25 per cent have been single family. “You’ll see people living close by to where they work, play and shop, and in very attractive apartments in green buildings that use different energy approaches. It will be a cool way to live for a mass majority of Canadians.”
But for many other parts of Canada, we still have a ways to go. Take Rahbar’s neighbourhood for example. A few years ago she moved into a suburban community in Ottawa and she’s noticing an increasing number of the ironically named “smart centres” replacing open fields; “You know the ones that have these huge box stores, that in order to get from one store to the other you have to drive,” explains a flustered Rahbar. “I’m cognizant that my choices as an individual are pretty limited. I’ve got the programmable thermostat and the curly bulbs and I feel good about them, but the impact is nothing. The big difference lies in your land-use patterns, transportation models and energy systems.”
Ken, on the other hand, is lucky to be living parts of the dream now in his compact mixed-use community in Toronto. He and his spouse haven’t needed to own a car for six years because everything is connected by transit. “I think I have a magnificent quality of life because I go out the door and know the shop is down the road and I know people down the street,” says Ken proudly. “Not everyone is lucky; they have families so not everyone can get rid of a car. But what we can do is start designing our communities so they make it easier for people to make individual choices that make a difference.”
So with all the support the group is receiving and all the changes happening around Canada, what exactly is the group up to now? Well, after the Niagara-on-the-Lake workshop was a second Victoria B.C. workshop in fall of 2008 where participants labored to transform solutions from the realm of examples to the realm of actions. The organization has produced several white papers and the latest one makes use of scenario planning to determine the big “what’s next.” The two outcomes of that ended up being implementation and value measurement.
“So with implementation we leverage the policy attention that we are now getting federally, provincially and municipally into facilitating the actors that need to come together to make this happen,” explains Rahbar. The next stage is quantifying the benefits, which includes identifying suites of policy measures required to transition towards integrated energy systems.
In 2009, QUEST will continue its efforts by engaging economists and policy makers across Canada with engineers and academics to do the actual transportation, land-use and economic modeling required to move forward.
“The real challenge now is implementation,” says Harcourt. “It’s a whole different way of thinking and acting but I think it’s going to happen very quickly. There is urgency. We have a planet to save.”
May 14, 2009
If you were challenged to unplug any unused electronics for the rest of the summer or to only wash full loads of laundry, would you say, “Count me in”? What about installing a ground-source heat pump?
As Ontario gears up for its second province-wide Energy Conservation Week, the Ontario Power Authority is hoping 250,000 Ontarians will step up to the challenge and say “Count me in!” It’s part of an awareness campaign that aims to educate Ontarians about energy conservation and some practical tips to transform awareness into action.
“Electricity is hard to visualize,” says Tim Taylor with the Ontario Power Authority. “It’s not like gasoline where you see it going into the tank. It’s invisible, so we wanted to do something that would make it visible so Ontarians can understand the impact of their own individual use.”
Energy Conservation Week, which runs from May 17 to 23, is just the beginning of a larger four-month initiative to promote action around saving energy.
“Our first year of this initiative was fairly modest. Our surveys results showed that three-quarters of respondents were aware of Energy Conservation Week and that half participated in some way,” explains Taylor adding that the awareness goal of 2008 had been accomplished but that the OPA wanted to make the 2009 initiative one of awareness and action. “As summer is the time that people use the most energy, we decided to use the week as a launching pad for an energy conservation summer that invites Ontarians to fill out a pledge and commit to one or more energy saving techniques.”
So how does it all work? Ontarians are invited to visit the website and fill out the Count Me In Pledge and select one or more of 100 energy saving tips as part of a personalized energy conservation plan. For example, under the ‘Home’ section, Tip # 26 is ‘Hang my clothes outside to dry’. That seems simple enough, but they range in difficulty. Tip # 19 is ‘Landscape for energy savings’ which includes planting coniferous trees on the north side of one’s home to protect from winter winds or to plant deciduous trees to shade the south-facing windows in the summer.
Pledge participants can choose to pick any one or multiple tips that suit their life situation. Tips are also classified according to lifestyle. For example, the ‘parents and caregivers’ section includes simple tips for kids, such as ‘Decide what I want before opening the refrigerator door (Tip # 68). The ‘work’ section includes tips for both employers and employees.
“Lots of people are indicating interest and we believe the goal of getting 250,000 Ontarians to fulfill their pledges is attainable. It represents five per cent of the households in the province,” says Taylor.
