Why Quebec leads in clean tech — so far


A worker examines the electric charging system on a Lion Electric bus in this handout photo. Lion Electric photo

In a hangar-like space an hour from Montreal, workers in safety glasses carefully jockey huge aluminum arches into rows, like ribs, before switching on a whining drill to screw them into place.

The object takes shape — one of the world’s most recognizable shapes, a yellow school bus.

But that’s the only thing familiar about this bus. It’s all-electric, a wild pipe dream until just three years ago, when the first three like it hit the roads.

What has happened since then has been nearly as unfamiliar, at least in a province that’s historically had very little auto production. The manufacturer, Lion Electric, will have put 300 buses into operation by the end of this year, and it’s now completing one bus per day to meet demand. It employs 190 people in the small town of St. Jerome.

Lion Electric isn’t just Quebec’s or Canada’s biggest producer of electric school buses — it’s the continent’s biggest.

Quebeckers in a few circles may have seen this coming, however. Long before the era of climate anxiety, the province inadvertently became a perfect incubator for clean-tech inventions. Lion is one of several Quebec-based electrification-related startups that have suddenly jumped to the top of their markets.

Still, having a head start doesn’t necessarily mean holding onto it. As the rest of the world catches on to this global technological race, Quebec’s homegrown successes could still be eclipsed.

Many studies have raised alarms about the harm to children’s developing lungs from diesel fumes. Lion Electric photo

E-buses are healthier for kids

Lion’s founder, Marc Bédard, gets much of the credit for his company’s fast rise. Like all successful entrepreneurs, he took a risk.

In 2011, when he began working on his own all-electric bus, “everyone thought he was crazy,” says Patrick Gervais, Lion Electric’s spokesman. “There were no subsidies at that time.”

Bédard had previously been on the board of Les Entreprises Michel Corbeil, a major manufacturer of diesel school buses. His strategy for Lion was simple but shrewd.

While people have quickly accepted the reliability of electric cars, potential buyers are still wary of bigger electric vehicles.

Buses and trucks generally need to travel long distances — transport trucks, for instance — or to be in service all day long, as in the case of city buses. It’s hard to build a battery with the power, long life and quick recharging capacity to give these vehicles a big enough range.

School buses are different. “They do a run in the morning, can charge at lunchtime, do a run in the afternoon,” says Gervais. “It’s not that scary,” he says. Buyers can think, “‘if anything happens we can recharge over lunch — OK, I’m gonna try it.”

Plus, e-buses are healthier for kids. Many studies have raised alarms about the harm to children’s developing lungs from diesel fumes. E-buses can wait by school curbs without idling, and they’re also silent, allowing children to talk at normal volumes. MORE

No more fire in the kitchen: Cities are banning natural gas in homes to save the planet

VIDEO: Cities are banning natural gas stoves to save the planet

Natural gas is a fossil fuel, mostly methane, and produces 33% of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas causing climate change.

“There’s no pathway to stabilizing the climate without phasing gas out of our homes and buildings. This is a must-do for the climate and a livable planet,” said Rachel Golden of the Sierra Club’s building electrification campaign.

These new building codes come as local governments work to speed the transition from natural gas and other fossil fuels and toward the use of electricity from renewables, said Robert Jackson, a professor of energy and the environment at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

“Every house, every high-rise that’s built with gas, may be in place for decades. We’re establishing infrastructure that may be in place for 50 years,” he said.

These “reach” or “stretch” building codes, as they are known, have so far all been passed in California. The first was in Berkeley in July, then more in Northern California and recently Santa Monica in Southern California. Other cities in Massachusetts, Oregon and Washington state are contemplating them, according to the Sierra Club.

Some of the cities ban natural gas hookups to new construction. Others offer builders incentives if they go all-electric, much the same as they might get to take up more space on a lot if a house is extra energy-efficient. In April, Sunnyvale, a town in Silicon Valley, changed its building code to offer a density bonus to all-electric developments.

No more gas stoves?

The building codes apply only to new construction beginning in 2020, so they aren’t an issue for anyone in an already-built home.

Probably the biggest stumbling block for most pondering an all-electric home is the prospect of not having a gas stove.

“It’s the only thing that people ever ask about,” said Bruce Nilles, who directs the building electrification program of the Rocky Mountain Institute, a Colorado-based think tank that focuses on energy and resource efficiency.

