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One Shift at a Time – Gamification for Energy Transition

The Newtonian Shift drops you into the outdated, inefficient, polluting Newtonia. You may find yourself working for a utility, or a bank. Or maybe you are a First Nations leader, oil and gas producer, or the director of an environmental non-profit. As the population grows and the impacts of climate change become impossible to ignore, the leadership and citizens of Newtonia call on actors across the system, including you, to work together to transform your country’s energy system into one that is sustainable and able to meet the needs of the future. It’s up to you to make it work while dealing with outages, supply disruptions, and shifting political winds. If this sounds familiar, you’ve been paying attention.

 The Newtonian Shift is one of the key tools employed by the Energy Futures Lab, an awardwinning, multi-stakeholder initiative to accelerate the transition to the energy system that the future requires of us. Launched publicly in early 2015, the lab is powered by The Natural Step Canada, in collaboration with the Suncor Energy Foundation, Energy Efficiency Alberta, the Alberta Real Estate Foundation (AREF), the Government of Alberta, Shell, ATB Financial, RBC, the Calgary Foundation, and the Landmark Group of Builders. The initiative also involves dozens more organizations in an unprecedented series of innovative partnerships and collaborations. AREF’s support, from 2016 to 2018 has enabled the EFL to play a prominent role in reframing a broader public narrative about energy, and introduce alternatives to the polarized debate that all too often dominates conversations around energy issues. The grant has enabled the EFL to scale and reach over 4000 Albertans over the past two years through its EFL Leadership Bootcamps, Energy Future Showcase event, public receptions, and especially the Newtonian Shift energy transition simulation.

The Newtonian Shift has proven to be a powerful tool that helps people engage with the complexity of energy issues through gamification. “You can talk or read about a system, but The Newtonian Shift gives you the visceral experience of being at the centre of change. It’s fun, it’s intense, and provides real insights.” Cheryl De Paoli, Executive Director of AREF. The feedback of over one thousand participants has helped to pinpoint a few of the aspects that make the Newtonian Shift so effective:

A Platform for Experimentation.

We can try things in a game that we cannot just try in real life. We’ll never design a perfect model of something as complex as Alberta’s energy system, but our ability to run experiments in the real world is extremely limited. Being able to play out interventions over years and across an entire system, even in simulation, can help us to identify promising avenues to pursue in the real world, or understand why an initiative that might seem promising could face unforeseen barriers.

Perspective Shifting.

Games let us be someone else. Over the course of a career we can only have so many jobs, and we may not all get the chance to be the CEO of a major corporation, manage a cleantech startup, or negotiate on behalf of a First Nations community. Participants have come from across Alberta’s energy system, bringing their own unique points of view. Some may even recently have seen each other as adversaries, but now they’ve been brought together to collaborate. What they are quickly realizing, and what the Newtonian Shift drives home, is that things often look very different from the other side of the table.

Experience of the Transition

In a game you don’t just learn something, you live it. The Newtonian Shift gives participants the visceral experience of what a transition is like and the type of collaboration that is needed in order to make it happen. The bird’s eye view and time compression of the game world allow participants to feel the system and the shift. Interrelations and dynamics are revealed and internalized in a way that can’t be achieved through readings, presentations, discussions or clever facilitation.

Runs of the Newtonian Shift are taking place in communities, academic institutions and some of Alberta’s leading businesses. One of the next times the game will be run will be as part of the Energy Futures Roadshow pilot scheduled for September 2018 in Crow’s Nest Pass. If you are interested in hosting a session of The Newtonian Shift, visit our website or email nalguneid@naturalstep.ca.

How much money can your energy efficiency improvements make you?

Have you ever wondered how much money you can get from the Government for upgrading your home to be more energy efficient? The Alberta Real Estate Association (AREA) has partnered with the Pembina Institute to create an interactive map that outlines what Government rebates are available for homeowners improving energy efficiency in their homes.

The map showcases the three different levels of rebates for homeowners: Municipal, Provincial, and Federal. All three levels are listed with appropriate links to information on how to take advantage of these energy efficiency rebates. Rebates can range from $50.00 to $10,000. The map not only tells homeowners how much money they can receive from improving energy efficiency, but also what types of home improvements are available, from a home energy audit to dual flush toilets.

Keep checking the AREA website for more energy efficiency incentives, opportunities, and information.

EnerGuide: How does your home rate?

Smart Home Series: Part 6

By David Dodge and Scott Rollans

Image: Brian and Laura Finley review their EnerGuide assessment that outlines what they can do and how much energy they can save by making energy efficiency improvements to their home. Photo David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures.ca

Most energy-conscious Canadians wouldn’t buy a new appliance without checking its EnerGuide label to see how it rates. EnerGuide labels for homes are starting to catch on with energy efficient new home builders. But, did you know you can get an EnerGuide assessment for your existing home?

Edmonton real estate broker Brian Finley decided to do just that. He hired Jeff Paton of Sunridge Residential to evaluate his 1956 home. Brian had two motives. As a real estate agent, he wanted to learn about energy rating systems for homes. But, as a homeowner, he wanted to better understand how his house was using—and undoubtedly wasting—heat and electricity.

Bracing for rough news

Brian realized his house, at 61 years old and counting, would show drastic room for improvement. For the EnerGuide assessment, Paton began with a visual inspection—measuring the home and counting the windows. Once inside he quickly uncovered some obvious shortcomings—such as the old-fashioned wood shavings that insulated Brian’s attic. “Cellulose or fiberglass insulation would do a much better job and have a higher value per inch. So, that would be recommended for this attic,” he said.

High-tech tools

Next, Paton unpacked his technical gear. The blower door test involves sealing the front door with a red fabric and de-pressurizing the home with a fan.  This helps Paton calculate the air exchanges per hour of the home. Brian’s 1956 home is very leaky, at 9.6 air changes per hour. A typical new home today might come in at about 2.5 air changes per hour, while a super-insulated net-zero home would come in at less than one air change per hour.

While the home was depressurized Jeff pulled out his cool infrared camera to identify areas where the house was losing heat—places where the air was leaking, or insulation was disturbed. Looking at the camera you could see the wispy shape of cold air seeping into the house by the door, windows, joists, plug-ins, the fireplace, the attic hatch and other places.

Suggested upgrades:

 

 

After crunching the numbers, Paton generated a renovation upgrade report, focusing on specific steps Brian can undertake to reduce his home’s energy consumption. “In this instance, this home is losing 29 percent of its heat through air leakage,” Paton reported. “Another 25 per cent of it through the basement foundation, and the rest is made up through the attic, main walls, exposed doors, and windows.”

And, of course, Paton generated an EnerGuide rating number for the home. In most of Canada, the home EnerGuide rating reflects the number of gigajoules a house will consume in a year (the system differs slightly in New Brunswick and Quebec). Obviously, the lower the number, the better (a net-zero home would earn an EnerGuide rating of—you guessed it—zero). A typical new home has a rating of about 146 gigajoules.

And the EnerGuide number is…

Where did Brian’s home come in? As he suspected, the news was not good. “We can see on here that your energy rating in gigajoules per year is 236,” Paton observed. “That’s a significant amount of energy, but it’s not uncommon for this era of construction in the 1950s. And, this is a great tool that we can use to understand how the energy is used in your home.”

The EnerGuide label tells Brian his home uses 236 gigajoules of gas and electricity each year. If his home were built today to current code, its rating would be 116 gigajoules—a number Brian could reach if he completes all of the renovations listed in the “Recommended Upgrades” report. It should be noted that the upgrades for this 1956 home would be quite expensive. But, Brian now knows what steps he can take, and what gains he can expect to see from each one. He is already planning to add insulation to his attic.

Homeowner information sheet:

 

Perhaps the most insightful report you receive is the Homeowner Information Sheet, which breaks down where your home uses energy and where it loses heat. Brian’s 1956 home consumes most of its energy (90 per cent) heating the air and water in the home. See the images below to see what this report looks like for his home.

We learned a lot from our tour of the Finley home, but every home is different. For example, I also did an assessment on my own 20-year-old home and learned our energy use is 117 gigajoules—and, the most significant upgrade step we can make is to add solar.

