Monday, October 12, 2009

A satisfied client

As I continue to learn more about developing my sustainable energy business, a type of business that is new, I am gradually coming to understand some of the ways it can be of service.

About a week ago I went to the home of a woman who is about to have her follow-up energy audit completed. She wanted to make sure that she had covered the bases, and also wanted me to install a fireplace draft stopper. This device alone will likely save her 15 - 25% on her heating bill, and will add to the comfort of her home.

I was saddened when I learned from her that she had purchased a cheaper heat pump that barely met the minimum energy rating required for her energy audit. (In fact the new requirements push many models off of the list.) Had she consulted with me (costing her $25) she could have had a superior product installed for little or no more money than she had paid.

By knowing many who are in the business of installing energy-efficient equipment I know how to find the best value for my clients.

The other benefit for my clients is that if she had had any difficulty with that unit or the company who installed it I could have gone to bat for her. I still can! If companies know that I am looking over their shoulder to see if they do good work and give good value for their customers they are more likely to perform well. I informally call this aspect of my business "an energy insurance program." I increase the likelihood of the client getting good service when it comes to their energy-improving products and services.

Knowing who is good, coupled with accountability in the business world, means that my clients can lower their home or business energy consumption for a reasonable price and have some security in the end-product.

Poorer products and companies will eventually fail; I'd rather that my clients not extend the lives of such!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Saving energy

The heating season has begun. Our furnaces, baseboard heaters, heat pumps and wood stoves are now doing their thing.

What amazes me are the number of people who, when examining how to reduce their ever-increasing energy bills, focus almost solely on reducing the cost of providing the heat, rather than on how to reduce heat losses.

This is a statement about our culture, of course. A culture that fails to appreciate the bigger picture by focusing on individual components (such as heat sources). Yet this narrow focus is the primary cause of most that ails us.
It is a well-known fact that reducing energy usage is usually much cheaper than is changing the heat source. Putting multiple layers of insulation on an electric hot water tank (ideally including some underneath it) makes that tank nearly as efficient as a highly efficient water-on-demand heater. The insulation costs less than $100; a new gas-fired on-demand water heater costs hundreds of dollars.

Examples are unlimited. An inflatable $80 chimney draft stopper can save up to 30% of the cost of heating. Draft-proofing one’s home typically costs less than $100 in materials yet can save both comfort and considerable heating bills. Adding insulation to the hot water lines is an extremely inexpensive method of cutting costs, since water requires a great deal of energy to heat. Changing light bulbs is a well-known example, even though they save very little power in the bigger picture. Replacing (or unplugging) older fridges, drying clothes on a rack or clothesline instead of a mechanical drier, cutting the power at the power-bar to electronics (especially T.V.’s and computers) when not in use, replacing thermostats with EnergyStar rated ones, setting back the heat at night-time (except heat pumps and in-floor systems), wearing more layers and/or getting exercise rather than turning up the heat, and other practises will save hundreds of dollars of energy for very little cost.

Of course some of these mean changing one’s life-style to some degree. This is about as easy as changing a politician’s views on taxation. The difference is that we are in control of ourselves, not others.

By becoming more of a “conserver society” we can make significant differences to the planet and to our own pocket-books. Our grandparents, especially those who are now in their 70’s and up, were raised in this way and so have a great deal of wisdom to share with us.

Perhaps it is time we paid more attention to them.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Two bits of news from the provincial government have recently come to light that have highlighted just how much government revenue triumphs over supposedly "green" thinking and acting.

The first bit of news is the plan for B.C. to harmonize its provincial sales tax with that of the federal government, called "HST." What has this got to do with energy efficiency and renewable energy? Because at this point in time the provincial tax is exempted on these products, essentially giving a 7% break on the price of "going green." Bicycles, solar panels, insulation and a whole lot more are currently exempted. After July 1st, 2010, they very likely won't be.

The other, much less publicised, bit of news is that the government is further reducing its royalties on natural gas exploration in a desperate attempt to increase its revenues as a result of increased drilling and selling of leases. There is currently too much natural gas on the market, depressing prices and making it less enticing to explore for new sources. This reduction in royalties will drive down the price even further, making renewable energy less attractive. In the end the planet will pay for this foolishness. So will we.

With these two strokes the current government has shown just how shallow its commitment to a sustainable future truly is. Of course the government is hurting for revenues. If it had the vision of Germany or even China (believe it or not) to push for renewable energy such as tidal and wave, the tax base would be improved and we could be exporting our technologies to other nations. Now we will be even more dependent on a finite fuel.

So it is that I continue to be inspired by those who act with vision -the many homeowners, businesses, and local governments who put their money where their mouth is.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Home energy upgrades

Yesterday I did what I most love doing: I met with an eager couple who are fixing up their newly acquired home, including sorting out how to make it much more energy efficient.