Roughly 35% of U.S. households have a gas stove, while 55%have electric, according to a 2017 kitchen audit by the NPD Group, a global information company based in Port Washington, New York.

For at least a quarter of Americans, it doesn’t matter either way. They already live in houses that are all-electric, and their numbers are rising, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That’s especially true in the Southeast, where close to 45% of homes are all-electric.

For the rest of the nation, natural gas is used to heat buildings and water, dry clothes and cook food, according to the EIA. That represents 17% of national natural gas usage.

But the number of natural gas customers is also rising. The American Gas Association, which represents more than 200 local energy companies, says an average of one new customer is added every minute.

“That’s exactly the wrong direction,” Nilles said.  MORE

The climate crisis will make entire cities uninhabitable. It’s time to head underground

Underground cities have long been sci-fi fodder, but now governments and planners are taking them seriously. One of the biggest challenges to overcome is convincing people to be comfortable underground

Alexander Spatari / WIRED

Back in 1800 BC, the people of the Cappadocia region of modern-day Turkey decided their environment was so hostile – with extreme weather and the constant threat of war – that they dug an entire city underground. Derinkuyu, the oldest underground city still in existence, housed 20,000 people, providing schools, houses, shopping areas and places of worship protected by large stone doors which allowed each floor to be closed off separately.

In 2010, Helsinki, Finland, essentially took the same approach. The city council approved an Underground Master Plan, completed in 2019, that covers the city’s entire 214 square kilometres – combining energy conservation, shelter from the long, cold winter and an enormous prepper bunker in case of Russian aggression.

But it isn’t just security and seasonal weather touted as reasons for living underground. Subterranean living offers an alternative to huge tower blocks and growing populations. Asmo Jaaksi, a partner at Helsinki architectural practice JKMM and the chief architect of the city’s underground Amos Rex Museum, says living underground conserves heat and may, for some, be one of the safest places as the climate emergency escalates.

Helsinki has long pioneered underground living – the Temppeliaukio Church, designed by architects Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen was sunk into the city’s Toolo district in 1969 and, in 1993, the Itakeskus Swimming Hall – a large recreation centre that can handle 1,000 customers on an average day and converts into an emergency shelter with space for 3,800 people.

“Helsinki stands on bedrock – a good foundations and very stable ground,” Jaaksi says. “The city is very overcrowded, and we have such long, dark and cold winters. Underground offers more room and connects us together away from the bad weather.” Ilkka Vähäaho, the head of Helsinki’s geotechnical division, agrees. Vähäaho says other main drivers for developing underground include: “the Finnish need to have open spaces even in the city centre – taking parts of the city underground would allow more open space on the surface.”

This is where Helsinki’s plan could be pioneering a new attitude to subterranean living. With 60 per cent of the world’s population expected to be living in cities by 2050, meaning housing needs to be found for some 2.5 billion people, urban land is an increasingly limited resource. There is a practical limit to how high buildings can be built and due to space constraints, protected buildings or districts and green belts, many cities, such as Paris, Mexico City and Singapore are considering the answer lies not in more skyscrapers – instead, why not build down? MORE

 

 

Wind Farm Coming? Here’s What To Expect & How To Help Your Community

Image result for windfarm ontario

Wind farms remain the most environmentally benign form of electrical generation we have ever managed to create, with solar farms a close second. They have the lowest greenhouse gas emissions per MWh, full life cycle. They mix boundary layers of air over fields, drawing moisture and warmth at night down to growing plants, reducing the likelihood of frost and increasing yields. They shade livestock. They take up about 1% of agricultural land in the areas that they spread across, usually the less arable corners, and perhaps 2% when placed on ridgelines. Their few downsides, such as the low bird and bat mortality figures, pale in comparison to the toll of fossil fuels both directly and through global warming.

But that doesn’t mean that they are universally accepted by communities where they are being established. It’s important to provide care and feeding to those communities, to provide them the immunization that they often require from those irrationally or ideologically opposed to wind energy and to assist them in healing breaches that occur. Wind farms bring change, and change is often difficult.