Also, it’s very important to recognize that the EnerGuide assessment does not look at behaviour. You can cut your energy use with a few simple, low-cost changes—see our related story on the Top 10 Energy Efficiency tips. And, as we learned in our story on The Energy Detective, you can perform your own sleuthing to find and eliminate the biggest energy hogs in your home. In that story, Ron Kube was able to slash his electricity use in half by replacing lightbulbs, unplugging a beer fridge and taming some power vampires.

An EnerGuide home energy assessment will run anywhere from $300–$750—and, some municipalities such as Edmonton offer generous rebates to help cover the cost. Find an EnerGuide advisor at the Natural Resources Canada website. Either way, it’s a small price to pay for such valuable information.

This is Part 6 of the Green Energy Smart Homes series. To read more of the series visit the Green Energy Futures website!

Top 10 Energy Efficiency Tips for the Home

Smart Home Series: Part 5

By David Dodge and Scott Rollans

Here at Green Energy Futures, we love nothing better than to explore the latest high-tech, net-zero homes that are springing up throughout our province.

But, most of us live in ordinary, older homes. We’ve looked at some of the radical steps you can take to transform a typical home—taking it to net zero, for example, or installing large solar-power arrays. In this story, we look at both of the modest and extensive ways you can improve your home’s efficiency—small and big steps that can add up to big savings, and a significantly reduced carbon footprint.

To assemble our list of top ten actions you can take, we accompanied EnerGuide for homes auditor Jeff Paton as he conducted an EnerGuide assessment of Brian and Laura Finley’s 1956 home in Edmonton, Alberta. Then we pushed beyond the EnerGuide assessment and put together this list of the top 10 ways to improve the energy efficiency of your home.

Top 10 Energy Efficiency tips for your home

 

1. Conduct a home energy assessment


To save energy in your home, it helps to understand how you’re currently consuming—and possibly wasting—heat and electricity. A professional home energy assessment will provide comprehensive data on your home energy use, and help provide a road map for improvements. The investment—$500-750, depending on the size of your home—will pay off in the long run. Some municipalities (like Edmonton) offer rebates to help cover the cost. You can also self-audit your home as well, like Rob Kube did in our story The Energy Detective. The trick is to understand real data, so your improvements actually make a difference.

2. Insulate!

In a cold climate like Alberta’s, home heating accounts for about 63 per cent of your total energy costs. So, if you’re losing heat, you’re effectively burning money. Cold walls, uneven heat, and high indoor temperatures in the summer are all signs of a poorly insulated home. In older homes, attics and unfinished basements are an easy place to start—simply add insulation. Then, move on to tackle the other areas. Depending on the scale of your insulating job, you may qualify for up to $3,500 in current Energy Efficiency Alberta rebates. Insulation is the secret of the new net-zero homes.

3. Seal the envelope

If your house is leaking air, it’s also leaking energy. A home energy assessment can measure and identify the key problem areas, but basic improvements can begin with a caulking gun, to seal gaps and cracks, and weatherstripping, to prevent drafts around doors and windows. If you get an EnerGuide assessment, they will depressurize your home and use an infrared camera to literally see where cold air is seeping into your home. This can be significant in older homes. A 50 year old home has close to 10 air changes per hour; a new home built to code will have about 2.5 air changes per hour. Net-zero homes typically have less than one air change per hour, plus air exchangers that recover 65 per cent of the heat from exhaust air.

4. Upgrade your windows

Windows represent a big investment, and a long-term payback, but they’re a key element in any energy-efficient home. As a bonus, better windows will also reduce noise from outdoors. Look for triple-glazed windows with ENERGY STAR® High Efficiency rating and be sure to check for rebates in your area.

5. Install a high-efficiency furnace

Until fairly recently, furnaces were inefficient. A 20-year-old home, for example, may have a 77 per cent efficient furnace in it. Many newer furnaces operate at 97 per cent efficiency—saving you more than 20 per cent in heating costs over the life of the furnace. As usual, pay attention to Energuide ratings and ENERGY STAR®.  Super-efficient solar-powered net-zero homes use electric heat-pump furnaces, which are 250 per cent efficient.

6. Use a smart thermostat

You can spend less on heating simply by heating less. With a smart thermostat, you can reduce the temperature in your home at preset times—for example, dropping the setting to 15 degrees C at night, or during weekdays when the house is empty. Smart thermostats are very easy to set up—automatically learning how you use your home, and reducing heat when it’s appropriate. Most smart thermostats are also Wi-Fi-connected, allowing you to control them even when you’re away from home. They’re simpler to use, but (not surprisingly) cost more. Rebates are offered in some jurisdictions.

7. Tame your appliances

Your clothes dryer, even if it’s new, is likely your home’s biggest electricity hog. Consider partially drying your clothes and then hanging them to dry the rest of the way (similarly, let your dishes air-dry instead of running your dishwasher’s drying cycle). Other home appliances have improved dramatically over the years. For example, a fridge from the 1970s may chew through 1,750 kWh/year, whereas a modern fridge with an icemaker uses 500 kWh/year or less. Energy Efficiency Alberta currently offers rebates up to $100 on refrigerators and washers. Induction stoves and cooktops are another energy-saver we really like—superior appliances that consume roughly half the electricity of conventional stoves while heating many foods much more quickly.

8. Water heating

Check out the three most energy efficient water heaters in our story Hot Water Heaters 101. The energy used to heat water can account for a whopping one-fifth of your total home energy costs. Old water heaters are about 60 per cent efficient, whereas high-efficiency tank-based water heaters can now reach 90 per cent efficiency. Tankless water heaters are 97-98 per cent efficient, and have made great strides in user satisfaction. Even better, tankless heaters currently qualify for Energy Efficiency Alberta rebates of up to $944. Hybrid heat-pump water heaters run on electricity (great for net-zero homes) and are 330 per cent efficient.Upgrading from a conventional to a tankless 97 per cent efficient model will save up to 37 per cent on water heating.

9. Light smarter

This is your simplest fix, and will pay for itself in practically no time. Many homes still use incandescent bulbs, despite the technical advances and increased affordability of LEDs. An LED bulb uses roughly 25 per cent the electricity of an incandescent bulb, and generally has a drastically greater lifespan—paying for itself multiple times. In places where you use multiple bulbs (decorative fixtures, pot lighting) the savings add up that much more quickly. Efficiency Alberta regularly offers instant rebates on LED bulbs, but they’re a brilliant investment even at regular price. In our Energy Detective story Ron Kube replaced 80 bulbs in his home and reduced electricity use for lighting five-fold!

10. Be a ghostbuster

Countless electronic devices—TVs, PVRs, computers, printers, phone chargers, etc.—draw power even when they’re not being used—energy efficiency experts call this “phantom power.” Exorcise these demons by unplugging chargers when they’re not being used, or using power bars with single on-off switches. Newer “smart” power bars will actually shut off a circuit if it senses that a device is not in active use. In our Energy Detective story we found seven per cent of Ron Kube’s home electricity use was by phantom power.

Thanks to Jeff Paton for helping us put this list together after a tour of the Finley home in Edmonton. Some older homes may require more expensive upgrades to fix big problems, but many homes have many opportunities for energy saving. Take your inventory and then begin investing in the best bets for big returns. We have seen homes that have cut their heating bill in half simply by improving their furnaces and adding smart thermostats, and we have seen other homes where changing lights to LEDs, uplugging an old beer fridge and slaying your phantom power vampires likewise reduced electricity use by half.

This is Part 5 of the Green Energy Smart Homes series. To read more of the series visit the Green Energy Futures website!

 

Pembina Institute launches map showcasing clean energy projects across the province

Alberta’s New Energy Projects Map is an interactive online tool created by the Pembina Institute that showcases the variety of clean energy projects that contribute to the growth of Alberta’s economy by creating jobs and investment opportunities. It highlights the multitude of new energy projects operating or under construction in Alberta from 2012 on. The map is a living library and its scope will expand as Albertans submit their own projects and continue to pursue new energy opportunities.

View the map directly here.