We spent about an hour and a half together. They gave me a brief tour of their new home, which was built in the late 60's, and features a great view of Departure Bay in Nanaimo B.C.

As is often true of many homes that have a view, this home had many large windows facing the water. A lot of modern homes have the brightness that comes from such windows. The down side, of course, is that windows are usually the worst performing surface of any home. It is likely that their windows waste 25% or more of the energy in their home.

This home also has a bit of a cathedral ceiling in the living and dining rooms. It is likely there is no insulation in that structure, another big waster.

One of the real advantages of the house is that it currently has convective hot water heating. They have removed the carpet that was partially blocking the air intake to the baseboard units, and we talked about how much more efficient they are without the covers on (as they then become radiant heaters).

Too often heating specialists ignore the very fine heating system water/hydronic systems are. I have learned from a plumber that water is over a thousand times more efficient at distributing heat than is air.

So one of the options we examined is the possibility of partially providing the hot water from a heat pump. Heat pumps are great at creating hot water! Not well known in North America, but the fact remains.

We looked at a whole variety of ways they could improve the home's energy, and I left feeling satisfied that this motivated couple would see a huge drop in the annual energy bill, plus way lower pollution and emissions.

Now their home will be beautiful in more than one way.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Energy Co-ops

In yesterday's posting I mentioned one solution to our coming energy and environmental crises is through local citizens creating "energy cooperatives."

Energy co-ops can be formed in a variety of ways, and with various kinds of energy production. They can range from a larger energy supplier such as the Toronto co-op that has erected a commercial wind turbine in that city to smaller co-ops such as in Vancouver where the membership works at helping each other put solar hot water systems on their roofs.

Co-ops can be formed between businesses, as well, so as to reduce the cost of purchasing equipment, and in sharing the knowledge base.

A couple of months ago the "Carbon Busters" group in the Duncan area sponsored a fantastic public event designed to kick-start a multiple-household purchasing arrangement to install solar hot water systems there. While this arrangement may not be a co-op as such, it has virtually all the markings of one. By working together the provincial government will further reduce the cost of installing systems on 20 roofs or more. Plus a contractor(s) can enjoy lowered operating costs when involved in a multiple-house installation. Win-win for everyone!

These co-ops (formal and informal) have been increasing in popularity around the world, and under the new administration there are taking off in the U.S. They make a lot of sense, not only on economical grounds, but also because they offer people in similar circumstances to get together and talk about energy in practical terms. The enthusiasm ends up being contagious (in a good way!), resulting in a greater uptake of renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Brief on solutions; long on results

The following is the outline of a 20 minute talk I am about to give on the 27th to an informal "green drinks" group. (These are 'green' minded folk who get together monthly and have a drink while talking about issues of sustainability.) This one meets monthly in Nanaimo.


· Peak oil

· Increasing demand for fossil fuels

· Green House Gas emissions from fossil fuels (Co2) and from meat production (methane gas)

· Loss of agricultural land

· Running out of chemical fertilisers (especially non-toxic ones)

· Running out of potable water for farms and cities

· Continuing dependence on single-occupancy vehicles

· Waste of energy in buildings


· Move away from fossil fuels and toward solar (direct and indirect) and tidal energies

· Move away from meat consumption (to greatly reduce methane gas production)

· Accelerate integrated transportation network

· Build cycle paths everywhere

· Protect agricultural land and encourage back-yard gardens and community gardens

· Encourage local buying (of food and everything!)

· Utilise the sewer waste stream and compost food left-overs to fertilise farm-land and gardens

· Capture rainwater, re-use waste water for toilets

· Institute mandatory waste-heat recovery systems in all buildings; use lending ability of utilities such as BC Hydro to encourage energy upgrades in buildings, give tax credits to greater energy efficiency while taxing carbon


The technologies are already available and relatively inexpensive (especially compared to the cost of not acting). If car manufacturers and banks can be bailed out, why can we not invest in the future of our planet home?

I estimate that about half of the votes in the last B.C. (Canada) provincial election were cast in favour of the environment. That means that both the mainstream political parties that have a presence in Victoria should be held to account for their environmental policies.

Here are ways to encourage this to happen:

1. Write letters to government and opposition parties encouraging a better carbon tax and an end to oil/gas subsidies and a moratorium on off-shore drilling and shipping of fossil fuels

2. Offer your vision to elected officials, your friends, family, co-workers, kids, and wherever you have an audience!

3. Lead by example. Make the needed changes not only because it will have a personal pay-back but also because doing so will benefit future generations and the planet as a whole. Don’t ask about the “payback period” for you. Ask about the “payback period” for the planet.

4. Discover the freedom associated with going green. Become liberated! (Garden, cycling, walking, slower pace of life, better food, more ‘grounded’, more interesting, fewer debts –freedom!)