A few years ago I toiled as a volunteer in the trenches of global wind energy social acceptance. I ran a blog used by wind energy advocates globally, Barnard on Wind. I was Senior Fellow – Wind for the Washington-based Energy and Policy Institute think tank, authoring a still-referenced report on global court cases related to wind energy and health (tl;dr: judges almost universally agreed that there are no health impacts). I assisted local groups in Ontario, the United States, Australia and elsewhere to counter disinformation and to find ways to communicate the benefits of wind energy to their communities. I worked to counter the virulence of anti-wind documentaries made in the USA and Canada. I remain connected to the American Wind Energy AssociationGlobal Wind Energy Council, and the Canadian Wind Energy Association by ties of social networks and respect.

This has given me a global perspective on the challenges communities face as wind farms enter their areas. There are real, if slight impacts, but it’s the psychology of your neighbors that is critical to understand. For the purposes of this assessment, let’s break the process into phases: pre-construction, construction, and operation.


Pre-construction

In the run up to a wind farm being constructed in a region, there may be some divisiveness and acrimony in the community. Some of it will be for more rational reasons, some for less. Some people will need to be brought on board, some will be opposed.

First, representatives of the company building the wind farm will be going door to door to the properties that their modeling shows are suitable for a wind turbine. They’ll be offering leases for the use of about a quarter acre of land per turbine for from $6,000 to $18,000 per year in the USA, with an average of around $8,000. Just as rural dwellers want cell towers and microwave repeaters on their properties for the revenue, they want wind turbines. And often the people who have the best land for wind generation are the people who had marginal agricultural land. A few wind turbines on a property can invert long-standing have/have-not status ratios in a neighborhood. That can lead to some acrimony, and it can lead to the former ‘haves’ who don’t get a wind turbine for their property leading the fight against all wind turbines.

Depending on the community and the company, they may negotiate a community investment as well. That might be a new town hall, a new baseball diamond, or an annual stipend into community coffers. The community should negotiate for that kind of investment. Wind farms have a capital cost of about $2 million per MW of capacity, and annual revenue streams in the tens or hundreds of millions for reasonably sized ones so there’s a lot of money to be negotiated for. Don’t be afraid to work hard to get it for your community in general. As always with negotiations, you don’t get what you don’t ask for.

People who live in rural areas where wind farms can exist tend to be more conservative than urban dwellers, and a wind farm is a visible addition to an area. Some people will be opposed solely on the basis that something is changing, much of which can be explained by the same NIMBYism that sees urban neighborhoods oppose condo buildings which will ‘change the character’ of their street.

But the conservatism plays out another way. It’s become fairly common for conservative parties to use renewable energy and global warming as wedges with their base. As a result, there’s been a partisan shift away from acceptance of the reality of global warming and our causing it, and with it a disdain for wind and solar as forms of generation. This is diminishing somewhat as time marches on, global warming becomes even more evident and wind farms spread around the world, but it’s still there.

Then there’s the completely flaky stuff people will believe. There are a few anti-wind organizations and individuals who have spread complete nonsense around the world. Your more credulous neighbors who have a bias against wind farms will find it very easy to get a lot of material full of fear, uncertainty and doubt. As a supporter, you’ll end up seeing lists of mind-bogglingly silly things that are attributed to wind turbines, and some people will believe it. Some will watch one of the three or four anti-wind turbine propaganda documentaries that are out there, or start following one of the two or three common online gathering grounds for anti-wind types. Some will get hysterical. A lot of time will be spent pushing back on the nonsense, slowly and painfully. And a lot of respect will be lost for some members of your community.

Making sure that you have a list of the common anti-wind talking points that are spread with clear and simple debunkings of them helps. The site Wind Power Rocks took the content of the Barnard on Wind blog a few years ago and created a cleaner, simpler and more effective set of material to help with that. Cutting and pasting the rebuttals into social media when the disinformation pops up is a good way to neutrally communicate reality without being confrontational. Similarly, AWEA has an excellent blog, Into the Wind, so checking in there for information is a good idea.

Social media is place where a lot of fear, uncertainty, and doubt will be spread, and there are people who spend all day every day spreading it. Making sure you’ve set up a positive community social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram will really help. Unfortunately, as Tigercomm found through a study of US wind farm operators, the companies have mostly ceded this ground to opponents for the past several years, at least in the USA. Spend some time with the company to divide up some responsibilities so that you both can be contributing to social license for wind farm.