The Energy Detective

Smart Home Series: Part 4

By David Dodge and Scott Rollans

What if we told you, with a few simple changes, you could cut your household electricity consumption by half? It’s possible, and Ron Kube is living proof

Kube recently installed a solar-power system on his St. Albert home. But before going solar, he checked to see how much electricity his home was using. Ron was shocked—no pun intended—to discover his family was using 70 per cent more than the Alberta average of 7,200 kilowatt hours per year–they were energy hogs.

“We were actually using over 12,000 kilowatt hours a year,” Kube ruefully admits. “So, then, the question was, okay, where are all those electrons going?” Ron is a university professor, so his curiosity quickly transmogrified into a full-blown research project. “I got a little obsessed and I started to measure everything

The investigation begins

Ron Kube loves data, so he installed an e-gauge electricity monitoring system. At a glance he can see how much electricity his solar system is producing and where his electricity is being used. Photo David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures.ca

Instead of simply switching his lightbulbs to LEDs and then hoping for the best, Kube first became an energy efficiency detective. He started with a plug-in power meter. “You can buy one of these things and you can plug them in,” he explains. “And then you plug your appliance in, and it tells you how much power it is using.” Ron checked the coffee pot, fridge, freezer, cookers, entertainment devices, computers, literally everything with a plug.

The power meter was a great start, but Kube soon felt the urge to dig much deeper. Instead of simply measuring one appliance at a time, he wanted to keep tabs on his entire house. He installed an eGauge energy monitoring system—a device that measures the individual load for each circuit on his electrical panel and generates data in real time.

Once the eGauge was up and running, Ron could go online anytime to see his current electricity consumption, along with totals for the day, week, month or year. He also installed a display right in the kitchen, so he and his wife would be confronted by the evidence every time they passed by.

Speaking of Ron’s wife, a spouse would have to be pretty indulgent to go along with such an obsessive scheme, right? “Nothing surprises me anymore,” laughs Kube’s wife, Carole. “Ron gets really excited about things. And, right now, it’s solar, and lowering our carbon footprint. And, so, I’m just was along for the ride.”

Slaying the monsters

Once the numbers started flowing in, Ron was able to analyze the data—and make a few unexpected discoveries.

Lighting – saved 82%

“Lighting was, surprisingly, the biggest monster in the house,” Kube observes. He points to his dining room as a typical culprit. In one fixture, the couple had eight 100-watt incandescent bulbs, for a staggering total of 800 watts. By switching those eight bulbs to LEDs, Ron was able to slash the total to 112 watts without sacrificing a single lumen.

By the time Kube switched the rest of the bulbs, his home’s “biggest monster” had become a veritable pussycat. “In fact, we went from 340 kilowatt hours per month down to 70,” he says. “Lighting is no longer our biggest consumer.”

The good old beer fridge – saved 62%

With the big monster tamed, Ron was astonished to discover he had yet another energy-gobbling beast lurking in his basement. “We had an old beer fridge in the basement, and I found out it was taking between seven and 10 per cent of our monthly power—for a couple of bottles of beer and some wine.” Needless to say, he unplugged the fridge and relocated the beverages. The old beer fridge was using more electricity than his modern fridge and freezer combined.

Phantom power – saved 62%

During his detective work, Ron also learned about the concept of “phantom power.” Sometimes, even after you switch your devices off, they continue to draw significant amounts of electricity. In Ron’s house, the biggest culprit here was his entertainment system, which surprisingly was using seven per cent of the home’s electricity.

“Everything is supposedly turned off, but it was actually consuming about seven per cent of our monthly power.” Ron took all of the plugs and rerouted them through a simple power bar—with an on/off switch. “Now, off is off and everything is great.”

The slow cooking energy black hole – saved 50%

Here’s where Ron goes above and beyond. He also ran some cooking experiments. For example you want tea, but you fill up a kettle or pot with water. Heating all that water wastes a lot of energy–Ron starting filling the pot with the amount of water he needed for tea and he stuck a lid on the pot. This all saves energy. Ron even ran a cooking experiment where he pitted a slow cooker against a pressure cooker and a Thermos cooker.  The slow cooker is an energy disaster using 2.5 times more energy than a pressure cooker and 4.3 times more energy than a very cool Thermos cooker.

All gain, no pain – saving 50% the easy way

With simple, inexpensive measures, Ron and Carole slashed their monthly electricity consumption by more than half—with virtually no impact on their lifestyle. “At the end of the day, we were able to reduce our power from the 12,000 kilowatt hours a year to 5,300 kilowatt hours a year.”

What is amazing about this is the Kubes slashed their electricity bill at a very low cost. Ron replaced 80 light bulbs with LEDs, unplugged the beer fridge, changed some cooking habits and put a smart power bar on his entertainment system.

Next – a solar powered electric car

Ron and Carole Kube have saved so much energy they now have enough extra solar electricity to power a Nissan Leaf for 20,000 km per year. Photo David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures.ca

The Kube’s installed a nine kilowatt solar system when they were still using about 9,000 kilowatt hours a year for electricity.

Thanks to those simple energy efficiency measures the Kubes now have 4,000 kilowatt hours of surplus solar electricity from their solar system. Ron calculates that he could fuel a Nissan Leaf (electric car) for about 20,000 km a year with the surplus solar electricity.

If he uses this surplus solar electricity to power a car, Ron estimates the value of the electricity to him soars to 88 cents a kilowatt hour, since he would no longer need to buy gas for his car.

Ron has even created his own guide to his solar and energy efficiency project and a do-it-yourself electricity audit guide that you can use to learn from their experience.

With the help of his trusty meters, Ron the energy efficiency detective solved the case and is sharing what he learned with us.

This is Part 4 of the Green Energy Smart Homes series. To read more of the series visit the Green Energy Futures website!

Solar 101: Everything you need to know to go solar

Smart Home Series: Part 3 – Solar

By David Dodge and Scott Rollans

St. Albert’s Ron Kube had never known anyone with a solar-powered home. Then, in 2014, he read a story in the paper about a household that installed a solar array. He was surprised to learn they were his former neighbours.

“In fact, the guy was Craig Dickie—he used to live across the street from us,” Kube recalls. “And I was so excited that I called up Craig and I said, ‘Can I come over to the house and see the solar system?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, sure, come on over.’”

The moment Kube saw the system, he was hooked.

Solar power’s not the future—it’s the present

Like many Albertans, Ron was waking up to a new and exciting realization. Solar power isn’t the future—it’s the present. It’s already a practical option for producing our own clean energy. Not only does it drastically reduce your carbon footprint—in the long run, it can save you money.

 

Before going solar Great Canadian solar assessed Ron and Carole Kube’s electricity bills, the roof and electrical panel.

Ron did his homework, researching potential contractors at solaralberta.ca before calling up Clifton Lofthaug, owner of Edmonton’s Great Canadian Solar.

Lofthaug began by reviewing Ron and Carole’s utility bills, to see what they were consuming. Then, he calculated the size of the system needed to make their home net-zero for electricity.

Next, Lofthaug went onto the roof to evaluate the house’s solar potential. “There’s great gadgets out there that will actually tell you, automatically, how much sun you’ll get on the roof at that particular point throughout the year,” he says. Although Ron and Carole only have a small piece of south-facing roof on his garage, so he was imagining a small solar system.

“And so when they looked at our power bills and said ‘Well you’re using about 9,000 kilowatt hours a year in 2015. Are you interested in going full net-zero which means putting solar panels on the east side of the house.’ And I said ‘Yeah but let’s do that that’s a great idea.’”

Kube says they lose about 15 per cent production potential for the east-facing solar. But it also means their solar produces electricity earlier in the day.

Great Canadian Solar installed 34 solar modules on Ron and Carole’s home and garage—a nine-kilowatt system, enough to provide all of their electricity. The power runs through an inverter, which converts it to regular AC household current. The power is used in the home and if the home doesn’t need the electricity it flows out to the grid through a newly installed power meter—one with a difference.

Energy in, energy out—no batteries required

Ron Kube installed an e-gauge electricity monitoring system so he can see how much electricity his solar system is producing and where his electricity is being used.

It’s a bi-directional power meter. It measures the electricity that Ron and Carole Kube export to the grid on sunny days and the electricity they import from the grid when the sun is not shining.

