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."