Another type of vaccination your community may need is to keep traveling anti-wind propagandists out, or to counter their messages if those in your community who are opposed invite them in. When I was assessing court cases related to the non-issues of wind energy and health, it became apparent that court cases followed anti-wind propagandists such as Sarah Laurie, Carmen Krogh, and Nina Pierpont into areas that they visited. Baseless health fears followed these people, and in some cases led to legal challenges which virtually all failed, at great expense to the community and the legal system.

If those opposed in your community invite someone to speak about wind energy and its impacts, investigate them thoroughly. If they are associated with groups such as Wind Concerns Ontario, The Society for Wind Vigilance, the Waubra Foundation, Stop These Things, or Save the Eagles International, they will be spreading baseless lies that can make it much more difficult for a community to remain intact. As always with this type of fake news, there are two primary strategies. First, make sure that the reality is out there before the propagandists show up. Communicate early and often. Second, ensure that there is at least equal representation at any event to make sure that someone can counter the propagandists. Third, ongoing follow-up with reality-based statements to the disinformation that they spread will be required.

Finally, consider getting professional help. Time and again I’ve seen professional anti-wind PR campaigns from part-time residents of rural areas who have retirement or vacation properties there. They made their money in resource extraction, tobacco, or something with equal challenges, and are used to hiring professional PR flacks for campaigns. A tiny island south of Australia, King Island (great cheese, many lovely people), was considered for a large wind farm and the people who wanted golf courses instead hired the same PR company that was used by very conservative politicians to try to sell coal exports. A wealthy Australian created an entire anti-wind organization just to prevent wind turbines from being barely visible at the end of the valley from his occasional country home. The people opposed to wind are often amoral. They have theirs and are very willing to fight to keep others from getting some too. Suggested North American companies include TigercommRenewCommDavies Public Affairs. (Full disclosure: I am acquainted with the principals of all three companies and have professional relationships with one.)

It’s work, but it’s worth it for your community, your neighbors and your friends. It will pay dividends over the coming years.


Construction

One of the many advantages of wind generation, and one it shares with solar farms, is that it doesn’t take long to build. The entire construction period for an average wind farm will be under two years, and in many cases some turbines will be generating electricity long before the farm itself is finished. Some wind farms are built in stages, but each stage doesn’t take that long and there are usually gaps of a year or two between those stages as we’ve seen with the 4,000 MW wind farm on the St. Laurent River in Quebec or the 20,000 MW Gansu Wind Farm in China reaching completion in 2020.

During construction itself, there will be some short-term impacts. Some new roads will be cut, possibly to get to ridgeline turbine locations. It’s possible some trees will be removed, which will be unfortunate. Ensuring replacement reforestation is a good idea. There might be some temporary turbidity in streams and rivers as the relatively small areas cleared for roads and pads erode a bit until they stabilize.

There will be some big trucks moving through your community with concrete and rebar for the bases. There will be other big trucks moving in the masts, blades, and nacelles. Large crane trucks will show up to assemble turbines. Other trucks will bring the substantial electrical equipment necessary to bridge from turbines to transmission grid. In some cases this will damage local roads and in some cases the equipment might pass across someone’s field or lawn. Repairs will be made, and of course the wind farm firm should be on the hook for these based on prior negotiation with the community so that there is no conflict in rapid resolution and payment.

During construction, there will be jobs for some members of the community. Some will be skilled labor, others will include unskilled labor. There will be multiple, spread-out construction sites for the individual turbines, so there will be lots of work for night security guards for the duration. There will be an uptick in use of local accommodations and local dining and drinking establishments. A fair amount of money will flow into the community during construction.

There will be complaints about the roads, the trees, the noise, any turbidity and the like, but that’s low grade usually, especially if you’ve discussed this with the wind farm company up front and ensured that they will take care of it rapidly and at their expense.

Nonsense opinions and disinformation will continue to fly, and a small subset of your community are likely to work themselves up into a full froth. You’ll get sick of hearing from them. But you’ll need to stay positive and continue to provide factual, neutral information to counter them both in person and on social media.


Operation

After the turbines are in and the wind farm is in operation, a lot of the hue and cry will die down. Almost everyone will discover that the turbines aren’t particularly noisy or visible most of the time, that they are widely spread out, that they are far from homes, and that almost every concern was overstated.