The utility company pays the Kubes the same rate for electricity whether they are selling or buying. However it pays to use your solar electricity yourself, since you have to pay admin and transmission fees when you buy it back.

Tackling the myths of solar energy

Solar systems in Edmonton, Alberta lose very little production to snow according to NAIT research and it turns out solar modules work better in the cold weather.

Where do you install the batteries? Lofthaug is asked this all the time. “You don’t need a battery,” he says. In effect, the grid serves as a kind of battery to balance out the Kube family’s electricity requirements.

Speaking of myths, how does solar work during a dark, snowy Alberta winter? “We produce over 90 per cent of our total annual electricity generation between the months of March and October,” Kube explains. “So, for that additional 10 per cent, I’m not going to go onto my roof and shovel my solar panels. Plus, normally what happens is the snow sloughs off eventually.”

Besides, according to studies at NAIT, Edmontonians lose only about five per cent to snow cover. And Alberta gets a lot of sun. Solar modules here produce an average of 50 per cent more electricity than modules in Hamburg, Germany.

Big upfront investment, but pays off in the long term

Converting your home to solar does require a significant up-front capital investment. Currently, the installed cost of solar runs about $3 per watt. A typical home in Calgary might require a 5.5-kilowatt system, with a price tag of about $16,500. In Edmonton, you’d likely require a bit more—about 6.3 kilowatts for roughly $18,900. Factor in the current provincial rebates of about 25 per cent, or $0.75/watt and solar starts to look very appealing.

According to Lofthaug, some people are willing to invest that much for the environmental benefit alone. But a solar system pays off economically as well. Your system will save you money by the end of its 25-year guaranteed lifespan—and, chances are, it will continue to chug along for decades beyond that.

You will spend the money on electricity anyway, Lofthaug figures, so why not have a solar system to show for it? “It’s just a matter of whether you’re going to pay for it [electricity] on your monthly utility bill. Or whether you invest in your own system, and then eventually have it paid off, and then get your electricity for free.”

Energy efficiency and solar are kissing cousins

When Ron caught the solar bug, he checked his own electricity bills.  He was shocked to find their home was consuming 12,172 kilowatt hours of electricity per year. That’s well above the 7,200 average for Alberta homes.

Before buying their solar system Ron became an energy detective. He found it was very easy to reduce their electricity demand by changing lights, unplugging a beer fridge and making a few inexpensive changes around the home.

They reduced their energy demand to 9,000 kilowatt hours per year by the time they bought their solar system. Since then, they have further slashed energy use to an astonishing 5,300 kilowatt hours per year.

This means the Kubes now produce more solar electricity than they consume in a year.

Rather than sell that electricity back to the grid at a few cents per kilowatt hour, as he does currently, Ron hopes to consume more of his output himself by purchasing an electric vehicle. This will increase the return on his surplus power. By his own calculation, the value of charging an electric car would be 88 cents per kilowatt hour, considerably more than he’d earn exporting it to the grid.

Despite the other benefits of their new solar-power system, Ron and Carole insist that the real clincher for them was the environment—especially here in Alberta, where we have only just begun to wean our province from coal-powered electricity.

“So, for us, the biggest benefit is lowering our carbon footprint,” says Ron. “We were concerned about climate change and wanted to be able to do something.”

When you can help save the planet, become energy self-sufficient, and save a little over the long term—what’s not to love about solar power?

This is Part 3 in the Green Energy Futures Smart Homes Series. To learn more visit Green Energy Futures website!

Are you living in your future net-zero home?

Smart Homes Series: Part 2 – Deep energy retrofits

By David Dodge and Scott Rollans

Figure 1 – Peter Darlington renovated his 1980s home by adding insulation, windows, electric heating and hot water and a solar system. Photo David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures.ca

Have you ever dreamed of living in a net-zero home? According to Peter Darlington, that dream may be closer than you think. In fact, you might already be living in your future net-zero home.

Darlington runs Solar Homes Inc., a Calgary company specializing in renovating existing homes to net-zero–a home that produces as much energy as it consumes. Net-zero might seem like a remote, ambitious target, but Darlington insists it’s more attainable than you might think. In fact, his first green reno project was on his own 1980-s era home.

“It’s really quite simple to do,” says Darlington. “You can just add some insulation some solar panels and you can have a home that doesn’t require fossil fuels anymore. It’s much more comfortable. Cost you less to operate. And it’s really a pretty good return on investment.”

Cut your emissions, reduce energy use and save money

Darlington has worked as exterior contractor for more than twenty years. Then, he realized he could be doing so much more. “I believe that climate change will be the greatest risk or challenge that my children will face in their lifetime. And, I don’t want to look back and have my children ask me, why didn’t you do anything about it when you knew how to?”

“ I started with an online course through Heatspring offered by a gentleman named Mark Rosenbaum. It was a 40-hour online course, it talked all about energy modeling heat pumps, different mechanical systems and air tightness,” says Darlington.

Then long before Darlington started Solar Homes Inc. he did a net-zero energy retrofit on his own home as proof of concept.

Four steps to taking your home to net-zero

To get your home closer to net zero, Peter outlines four key steps. And, he stresses that you don’t need to do it all at once.

  1. Get an energy model done for your home

First, get an energy model done for your home to prioritize the stages of your project. This is critical because it tells you how much insulation you need, how much of a difference windows make, what size of heating system you require and what size of solar system is needed to power your home.

  1. Add insulation, air sealing, siding and efficient windows

Then you will probably start with an exterior renovation, adding insulation and triple-paned windows, and then improving your overall air tightness. This will cost about $30,000 for the insulation, improving air tightness and siding and about $15-20,000 for windows.

  1. Upgrade your mechanical systems

As your furnace and water heater wear out, replace them with electric heat pump models (furnace and water heater) and add a heat recovery ventilator to provide pre-warmed fresh air in your tightly sealed home. Mechanical upgrades will run about $15,000.

  1. Add a solar system

Then add a solar array that is sized big enough to provide all of your electricity needs, which now includes your heating and hot water systems. If you require a larger solar system, about 10 kilowatts, it will run about $30,000.

“All these things can be done individually, so that you don’t have to bite off this massive capital cost right up front.”

“We put 10-kilowatt solar on the garage and that generates about 90 per cent of our annual requirements.”

This is Part 2 in the Green Energy Smart Homes series. to read more about Peter’s net-zero renovations and how to renovate your existing home into a net-zero home that produces as much energy as it consumes continue reading on the Green Energy Futures website!

Water Heaters 101: Getting yourself in hot water

Smart Homes Series: Part 1 – Choosing the best high efficiency water heater

By David Dodge and Scott Rollans

A typical hot water heater accounts for about one fifth of the energy used in most Canadian homes. Choosing the right hot water heater, therefore, can have a huge impact both financially and environmentally—especially as energy prices and carbon levies continue to rise.

Many of us still choose conventional, gas-fired hot water tanks, because they’re cheapest—or, are they? Over its lifespan, the initial price of your hot water heater can represent as little as 12 per cent of its overall cost. The other 88 per cent is energy.

For that 88 per cent, we wanted to get the biggest bang for our buck. So, we asked Ken McCullough of Think Mechanical to walk us through three high-efficiency choices: conventional-style high-efficiency power-vented tank, on-demand tankless, and hybrid heat pump.

“The more people you have in your home, the more hot water you’re going to use,” McCullough observes. “It’s important to know that you have the highest efficiency that you can possibly have. Otherwise, you’re just throwing money out of the window.”

Super-efficient water heater nirvana

These days, hot water heaters all come with an “energy factor” rating, or EF. A tank with an EF of 1.00 would be perfectly efficient—with all the energy being converted to hot water. This factor is often expressed as a percentage. A standard tank has an efficiency rating of about 60-65 per cent, meaning 35-40  per cent of the energy goes up the flue, or radiates out as the water sits in the tank.

You’ll also want to look at your new system’s recovery rate—the rate at which it can heat the fresh water flowing into the tank. The higher the rate, the less likely you are to run out of hot water during heavy use. Here we present three great choices for dramatically increasing the efficiency of your water heater.