The awareness-raising initiative will end with a community-wide challenge that takes Earth Hour to a whole new level. On August 14, which is the anniversary of the 2003 Ontario blackout cited as one of the most widespread electrical blackouts in history, participants will do everything they can to reduce their power use for an entire day.
For Canadians not living in Ontario, making a personal pledge to reduce energy conservation is something everyone should be doing all year around. The 100 tips outlined on the website are also a useful tool for inspiring energy conservation across the country.
April 8, 2009
Canadian Nuclear Association Annual Conference Report 4
For all that it’s a key component of Canada’s economic health, energy evidently is not a “top of mind” issue nationally, according to a brand-new opinion Ipsos poll commissioned by the Canadian Nuclear Association.
However, in presenting his findings at the latest CNA conference and trade show, John Wright, senior vice-president of Ipsos Public Affairs, explained that the national perspective overshadows significant regional awareness of energy issues in general and nuclear power in particular.
The Ipsos research tracks overall attitudes about nuclear energy in Canada for at least two decades and the latest poll of 2,200 Canadians, which has margin of error of +/-2.1 per cent, was completed February 17.
Nibbling through the polling data for an attentive audience, Wright noted that the economy topped the list of concerns at 65 per cent of those polled. Government politics trailed a distance second at 27 per cent, fixing health care was third at 19 per cent, followed by environmental protection at 13 per cent, unemployment at 12 per cent, social issues such as poverty at five per cent, and education at four per cent. International affairs rounded out the list of specified concern at a lowly three percent.
But energy was clearly “not on the radar screen at the moment”, at least as far as national issues were concerned, but it was significantly different at a regional level, particularly in those provinces with large energy resources or contemplating development.
Energy popped up in sixth place with 13 per cent awareness when respondents were asked about provincial issues. That trailed the economy (30 per cent), health care (29 per cent), environment (18 per cent), jobs/unemployment (16 per cent), and education/schools (14 per cent).
Asked whether they felt there was enough electricity in their provinces to meet future needs, 55 per cent of the national sample agreed “strongly” or “somewhat.” Quebec, with its abundant hydroelectric resources, topped that list at 83 per cent while confidence was lowest in Ontario at 43 per cent.
Conservation often is touted as a panacea for growth energy demand, but fully 63 per cent of the national sample were concerned that wouldn’t be enough, the corollary being that more energy production had to be put on line. The fundamental pessimism was widely shared across the country, ranging from 59 per cent in Ontario to 68 per cent in Quebec.
When it came to choosing ways to supplement energy supplies, 97 per cent preferred solar power while 95 per cent would opt for wind generation, 91 per cent hydro, 75 per cent natural gas, 48 per cent nuclear and 24 per cent coal.
The poll results showed that support for nuclear power has been steady compared with other sources, prompting Wright to declare that “the workhorse is nuclear power” even though opinion remains deeply divided with 16 per cent of the national sample “very much in favour” and 28 per cent “very much against.
Support is understandably highest in Ontario, which has the largest number of power reactors in the country, but Wright said that the current level of 67 per cent is likely the ceiling. The only times it has lagged has tended to be when there are reactor-specific issues such as units being taken off-line for upgrading and refurbishing (U&R). That has been the case for much of Ontario’s nuclear capacity, where U&R costs tended to balloon beyond initial estimates and the time needed to do the work meant that generating capacity was off-line for extended period.
U&R of current reactors was clearly preferred over construction of new units in the latest polls, 67 per cent against 49 per cent. In Ontario, although support for U&R has consistently been near or above 70 per cent, a vocal minority has been building in recent years. Support for added capacity in the form of new reactors also has been highest in Ontario.
The good news for the CNA and its myriad suppliers is that 38 per cent of Canadians in the latest poll feel that nuclear energy should play more of a role, bolstered by 35 per cent like the status quo — a total of 73 per cent. And while critics obviously don’t want to hear it, that generally positive image is reflected right across the country.
Wright attributed the continued support to renewed public confidence” in the fundamental safety of the Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. unpressurized heavy-water reactors which have been the unit of choice for Canadian utilities. He suggested that once the public is given all the information – not just the naysayers’ claims – it will tend to come down on nuclear’s side.
“Support nationally rose by 10 points after they’d heard all the arguments for and against,” he said, adding that the “hard” opposition has been diminishing. “The public opinion battle has already been won in key constituencies,” he said.