Property values won’t decline. Properties with wind turbine leases often will appreciate in value faster than the average, and that may again cause some resentment about the fiscal benefits. All the credible studies using standard mechanisms for assessing property values statistically find this.

A couple of people with bedrooms closer to a wind turbine might complain. Typically the wind farm company will work with them to find a suitable compromise, which has included companies paying for a row of trees, water features which make a little noise, and soundproofing blinds for bedrooms. Shrewd neighbors of yours will find a way to take advantage of this and get free upgrades to their homes. Companies budget for this. And of course this round of upgrades comes with local economic benefits as mostly it’s local people doing the work and getting the money.

If someone gets sick, it will be because they are making themselves sick. They’ll blame pre-existing conditions on the wind farm. They’ll worry themselves into high blood pressure, and then blame the wind farms for the high-blood pressure. They’ll realize that they have tinnitus, and blame that on the wind farm. Some will have read too much of the nonsense and they’ll make themselves mildly sick through the power of suggestion, something called the nocebo effect, which is the opposite of the placebo effect.

But no one will be being made sick by wind turbines placidly turning in the breeze, just by their own minds. How do I know this? Well, I spent years on the subject, reading all of the peer-reviewed health literature, talking with acousticians and public health professionals and writing about it in material such as the court cases study I published. My writing on the subject has ended up in the journal Noise and Health and in books such as Wind Turbine Syndrome: A Communicated Disease by my colleagues and friends Simon Chapman AO Ph.D. FASSA HonFFPH (UK), Emeritus Professor Public Health, School of Public Health, Sydney University and Fiona Crichton, LLB, MSC Hons, Ph.D. Candidate,University of Auckland. Very bright people have been trying to figure out since the mid-2000s why people are blaming wind farms for health issues that they just aren’t causing, and it’s pretty clear that it’s health scares spread by anti-wind groups creating psychosomatic illnesses.

And the money will be flowing into your community. A 115 MW wind farm with 50 turbines means that leases will be bringing $300,000 to $900,000 into the pockets of people in the community that wasn’t there before. A bunch of that money will trickle into the rest of the community. Any community benefits you negotiated for will still be paying dividends.

The wind turbines in operation mostly just sit there, but they need a minimum amount of security, even if it’s just a weekly security inspection by someone to make sure kids haven’t tried to jimmy the locks on the turbine bases.

There will be operational inspection teams through moderately regularly, often with drones these days to inspect the blades and masts. They’ll need to eat and stay somewhere, so more money into the community.

Every year there will be roughly a week of maintenance on the turbines, and that will mean more skilled maintenance people in eating and drinking at the local water holes and staying in the local accommodations.

Some bright sort will probably figure out that a wind farm actually attracts some tourists, and start a sideline bed-and-breakfast aimed at wind farm tours or the like. Once again, the studies show zero negative impact on tourism, so agritourism opportunities just tick up a notch.


The vast majority of opposition to wind farms occurs before they are built. The majority of NIMBYs give up at a certain point. The majority of people who were worried stop worrying once the turbines are just a feature of the neighborhood. There might be a tiny percentage who remain freaked out.

And some mending of fences will need to occur in the community. Wind farms are often somewhat divisive and harsh words are spoken. Some reconciliation and grudge burying will occur. Some will fester, but if it wasn’t the wind farm, it likely would have been something else. Some people just like holding grudges.

After a few years, no one will remember the region without the wind farm. It will be like the old barn on your neighbor’s property or the duck pond, just a part of the scenery. But all the money will keep flowing into your community regardless. And you’ll be part of the solution to our global warming problem.

Forget Smokey the Bear: How First Nation fire wisdom is key to megafire prevention

Fire prevention policies of the past have created conditions for today’s out-of-control blazes, experts say


Annie Kruger was the last firekeeper appointed by her people, say family. Her granddaughter is in training to take over, but has more to learn yet, and the tradition tapered off with Kruger’s death. (Don Gayton)

The grandchildren of  Annie Kruger remember her lighting an Export A Green cigarette, throwing on her logger’s jacket and heading out to set fires near Penticton, B.C.

Before she died she was a firekeeper — as were generations before her in the Okanagan region of the province — and it was her job to use flames to purify the land by setting fire to berry bushes, hillsides and even mountains to renew growth and clear brush and create natural fireguards.