5. Work with others to make the needed changes. Form a “carbon-busters” group here? Form an energy cooperative?

Comments anyone?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Pain leads to technology adoption

I love watching people's faces when they see what the In'flector see-through window insulation does with my standard window-tester. It is rather amazing to see how radiant energy so easily passes through various types of windows, but gets reflected by this aluminum-sided product.

Currently the world has enough technology, and those who know how to make it work, to completely change our economies from carbon-based to carbon-free energy systems. We need to begin by saving most of the energy we currently waste (mostly in transportation and buildings, plus food production). Then we can tap into such things as tidal power, the sun, wind, and others such as geo-thermal (using the heat from the core of the planet).

The problem is not the technology. The problem is will-power. We are not yet hurting enough, despite the increasing number of droughts, floods, storms, rising oceans, disappearing water sources, etc. Without enough pain we are unlikely to change much.

Pain will be coming. I see that gas prices are again rising. Why? We're running out of cheap oil, and the demand keeps on rising. This pain may help us to save ourselves from a terrible future of rapidly changing weather.

Seems strange to be hoping for pain. But, much like having a dentist repair a cavity, such pain is needed in order to avoid a much greater pain, and loss, later on. We do owe this to our children and grandchildren, and all the other lifeforms that share this earth-ship with us.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Rate of Return

This weekend I have had a display of my energy products at the Parksville Home Show. I have met some good people who are interested in greater home comfort, lower energy costs, and (some of them) a concern for the well-being of our planetary home.

Across the aisle from me is an investment company, advertising Guaranteed Income Certificates of up to 6.07%. I suppose in our current low-interest environment this rate is considered to be good.

I briefly spoke with one of their sales reps, and mentioned that the solar hot water system I install on people’s homes has a “GIC” rate of return of about 15%, and is likely to go up if (when) energy prices resume their steep upward climb. He smiled, but didn't engage me further. He likely believed me, but knew that he didn’t have a hope of competing against this kind of return!

I suppose I could feel smug about “winning” against an investment company. But what would my "rate of return" be on having this kind of attitude? Zero. Certainly his company can cash out the investment at any time, something that a solar system cannot do. Having that flexibility does result in significantly smaller rates of return (about a third in this case). Really, if I want the planet to be treated well I need to model this desire by being equally respectful toward my fellow human being.

Truly, this is the best way to "invest."

Sunday, April 19, 2009

From Fear to Action

At times it is easy to become discouraged as an energy guy. Too many people seem interested more in their current financial situation than in their future -and the future of our mutual home.

For those who are willing to step out of their "comfort zone", though, amazing things begin to happen! It is for such people that I have devoted my life.

When I see the eyes of those who discover just how much radiant energy sails through windows (even the best ones), and that there is a solution to this #1 waster of energy, then the huge process of starting a new, little understood, business is worth it! (See In'Flector blinds.)

In my experience many of the few who are willing to do something to reduce their "carbon footprint" are reluctant to take the next step (action) because they are afraid of change, fearful of failing, feel ignorant, or simply do not have the access to money.

At the Victoria Home Show, from which I have just returned, there were a few people who were willing to risk. Of the hundreds I met, only four were people with whom I have already established a relationship. The rest did not know me, hindering their willingness to risk. I don't blame them. All of us have been burned by unethical salespeople, those who value money more than people.

But even several of those with whom I am quite friendly have not followed energy suggestions I've sometimes given to them, and later have said that they wished they had done otherwise.

They are not alone. How often I have failed to follow the wisdom of others, and so have learned difficult lessons "the hard way!" And so I can be gracious toward them, and me!

As energy becomes much more expensive I know that the resulting pain will drive people to trust me more. Indeed, pain is usually needed before most of us make important changes. Still, I never enjoy seeing people hurting.

My strong wish is that all of us would be able to risk enough to move beyond our self-imposed confines and more fully grasp what it means to live on this beautiful, yet limited, planet. Then we will fear what we need to fear, not what we usually do fear. Then we will experience most amazing lives, and a future worth anticipating.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Taking action

What a wonderful response to my last blog was posted by Judy Roberts! As it turns out she will become a neighbour of mine once their co-housing project is completed late this spring.

Not wonderful in terms of the terror she experienced upon reading my last blog, but wonderful in terms of the actions she and others are already taking.

She listed several concrete ways that she is making a difference: putting her energies and capital into an energy-efficient building, becoming a member of a functioning, intentional, community. Giving up her car and using more sustainable methods of transportation. Growing their own food.

Together these efforts do make a tremendous difference to both the planet and Judy!
Of course not everyone can give up their car, especially since we value time more than we do the planet. Being a car-centric culture is extremely difficult to change! But leaders like Judy are showing us all that the quality of life can improve without a car (despite what auto ads suggest).