Even so, he urged the industry to maintain a “steady drumbeat of dialogue and communication” with the public to ensure that investments today in nuclear power will help to address any concerns about security of energy supply while improving the Canadian energy network’s reliability and environmental records. “Nuclear will always be an important part of our energy mix,” he said.
February 18, 2009
While Canadians are clearly “greener” than they used to be in terms of energy consumption, we evidently still have plenty of room for improvement. That’s the indication from the results of Statistics Canada’s latest Households and the Environment survey. A biennial collaboration with the Environment and Health departments, the survey was initiated in 1991 and the latest is based on data collected from more than 21,000 households between late last year and early this year.
“Rising energy costs and environmental concerns about the need to reduce energy consumption provide incentives for households to adopt energy conservation measures,” the agency says in an introduction to the survey, which is downloadable. Request Catalog No. 11-526-X.
“Lowering the temperature by just a few degrees at certain times of the day is one way Canadians can reduce their energy consumption,” it says, noting that the heating season can last up to 10 months in some regions.
Of the nearly 12 million households with at least one thermostat, 42% have installed the programmable kind. However, 16% apparently couldn’t be bothered or were unable to actually program them.
Another potential energy-saver is a federal proposal, announced in April 2007, to introduce national lighting efficiency standards by 2012 with a view to phasing out less-efficient lighting. Some 84% of respondents to the latest survey indicated that they had installed at least one type of energy-saving light in their homes, the most common option evidently being compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) despite concerns about appropriate disposal due to mercury in their ballasts.
With forced-air furnaces being the heat source of choice in 53% of Canadian homes, filter maintenance remains a critical element of efficiency. Two-thirds of the 2007 respondents said they changed filters at least every six months while others changed them every three months or more frequently. Fully 22%, however, admitted they changed filters only once in the preceding year and 5% had not done so.
Worryingly, 6% indicated they had no idea when their furnace filter was last changed.
January 19, 2009
The (slightly paraphrased) words of another popular young president is exactly the advice President-Elect Barack Obama is taking to heart. While the original Kennedy speech was in the context of the Cold War, Obama is taking on a different struggle – that of climate change, and environmentalism.
The best way to lead is by example, and that’s exactly what Obama intends to do. Part of his economic stimulus plan, Obama intends to overhaul the federal buildings to make them energy-efficient.
Beyond upgrading insulation and solar panels, Obama made it clear that the basic principles of energy conservation will apply to America’s First Family too. Obama told Barbara Walters in an exclusive television interview: “each of us has a role to play in not being wasteful when it comes to energy.”
Obama specifically mentioned the utility of turning off the lights when away from home, and unplugging cell phone chargers when not in use. Obama even went so far as to sit down with the White House’s chief usher to prepare an energy-use evaluation for the White House.
Is this a shallow move, or a rearguard action against future smear campaigns? Maybe. But one thing is clear: Obama is setting an example, rather than just giving a lecture.
Do as I say, not as I do? That never lasts for long. It’s time for change.
January 9, 2009
The Daily Green is highlighting 15 New Year’s resolutions that can help you conserve energy, protect the environment and create less waste. Here’s a selected look at actions you can take to put a green glow on 2009.
If you overindulged during the holiday break, get back on track by promising to recycle and choose recycled goods, like the Nahui Ollin Overturned-Tootsie Pop Candy Wrapper Tote or the recycled Wine Bottle Coat Rack from the Green Glass Company.
On the home front, resolve to have a greener kitchen, bathroom and laundry. Save energy in your kitchen by running your dishwasher only when it’s full and use the air-dry setting instead of heat-dry. Tune up your fridge to ensure peak efficiency by cleaning the condenser coil and when you grocery shop, use reusable bags.
Put a fresh green spin on laundry Mondays by resolving to line-dry your clothes or if you need to use the dryer, make sure the lint filter is clean (a new hobby!), the load is full, the timer is working and wet clothes are not added in the middle of a cycle. Save additional energy by washing clothes in cold water, or if really soiled wash them in warm instead of hot water.
In the bathroom resolve to fix that leak in your toilet and buy recycled paper products. A switch to facial tissue and toilet paper made with recycled content (recycled fiber and post-consumer recycled content) could have a big impact on the environment. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that if every household replaced one box of virgin fiber facial tissue with 100% recycled tissue and one roll of virgin fiber toilet paper with 100% recycled TP, we could save 586,900 trees.
That’s got to be getting close to saving a forest.
Are you celebrating the New Year with any energy savings resolutions?