Annie Kruger was a firekeeper in a long line of people who were trained to use fire to take care of the land. (Don Gayton)

“Our family have been firekeepers for thousands of years,” said Pierre Kruger, Annie’s son.

Kruger cited several big fires he said his family started hundreds of years ago when lines of  Kou-Skelowh people walked beating drums to warn wildlife before setting fire to what’s now called Sylix territory.

“We warned the birds and four-leggeds,” he said. “My mother taught us every fire is like a snowflake — no two are alike.”

Annie kept up the tradition until she died in 2003.

By then, authorities had long cracked down on the practice, pushing fire prevention hard starting in the 1930s, in full-force after 1945. Fire became bad, something to battle or ban. Remember Smokey, the iconic bear who doused fire near forests?


A vintage Smokey the Bear poster from 1963. Fire prevention campaigns began in the 1930s and discouraged any fire in the forest. Fire was touted as bad for all wildlife and trees. (U.S. Forest Service)

Fire prevention experts fear that those policies, launched decades ago, unwittingly created conditions that are now feeding the out-of-control wildfires plaguing California and Alberta — and, in recent weeks, some 240 blazes in B.C.

Experts are urging provinces to adopt more Indigenous burning practices because the long crackdown on constructive burning has built up fodder for fires.

Why burning curbs megafires

In North America, fire suppression became the prevalent way of handling fire over the past century, to protect property, ranch lands and people.

But the practice left dead trees, forest litter and aging forests to become prone to disease, such as pine beetle infestations, fostering the perfect ignition material for spot fires to spread and converge, experts say.

“It’s a setup for huge fires,” says Mark Heathcott, a fire expert who managed Parks Canada’s controlled burns for more than 20 years.

When smaller fires merge, they can create megafires so intense and so fast, they are unstoppable.

One of hundreds of spot fires dotting an eight-hectare ranch after a crowning forest fire jumped the Fraser River near Quesnel, B.C., on the July 8-9 weekend. (Wylie Bystedt)

These kind of fires are becoming more common in the U.S. — and Canada has seen a few, as well. In 2003, a lightning strike in the Okanagan started a fire that burned 25,000 hectares and forced 27,000 people from their homes near Peachland and Kelowna, B.C. In 2011, a forest fire raged into Slave Lake, Alta., forcing the evacuation of 7,000 people.

Then in 2016, the monster Fort McMurray fire led to the evacuation of the city of 88,000, making it the largest fire in Alberta history.

In California, four million hectares burned in 2015, setting records and sparking fire experts to blame overzealous firefighting, arguing the land needs some fire.

Land craves fire

In recent years, science has emerged to prove certain lands have always had fire.

Researchers examining fire-scarred trees in western Canada discovered that boreal forests actually evolved in places like B.C.’s interior and parts of Alberta because they were scorched to the ground every 75 to 100 years in a patchwork pattern, Heathcott said.

“Forests have to be burnt to regenerate,” he said. “It’s tough to suppress that forever.”

The benefits of prescribed burning are recognized by B.C. officials.


A massive controlled burn northwest of 100 Mile House, B.C., on July 13. (Sam Martin)

The province organized burns this spring near Mayfield Lake, south of Williams Lake, as part of the Ecosystem Restoration Program started in 2008 to use controlled fires to “restore natural grassland, historically renewed through low-intensity ground fires,” according to a news release.

The province approved up to $75,000 for 22 First Nations groups to burn off up to 28 hectares in 2016-17.

But it’s not enough, experts say. In B.C., about 4,000-5,000 hectares are burned in prescribed fires in a year.

“That’s like a fart in a high wind,” says fire ecologist Don Gayton of Summerland, B.C.

B.C. used to burn

How much more is needed?

“How big is B.C.? That’s how much should burn every 100 years,” said Heathcott, who estimates that in every century prior to this one, most of our 95-million-hectare province burned.

It’s not realistic to set fires on that scale in the 21st century, given that many forested areas are now in proximity to populated centres.

And nobody is advocating going back in time, but proponents like Heathcott say say more burning is needed.