High efficiency power-vented Water Heater

If you’re reluctant around new technology, you might consider a high-efficiency power-vented tank. It looks like an old-school water heater, complete with a 50 gallon tank, but it’s side-vented (like a high-efficiency furnace) to decrease heat loss. This helps boost its efficiency to 90 per cent—or, about 30 per cent more efficient than a traditional tank. Meanwhile, its very high recovery rate, 80 per cent in one hour, will help keep the hot water flowing. You can get a 79 per cent efficient model for $2,700, but the highest efficiency model we looked at clocked in at over $4,800 installed.

Tankless on-demand Water Heater

We were particularly interested in an on-demand tankless hot water heater. As the name suggests, this heater kicks in only when you turn on the hot water tap, heating the water as you use it rather than storing it in a tank. It heats the water quickly enough to provide an endless supply, assuming you’re not using a lot of hot water all at once (say, washing clothes and running the dishwasher while you shower). “You’re going to turn on your tap, and you’ll get hot water,” McCullough says.

With an efficiency ratings of 95-97 per cent, this is the highest efficiency available in a natural-gas water heater. At 95 per cent efficient and priced at $3,700 installed, our choice is more expensive than a conventional water heater, but the long-term savings more than balance that out. And, because there’s no tank, the system frees up a lot of space in your furnace room.

Heat Pump Water Heater

McCullough also showed us the state of the art in efficient water heating: a hybrid heat-pump hot water tank. It looks like a conventional tank, but with a cap on top containing a heat pump. The heat pump draws heat from the air in the (normally very warm) mechanical room—like a refrigerator in reverse—and transfers that heat to the water. This allows the heater to achieve an efficiency rating of 330 per cent, meaning the heat energy transferred to the water is more than triple the amount of electricity consumed.

Because the heat pump water heater is entirely electric, it is perfect for net-zero homes with no gas hookup (meaning you also save $60/month on gas-line administration and delivery charges). Some early adopters are choosing these in conventional homes as well. McCullough quotes $4,400 for this option, making it slightly cheaper than the high-efficiency power-vented tank. The one downside is its relatively slow recovery rate of just 80 liters (21 gallons) per hour.

For a summary of three high efficiency choices of water heater finish reading David’s blog on the Green Energy Futures website.

Energy Efficiency for Homeowners!

The Alberta Real Estate Association (AREA) has partnered with the Pembina Institute to educate REALTORS® and their clients on the value of energy efficiency.

As a collaboration, the project will leverage AREA’s expertise on the needs of REALTORS® and homeowners and the Pembina Institute’s expertise on clean energy, climate change and energy issues, to transform how Alberta’s REALTORS® understand and serve homeowners on this topic of increasing importance.

The first fact sheet provides current energy efficiency savings opportunities in Alberta, offering more information on how you can take advantage of energy efficiency.  Click here to download the fact sheet!

Look for more of these collaborative resources in the future.

 

 

 

 

Innovating Alberta’s Energy Future Showcase will explore ways Alberta will lead the transition to a low carbon future

CALGARY, April 11, 2017 /CNW/ – A diverse group of innovators and influencers will take the stage April 19 to share their ideas and work to help shape Alberta’s energy future. Presenters will include oil and gas executives working on innovations to dramatically reduce emissions in energy production, a First Nations leader helping bring renewable energy to his community, and an Albertan entrepreneur who is a semi-finalist in the global Carbon XPrize competition to find technologies to turn CO2 emissions into valuable products.

Presented by the The Natural Step Canada’s Energy Futures Lab (EFL), the Innovating Alberta’s Energy Future Showcase celebrates some of the most groundbreaking work of the EFL Fellows, a diverse group of leaders from industry, government, First Nations, civil society, and academia. Join Mayor Naheed Nenshi for his opening remarks, followed by an afternoon of thought-provoking presentations, cultural performances, and a compelling panel exchange.

Immediately prior to the event Andrew Ference, a former Stanley Cup champion who has played with the Calgary Flames and served as captain of the Edmonton Oilers, will try his hand at the Newtonian Shift, an engrossing role playing board game that condenses decades of energy transition into hours of exploration. Ference, who started working on environmental issues after surfing in polluted waters off California, is personally committed to sustainable development.

“There are so many amazing projects in the works that are going to help with the challenge of building the energy system of Alberta’s future,” says Ference. “I’m excited to learn more about this groundbreaking work by the EFL Fellows.”

After the presentations, Ference will be part of the panel along with Melina Laboucan-Massimo from the Lubicon Cree First Nation; Arlene Strom, VP Sustainability & Communications at Suncor Energy Inc.; and Nicholas Parker, co-founder Global Acceleration Partners and a pioneer in cleantech venture capital.

“Energy issues are not as ‘black and white’ as they seem, and Alberta has a very different story to tell,” says Chad Park, Chief Innovation Officer of The Natural Step and Director of the Energy Futures Lab. “With polarized debates about energy as a backdrop, more people are joining us here in the very colourful middle ground and working together to find ways for Alberta to lead in the transition to a low carbon future.”

Innovating Alberta’s Energy Future Showcase Wednesday, April 19, Jack Singer Concert Hall

12:30 pm Media availability with Mayor Naheed Nenshi, Andrew Ference, Nicholas Parker, and the EFL Fellows plus brief demonstration of role playing board game, the Newtonian Shift.
1:00 Showcase begins
~1:15 Mayor Nenshi opening remarks
1:20 Round 1 EFL Fellows presentations
2:05 BREAK
2:45 Round 2 EFL Fellows presentations
3:25 BREAK
4:00 Panel with Andrew Ference, Nicholas Parker, Melina Laboucan-Massimo, Arlene Strom

The Energy Futures Lab is an Alberta-based, multi-interest collaboration designed to accelerate the development of a “fit for the future” energy system.

Alberta’s energy system is at the centre of the most complex, fragmented and divisive debates. From disputes about market access for Alberta’s oil, to disagreements about the most strategic approaches to address climate change, to controversies about the health and wellbeing of affected communities, energy system pressures are impacting all stakeholders. In response, the Energy Futures Lab has brought together a diverse group of innovators and influencers shaping the energy system to discuss, experiment and innovate.

The lab is powered by The Natural Step Canada and supported by the Suncor Energy Foundation, the Government of Alberta, the Alberta Real Estate Foundation, Landmark Group of Builders, ATB Financial, Shell, and the Jarislowsky Foundation. Additional partners include the Pembina Institute, and the Banff Centre.

The Natural Step Canada is a national charity whose mission is to accelerate the transition to a TRULY sustainable society that thrives within nature’s limits. Through our academy, advisory services and Sustainability Transition Labs we use best-in-class science, systems-thinking and facilitation to help individuals and organizations collaborate, solve complex problems, foster innovation, optimize performance and drive systems change.

To learn more go to www.naturalstep.ca and check out our current Sustainability Transition Labs at www.energyfutureslab.com, www.circulareconomylab.com and www.naturalcapitallab.com.

For further information: contact Tyler Seed at tseed@naturalstep.ca – 647.707.4735

New Energy Efficiency Programs Coming to Alberta

By Jesse Row

Back in 2014, Alberta was the only jurisdiction in Canada or the U.S. without energy efficiency programs for the public. This is changing now that the Provincial Government has announced three new programs coming to Alberta this year.

The first program is open to single family and multi-family homes, both owners and renters. It’s called the Residential No-Cost Energy Savings Program and will bring high efficiency lightbulbs and other basic energy saving products to homes across the province at no-cost. The program will also give energy saving tips and let consumers know about other programs they can participate in.

The second program for homes is a Residential Retail Products Program that will offer rebates on high efficiency appliances, insulation and lighting. Other products like consumer electronics and water heaters are expected to be added over time.

The third program is a Business, Non-Profit and Institutional Energy Savings Program that will offer incentives for high efficiency lighting, heating and cooling systems, and hot water heating.

The exact launch dates of these programs have not been set, but many are expecting them in the April-May timeframe. You can receive updates on these programs, and other energy efficiency initiatives in the province, by signing up to the Alberta Energy Efficiency Alliance LinkedIn Group at https://www.linkedin.com/groups/4836089.