Judy asked for some suggestions about what to ask candidates leading to the upcoming provincial election in terms of fiscal matters. Unfortunately the banking industry is regulated by the Federal government. The province only regulates credit unions. So there is not a lot that can be done provincially, even though the Bank of Canada can (if not blocked by the Feds) lend money at very low interest rates to the provinces.

However, most of us could shift our banking to local credit unions. In any financial melt-down (such as is being experienced world-wide) credit unions are more likely to side with their members than are some impersonal banks. I expect that the financial problems will eventually hit Canada, perhaps as early as 2020.

Other steps can include buying gold and silver coins, investing in technologies that reduce our dependence on utility companies (such as insulation, solar equipment, window insulators, etc.), growing one's own garden (you do not need a lot of space!; consider joining a community garden or use someone else's yard), canning (water shortages will soon be threatening our food supply), forming a greater sense of community (through groups such as music, faith, mutual interests, action groups such as the "Carbon Busters", etc) so that you are not isolated when things get very scary, and more. I will post other ideas on this blog.

In the meantime we are all wise to get started somewhere. The first step is usually the hardest. And, as Judy has shown us, we are not alone.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Have you ever wished that you had more time on your hands, time to accomplish things, time to appreciate what you do have, etc?
You are not alone!
You will see that this is my first Blog entry since January. What happened to the thousands of hours that have since passed? I suppose that I could account for many of them, but I still marvel at their passing.

The point of time at which we humans first became aware that we are running out of time to make a significant course correction was not very long ago. Relative to the time humans have walked this earth, it was only a few seconds ago that we realised we cannot continue to destroy our home indefinitely.
Yet we have had enough time to begin a serious move toward living in a truly sustainable manner. We began to head in this direction when oil prices went through the roof in the 80's, but quickly backed down when the oil crisis was over. Now we are truly in a fix.
There are many barriers to the urgently-needed (life-saving) transitions into which we need to throw ourselves. Life-style changes account for part of it. Mostly it is the fear of change, the politicians being pushed by the interests of certain businesses and even "environmentalists", the power of the media, and especially the way we collectively worship the economy.
The god we call "the economy" has to continue to expand indefinitely (even on a finite planet!) because the banking industry is predicated on such. If the economy does not continue to expand the banks go broke. Since jobs, taxes, wealth, and everything depends on money, we do anything to avoid the banking system from going down. We are seeing the degree to which governments are willing to bail out banks and major industries, all to keep the economy expanding.
This, it can become evident to all who see the bigger picture, is complete madness. We are sacrificing the planet, our home (and home to an amazing array of life-forms), all in order to keep producing more goods so that the banking system can stay alive.
In other words, we are converting the planet's wealth for the sake of digits on computers. In psychology this death wish would be quickly diagnosed. Yet we all continue on down this path.
Thankfully, and despite denial by governments, companies (especially media) and individuals, increasing numbers of folk from all walks of life are realising just how mad this process is, and are pushing for needed changes.

Just in time.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Rising above the fog

I have just arrived back to a foggy west coast. It was fascinating as we approached the Vancouver airport to see the tentacles of the fog reaching into the lower mainland and all the inlets. It was so bright and sunny up where we were, above the rolling fog!

I was amazed, when visiting in Kansas in this last week, to see not one solar hot water collector. That area receives close to 300 days of sunshine every year! They are showered with enough energy to heat their hot water with very minimal boost, all year long. Evidently there are some noises being made by their governor that this needs to change, especially in light of the fact that they get most of their electricity from coal, and most of their space heating from natural gas. Their clean-looking air is as deceiving there as it is in Alberta.

As we continue to use up what is left of the fossil fuels that stored millions of years of solar energy we will be regretting not moving more seriously, and more quickly, to the post-carbon world. The price that our children and especially grandchildren pay will be far greater than a small reduction in that god we call “the economy.” But we Canadians are just as guilty of dragging our feet as have been the Americans.

One piece of possibly good news recently arrived here in B.C. It seems that the government, especially sensitive in this election year, appears to have leaned on B.C. Hydro to buy more new green power than they had indicated they would. But still the mandate to offer the lowest cost power is still putting a tremendous dampening effect on replacing coal-fired power (coming from Alberta during our night hours) with more sustainable, clean, electricity. Such vision is difficult to find, especially when it pushes prices up a bit faster than might otherwise be the case. At least the voices of many citizens of British Columbia are being heard here.

Perhaps the fog is an apropos metaphor here. While it is damp and cold here near the ocean, the bright sunshine is not far away. Similarly, while efforts to change us from being fogged in to our old, understandable ways of thinking seem to dominate, only a couple hundred feet above us is the bright energy awaiting for us to reach up and grasp!

Pray that a good, stiff, wind soon comes and stirs us all up so that we might all know what awaits us, so close to home.