These programs are just the start for Energy Efficiency Alberta – a new agency tasked with increasing the uptake of energy efficiency and community energy systems in the province.

Last year, an Energy Efficiency Advisory Panel was established to provide advice to this new agency while it was being created. The results of that advice can be found in the panel’s final report at https://www.alberta.ca/documents/climate/EEAP-Report-Getting-It-Right-Complete.pdf. The Panel’s report contains 39 recommendations for Energy Efficiency Alberta that includes a long-term vision, suggestions for initial programming and opportunities for engaging Albertans.

The overall message from the Panel focuses on the opportunities that exist to help save money, create jobs and reduce emissions all at the same time through energy efficiency and community energy systems. Considerable pent-up demand and interest was also identified throughout the province as a key opportunity for the new agency.

The opportunity for energy efficiency in Alberta is significant and will lead to many different benefits. Energy efficiency upgrades improve the quality of buildings and enhance property values; households and businesses save money; jobs are created; emissions are reduced; and real estate professionals and other service providers are able to provide value-added services to their clients. Energy efficiency programs are a win-win opportunity for many different sectors and that’s why they are so widely used around the world.

It’s good to see Alberta re-entering the energy efficiency space with this initial offering of programs. We certainly want to see this continue so Albertans can take advantage of all the benefits energy efficiency has to offer.

 

Jesse Row is the Executive Director of the Alberta Energy Efficiency Alliance and was a member of the Provincial Government’s Energy Efficiency Advisory Panel.

The Newtonian Shift: playing an energy transition game

By Jennifer Allford

“Endure the chaos,” the facilitator says. “It’s part of the game.” And with that, a few dozen of us start playing the Newtonian Shift, a half-day “role-playing simulation” in a boardroom in downtown Calgary.

Think Monopoly on steroids. But instead of buying and selling property, we’re buying and selling infrastructure and different sources of energy. And we don’t sit around the table rolling the dice and moving a top hat or fancy boot along the board.  Everyone is up moving around the room, cutting deals with other players, going to the table that acts as the energy marketplace and watching as the grid grows and changes on the map of Newtonia in the middle of the room.

Newtonia is a fictitious land with an old electricity grid. Its leaders want to build a more sustainable system that uses fewer fossil fuels and has a new grid that can accommodate using more renewables. Each of us in the room is a player in that very complex system. We take on a title that’s foreign to us. Business people represent NGOs. Environmentalists run energy companies. Oil and gas engineers represent municipalities. We play roles in First Nations communities, the agriculture industry, a giant tech company or a steel supplier.

Years of change is compressed into a few hours. Every few minutes, the facilitator announces the passing of another month and we give each other panicked looks. It’s moving so fast. We haven’t replaced coal with enough solar. The municipality has no power. The strips of plastic that represent the grid don’t yet reach the First Nations community.

Every now and then there is a policy announcement from the government—subsidies for solar, a new tax on fossil fuels. Regular news flashes throw a wrench in the works—an especially cold winter sees energy prices skyrocket, a malfunction in the system is causing outages in the industrial district.

It is indeed chaos. And instructive. And fun.

At the end of the game we are all exhausted from running around the room frantically trying to change the energy system of Newtonia. We happily sit down at our tables and go around the room recounting what we were able to accomplish and where we failed. We analyze deals that were made and others that fell apart. We hear from each other and each and every sector.

As we pack up the map of Newtonia, picking up the gold strips of the new grid and the black strips for the old one, we have all seen firsthand the incredible complexity of transitioning from fossil fuels to a cleaner energy system.

After being immersed in unfamiliar roles and representing other sectors, we leave for the day knowing that as well a new grid, Alberta’s energy transition is going to require a lot of understanding across the board and plenty of dialogue among the many players.

The Newtonian Shift was developed in the Netherlands and adapted for use in Alberta with a grant from the Alberta Real Estate Foundation.

See the game in action here.

 

New Tool Available to Assist with Community Energy Plan Implementation 

An open source guide, the Community Energy Implementation Framework, designed to help communities move Community Energy Plans from a vision to implementation, was released today in beta at QUEST2016 – Smart Energy Communities for Jobs, Infrastructure and Climate Action by the Community Energy Association, QUEST – Quality Urban Energy Systems of Tomorrow, and Sustainable Prosperity.

The Community Energy Implementation Framework contains 10 strategies that provide advice on political, staff and stakeholder engagement, staff and financial capacity and embedding energy into local government plans and processes.

“Across Canada, over 200 communities, representing more than 50 percent of the population, have a Community Energy Plan.” said Dale Littlejohn, Executive Director of the Community Energy Association, “Despite the acceleration of community energy planning across Canada, communities continue to face challenges when it comes to implementation, and this guide offers a tool to overcome many of those challenges.”

Laid out in an easy to use online format, the Framework also includes an Implementation Readiness Survey – a self-evaluation tool intended to help communities identify areas of strength and weakness for implementation.

“Canadian communities have an important role to play in energy. They influence nearly 60 percent of energy use and 50 percent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions nationally,” explains Brent Gilmour, Executive Director of QUEST. “The Community Energy Implementation Framework offers a solution to help communities do their part in helping Canada meet its GHG emission reduction targets.”

The GTI team welcomes you to share comments and questions about the beta version of the Framework to smarchionda@questcanada.org.

For more information: Access the Framework: http://www.framework.gettingtoimplementation.ca

About Community Energy Association (CEA)

CEA supports local governments in developing and implementing community energy and emissions plans (also known as climate action plans, community energy plans, and local action plans). We also help local governments with carbon neutral action plans for their operations.

About QUEST

QUEST is the leader advancing Smart Energy Communities that reduce GHG emissions, lower energy use, drive the adoption of clean technologies, and foster local economic development in Canada. Established in 2007, QUEST has a national grassroots network including over 10,000 contacts in organizations across Canada from local, provincial and territorial governments, utilities, energy service providers, building and land owners and operators, and clean technology companies working at the community level to advance Smart Energy Communities. Follow us: @QUESTCanada

About Sustainable Prosperity (SP)

SP is a national research and policy network, based at the University of Ottawa. SP focuses on market-based approaches to build a greener, more competitive economy. It brings together business, policy and academic leaders to help innovative ideas inform policy development. Follow us: @sustpro

For additional information:

QUEST

Tonja Leach, Director, Communications & National Affairs

Tel.: 613-627-2938 x706

E: tleach@questcanada.org

 

Community Energy Association

Dale Littlejohn , Executive Director

Tel.: 604-628-7076

E: dlittlejohn@communityenergy.bc.ca

Utilities Consumer Advocate (UCA) has launched its redesigned website

Service Alberta through the Utilities Consumer Advocate (UCA) has launched its redesigned website.

This new, interactive resource will help consumers, especially vulnerable Albertans; make informed choices about their electricity and natural gas services.

The website is mobile and tablet responsive and has several innovative new features, all of which are intended to provide a high quality user/consumer experience:

• An interactive Cost Comparison Tool to give consumers the delivered cost of energy;

• Prominent and clear information about the services of the UCA’s Consumer Mediation Team;

• Revamped content that’s easy to read, understand and ensures search engine optimization (SEO); and

• A searchable database that displays historical natural gas and electricity rates in a user-friendly format.

Visit: http://ucahelps.alberta.ca/

 

New Energy Efficiency Agency Coming to Alberta

The recent announcement of a new energy efficiency agency for Alberta is good news for the real estate sector as energy efficiency programs have a proven track record of helping consumers save money and increasing the value of real estate.

In fact, energy efficiency programs currently exist in every province in Canada and state in the U.S. except Alberta. This was discovered as part of research undertaken by the Alberta Energy Efficiency Alliance (AEEA), a grantee of the Alberta Real Estate Foundation.

“Energy efficiency programs have been saving consumers money since the 1970s,” sums up Jesse Row, Executive Director of the AEEA. “In Alberta, we’ve been funding energy efficiency programs just when there’s a government surplus, but the opposite approach is taken just about everywhere else.”

Research conducted by the AEEA has identified that most energy efficiency programs in Canada and the U.S. are funded every month through a modest charge on utility bills. The funds are then used to help households and businesses reduce their energy consumption and save three to four times more money than they cost.

“Most energy efficiency programs need to report publicly to an energy regulator to make sure they’re making good use of consumer dollars,” adds Row. “Not only have programs demonstrated a suitable return on investment for consumers over the years, provinces and states have increased their funding as they’ve seen that energy efficiency is the cheapest way to meet increasing energy demand.”

More recently, energy efficiency programs have also been used to stimulate the economy and create jobs during economic downturns. During the last recession and recovery in the U.S., numbers compiled by the AEEA show that funding for energy efficiency programs went from US$3 billion in 2007 to US$8 billion in 2011. This funding increase happened at both the state level and through the U.S. federal government (mainly though the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act). Not only did energy efficiency programming in the U.S. increase during their last recession, it has maintained this level of funding as states continue to see a strong return on these investments.

For the real estate sector, the launch of an energy efficiency agency in Alberta creates opportunities to deliver more value-added services to clients. Energy efficiency programs in other provinces and states are very popular with households and businesses. These programs typically provide direct support for consumers, including financial incentives, to save energy through a combination of behaviour changes and physical upgrades to properties. The real estate sector is ideally positioned to help consumers take advantage of these new programs.

Once these programs are in place, the benefits to Alberta’s real estate sector are significant. A recent study commissioned by the AEEA shows that even an average-sized energy efficiency program for Alberta has the potential to result in over $200 million in additional energy efficiency upgrades to homes and buildings in the province each year. These investments lead directly to increased property values and over $500 million in annual energy bill savings for consumers. These savings can then be reinvested into other parts of the economy and create additional economic benefits for the province.

Keep up to date on the latest energy efficiency developments in Alberta through the Alberta Energy Efficiency Alliance (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook) or by signing up for an AEEA membership.

can-usa-jan2016 (002)

 

Energy Poverty in Alberta

A surprising number of Albertans are being left out in the cold… inside their own homes.

They are the energy poor, those hard pressed to pay their utility bills. Living in cold, damp homes impacts their health and well being, especially the elderly, young, disabled and those with long-term illnesses. Needless to say, they can ill afford the energy-efficiency measures that would improve their lives and benefit the environment.

About 455,000 Albertans live in energy poverty. These low-income families spend three times more disposable income on home energy—heating, cooking and lighting—than the average household. For the poorest, it’s more than 9 per cent of their after-tax income.

The energy poor must often make difficult choices between competing necessities such as energy, water, food and clothing. The most dramatic choice for some is to “heat or eat.” Indeed, evidence suggests the poorest households, especially among seniors, spend less on food in winter to pay for additional heating.

Living in cold homes can contribute to heart disease, reduced lung function, suppressed immune systems, asthma attacks and exacerbated arthritis. It is also associated with increased stress, social isolation and, for children, impaired educational success.

Energy poverty thus results in increased public costs for health care and social services. One study suggests that every $1 spent on raising living temperatures to acceptable standards saves 42 cents in health-care costs.

Alberta’s energy poor could also be disproportionately impacted by any changes to the provincial government’s climate-change policies. Such changes will likely lead to increased energy prices, hurting poorer households, which ironically emit fewer greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than the norm.

The most cost-effective, sustainable solution to this problem is to increase the energy efficiency of energy-poor households, starting with those most in need. Realistically, this can only happen with substantial subsidies.

Many jurisdictions in Canada and the U.S. operate and fund energy efficiency and conservation programs for low-income households. In Calgary, All One Sky Foundation has for several years operated a demonstration Energy Angel program, which provides energy-efficiency upgrades to the homes of low-income seniors.

But this is just a start for what needs to be a much more widespread effort. Tackling energy poverty in Alberta offers a potential win-win-win for three important environmental and social policy agendas: climate-change mitigation and greenhouse gas reduction; health and well-being; and poverty alleviation.

Read All One Sky Foundation’s “Energy Poverty – An Agenda for Alberta” report here.

All-One-Sky-Foundation

 

 

*Image: Helen Corbett, Executive Director of the All One Sky Foundation with Alberta Real Estate Foundation Past Chair Gary Willson.

 

AREF Announces Support of the Energy Futures Lab

The Board of Governors of the Alberta Real Estate Foundation (AREF) approved a grant of $250,000 to foster community engagement with a focus on energy literacy across Alberta through the Energy Futures Lab. This is a bold commitment by AREF toward co-creating the province’s energy future as part of the Foundation’s 25th anniversary.

“This is an important conversation to have in the province and it affects all Albertans.” Charlie Ponde, Chair of the AREF Board of Governors states. “The Board is pleased that the Energy Futures Lab is representing a microcosm of Alberta as a whole by engaging industry, government, academia, non-for-profit and First Nations to achieve a robust and constructive conversation.”

Cheryl De Paoli, AREF’s Executive Director, and an EFL Steering Committee Member for the past year, adds, “We want people to really understand where their energy comes from, and to understand what it means to talk about renewables and innovation. We have to get beyond an “Us vs. Them” argument and a commitment to energy literacy is going to be a big part of getting us there.”

AREF’s funding is to support the Energy Futures Lab’s public engagement commitment to share more broadly EFL Fellowship discussions, prototyping and new innovations with communities across Alberta.

“Our grant to the Energy Futures Lab is AREF’s commitment to Alberta’s innovative spirit.” Cheryl De Paoli states, “We have a history of incredible ingenuity in getting oil and gas out of the ground and to market. And this spirit will be critical in setting ourselves on a path to move beyond oil and gas, and to position Alberta as a global energy leader now and into the future.”

One of the major opportunities to engage Albertans in shaping their energy future is the Newtonian Shift game which is an immersive simulation game that condenses 20 years of energy transition into a single day. Players take on one of a variety of roles within an outdated and inefficient energy system and collaborate in order to create the energy system of the future or risk being left behind. Over the coming year, a series of game sessions will be hosted in communities across Alberta. The first two of these will be held in Calgary on Thursday, April 7 and Edmonton on Thursday, April 14.

Read the full announcement on the Energy Futures Lab here.

The grant is made under the AREF’s new Community Innovation funding stream which supports projects, practices and ideas that encourage experimentation with the goal of creating new ways of realizing community potential and character within Alberta.

Community Energy Plans drive economic development, cut energy costs, reduce emissions and create jobs

The Foundation is involved in the Community Energy Planning Getting to Implementation in Canada (GTI) Initiative. GTI is a multi-year national initiative that is empowering communities to take a leading role on energy, including innovative energy projects such as renewable electricity, district energy, biomass, landfill gas capture, clean transportation, electric vehicles and others.

On February 10th, GTI released a new research report Community Energy Planning: The Value Proposition prepared by Sustainable Prosperity. The report states that Canadian communities have untapped opportunities to strengthen local economies, reduce current and future energy costs and emissions, and create jobs by investing in smarter and more integrated approaches to energy use at the local level. In addition, community energy planning has a positive effect on environmental and community health goals, as well as economic ones.

To read the full report please visit: www.gettingtoimplementation.ca/research

Edmonton Library Users Can Test Home Energy Consumption

Homeowners are now able to perform an informal energy audit of their home with Green HomeEnergy Toolkits available from Edmonton Public Libraries. A grant from the Alberta Real Estate Foundation (AREF) to the City of Edmonton helped make the kits available.

Each kit is self-contained in a sturdy case and includes a digital thermometer, power meters, instructional booklets, and other tools to help homeowners examine their utility consumption. Once the excess uses of power, heat, or water are found, homeowners can reduce the waste and save on the cost of utilities.

Charlie Ponde, AREF chair, joined Edmonton City Councillor Michael Walters and the Manager of Collections, Management and Access Division, Edmonton Public Library, Sharon Karr, on January 14 to announce the kits’ availability.

“For the last 25 years, our foundation has strived to support initiatives that make a real difference in the industry and in the lives of Albertans,” said Ponde. “By taking the initiative on energy efficiency, the City of Edmonton is a model for many other municipalities across the province.”

There is no cost to borrow a kit. The kits can be ordered and checked out of any Edmonton Public Library branch like books or records and kept for up to three weeks. There is already a backlog of several hundred requests for the kits. The City of Edmonton has also placed kits with the two school boards for use by students and has kits available for promotional purposes at trade shows and exhibits.

Similar kits are available in other communities in Alberta (Red Deer) and the interest in Edmonton is spurring other municipalities (St. Albert and Okotoks) and library systems to acquire their own kits.

Unlocking the door to Smart Energy Communities – a Framework for Implementation

Communities – the places where we live, work and play – account for 60% of energy use in Canada, as well as over half of all greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). In other words, when we invest, plan and implement effectively for Smart Energy Communities, we can have a direct impact on addressing Canada’s energy and GHG challenges.

QUEST believes that there are three fundamental features of a Smart Energy Community that you can view by watching this video.

  • First, a Smart Energy Community integrates conventional energy networks. That means that the electricity, natural gas, district energy and transportation fuel networks in a community are better coordinated to match energy needs with the most efficient energy source.
  • Second, a Smart Energy Community integrates land use, recognizing that poor land use can equal a whole lot of energy waste.
  • Third, a Smart Energy Community harnesses local energy opportunities.

Many cities and communities in Canada have taken ownership over their energy, recognizing the significant impact energy has on the local economy, health and community resilience. These communities are exemplifying some of the features of a Smart Energy Community.

Consider Surrey, British Columbia, where the municipal government is building a district energy system that will efficiently provide heating and cooling to buildings in the City Centre. Surrey is also developing the largest Organic Biofuels facility in Canada which will turn organic waste into renewable natural gas that will replace diesel and gasoline fueling for municipal vehicle fleets.

Consider also Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, which successfully completed a 10-year community energy plan and exceeded greenhouse gas emission reduction targets by 100%, in part by converting from oil to renewable wood-pellet burning heating systems throughout the city.

And finally, consider Guelph, Ontario where the municipal government and electric utility have collaborated to develop the Galt District Energy system, seven solar energy facilities, a small-scale combined heat and power system, and plans for both a large-scale combined heat and power facility and biomass projects. Guelph is also playing host to net-zero residential developments.

These and many other communities are blazing trails – led in particular by the initiative and leadership of the municipal and provincial governments, gas and electric utilities, and real estate stakeholders that make them up.

Though there is no one-size-fits-all approach to becoming a Smart Energy Community, Surrey, Yellowknife and Guelph each use a Community Energy Plan to guide decision making around energy.  Lessons learned in these communities can be applied in every community across Canada.

A Community Energy Plan is a tool that helps communities define priorities around energy with a view to improving efficiency, cutting emissions and driving economic development. Community Energy Plans are an important and effective enabler for becoming a Smart Energy Community.

Community Energy Planning: Getting to Implementation in Canada

That is why QUEST has partnered with The Community Energy Association and Sustainable Prosperity, Canada’s leading community energy experts, to launch a national initiative entitled Community Energy Planning: Getting to Implementation in Canada. The objective of this multiyear initiative is to build the capacity of Canadian communities to develop and implement Community Energy Plans. This will be done through the development of a Community Energy Implementation Framework.

Over the next year, the project will be drawing on lessons learned from communities across Canada through research, as well as a series of national workshops, to develop the Implementation Framework.  The Framework will help communities navigate the challenges faced when it comes to implementing Community Energy Plans and will provide them with the tools they need to become Smart Energy Communities.

QUEST recognizes that every community will have its own unique set of opportunities and challenges for advancing Smart Energy Communities. The solutions will vary from community to community. The Getting to Implementation initiative is one of the first steps for identifying the success factors and barriers for CEP implementation. Understanding these will bring QUEST one step closer to defining how other communities across Canada can develop and implement Community Energy Plans effectively, and become Smart Energy Communities.

Be sure to attend Community Energy Planning: Getting to Implementation in Alberta on June 18th 9:30 am – 3:30 pm at the University of Alberta. Register here.

By: Eric Campbell, Acting Director, Programs & Service, QUEST and Sarah Marchionda, Manager, Research & Education, QUEST

Alberta Green Condo Guide: Saving money and helping the environment

The Green Condo Guide for Alberta outlines how to capitalize on energy saving opportunities in common areas of a condominium, including centralized heating, cooling and ventilation systems and lighting.

Reducing a building’s energy bills is a huge opportunity to save money and reduce a building’s impact on the environment.   In fact, at least 40 per cent of a condominium building’s operating costs go to gas, electricity and water bills, making utilities the largest controllable expense for any condo corporation.

And most older condos can cut these costs by 30 per cent by doing a few upgrades, adding more efficient lighting or boilers.  Even a newer building can realize savings of at least 15 per cent.

This simple to follow and easy to read 14-page guide outlines a number of steps that will not only reduce a condo’s energy use—saving money and reducing emissions—it will result in a more comfortable and well maintained building.

The step-by-step overview of how you can green a condo begins with information on how to baseline and benchmark a building’s energy use, perform an energy audit and set goals.  Next, it goes through a high level explanation of how to identify opportunities for improvement, assess the business case for upgrades and improvements and develop and track a retrofit plan.

A good energy retrofit will help protect the capital that’s invested in a condo by ensuring the building’s systems are in good operational order and operating costs are under control. A green building is comfortable and cost-efficient, which protects an owner’s investment and is more attractive to buyers.

The Green Condo Guide for Alberta, funded in part with a grant from AREF, is based on work originated by the Toronto Atmospheric Fund (TAF) and adapted for Alberta by the Pembina Institute.

UNDERSTANDING SOLAR ENERGY IN ALBERTA

The Alberta Real Estate Foundation has recently partnered with The Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, The City of Edmonton and The City of Grande Prairie to advance the understanding of solar electric systems in Alberta. Through a $38,000 contribution the AREF made possible construction of a solar photovoltaic test bed atop Grande Prairie city hall. This test bed will operate in tandem with a City of Edmonton sponsored system installed at NAIT’s main campus.

 These solar reference arrays are designed to study the impact of snow and tilt angle on solar electric installations in Alberta’s rugged climate.

Project Overview

 Computer modeling tells us that Alberta has extraordinary solar electric potential. Big clear skies and cooler temperatures are the ideal environment for optimizing solar photovoltaic production. Although computer modeling is a necessary first step it requires some assumptions which can only be verified through real world testing. The solar reference arrays are the next step needed to understand system design and financial impacts of solar energy in Alberta.

 Reference Array Design

 The lower solar modules (panels) have been arranged in pairs at the most commonly found residential roof pitches. The fifth pair represents the latitude of the array location (55 degrees for GP, 53 degrees for Edmonton) and the sixth at 90 degrees to study the effects of wall mounting.

 To study the impact of snow the left-most module of each pair will be regularly cleared of all snow while the right side modules will be left to Mother Nature.

 NAIT’s Alternative Energy Program will be collecting and analyzing data from each module at five minute intervals for the full duration of the five year project.

The Foundation Supports Energy Efficiency in Real Estate

The Alberta Real Estate Foundation is currently supporting an energy efficiency pilot project for commercial buildings and industrial facilities. The project, EE Check, provides assistance to facilities to undertake an energy efficiency audit, develop a business case for upgrades and implement selected upgrades.

The first building to complete an audit was the Petex building in downtown Calgary. The owners, Western Securities, worked with the EE Check team and an independent energy auditor – Mission Green Buildings – to quantify their energy saving opportunities.

The energy audit compared the building’s energy use to both average and high-performing buildings in Alberta (on a m2 basis) and identified 15 opportunities for reducing energy use.

Not all of the opportunities identified meet the client’s needs from an operational or economic perspective, but a number of the opportunities were selected for implementation. One of the most cost effective upgrades involves higher efficiency stairwell lights that are estimated to pay for themselves in less than one year through the energy they save. The energy savings also translate into reduced environmental impacts for the building’s operation.

As Western Securities works to implement the energy saving measures recommended in the audit, the EE Check team will be working to document the energy, cost and emissions savings achieved.

This project is another demonstration of the Alberta Real Estate Foundation’s commitment to increasing the sustainability of Alberta’s real estate industry – both from an economic and environmental perspective.

For more information on the EE Check pilot project, please contact Jesse Row at jesser@pembina.org.