Spot fires burned tree roots on a ranch near Quesnel, B.C. The results of prescribed burning should be more controlled and less intense. If fire burns out roots it can cause soil sterilization and erosion. (Wylie Bystedt)

In 2016, the Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resources conducted 59 controlled burns, described as “valuable training” for staff.

The exercises depended on weather, and often got called off.

Officials are wary of the legal risk of an escaped fire, and few have long-term experience wrangling flame.

Fire misunderstood

So while prescribed burning is no longer a hanging offence like Kruger claims it was for a few of his people in the 1880s, it’s still underutilized say proponents.

A handful of First Nations groups are working to revive the lost practice of fire-keeping, but it’s slow, said Pierre Kruger. “We have to re-educate people. None of our families’ fires ever got away, but people don’t understand fire anymore.”

He says his grandmother’s view of the megafires of today would be simple: people forgot to use fire.


Firefighters near Williams Lake, B.C., show signs of the exhausting toll firefighting takes. (Simon Hergott/CBC)

A fixed wing air tanker drops fire retardant over a fire near Little Fort, B.C. (Mike Zimmer/CBC)

MORE

RELATED:

California’s Wildfire Policy Totally Backfired. Native Communities Know How to Fix It.

An Energy Breakthrough Could Store Solar Power for Decades

 Researchers in Sweden have created a molecule that offers a way to trap heat from the sun.

relates to An Energy Breakthrough Could Store Solar Power for Decades
ILLUSTRATION: KHYLIN WOODROW FOR BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK

For decades, scientists have sought an affordable and effective way of capturing, storing, and releasing solar energy. Researchers in Sweden say they have a solution that would allow the power of the sun’s rays to be used across a range of consumer applications—heating everything from homes to vehicles.

Scientists at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg have figured out how to harness the energy and keep it in reserve so it can be released on demand in the form of heat—even decades after it was captured. The innovations include an energy-trapping molecule, a storage system that promises to outperform traditional batteries, at least when it comes to heating, and an energy-storing laminate coating that can be applied to windows and textiles. The breakthroughs, from a team led by researcher Kasper Moth-Poulsen, have garnered praise within the scientific community. Now comes the real test: whether Moth-Poulsen can get investors to back his technology and take it to market.

The system starts with a liquid molecule made up of carbonhydrogen, and nitrogen. When hit by sunlight, the molecule draws in the sun’s energy and holds it until a catalyst triggers its release as heat. The researchers spent almost a decade and $2.5 million to create a specialized storage unit, which Moth-Poulsen, a 40-year-old professor in the department of chemistry and chemical engineering, says has the stability to outlast the 5-to 10-year life span of typical lithium-ion batteries on the market today.

relates to An Energy Breakthrough Could Store Solar Power for Decades
Moth-Poulsen with a small sample of his molecular solar thermal liquid. PHOTOGRAPHER: OSCAR MATTSSON/CHALMERS UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY

The most advanced potential commercial use the team developed is a transparent coating that can be applied to home windows, a moving vehicle, or even clothing. The coating collects solar energy and releases heat, reducing electricity required for heating spaces and curbing carbon emissions. Moth-Poulsen is coating an entire building on campus to showcase the technology. The ideal use in the early going, he says, is in relatively small spaces. “This could be heating of electrical vehicles or in houses.”

A big unknown is whether the system can produce electricity. While Moth-Poulsen believes the potential exists, his team is focused for now on heating. His research group is one of about 15 trying to tackle climate change with molecular thermal solar systems. Part of what motivates them is the Paris Agreement, which commits signatories to pursue efforts to limit global warming to 1.5C (2.7F).

Moth-Poulsen plans to spin off a company that would advance the technology and says he’s in talks with venture capital investors. The storage unit could be commercially available in as little as six years and the coating in three, pending the $5 million of additional funding he estimates will be needed to bring the coating to market. In May he won the Arnbergska Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for his solar energy projects.

The professor doesn’t have precise cost estimates for the technology but is aware that it will need to be affordable. One cost advantage is that the system doesn’t need any rare or expensive elements. Jeffrey Grossman, a professor in the department of materials science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who’s also developing energy storage molecules, calls the Chalmers University team’s work “crucial if we want to see this energy conversion storage approach commercialized.”

Peter Schossig, who runs the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems in Freiburg, Germany, says he wants to help turn the Swedish team’s research into a product. But, he says, “There’s still a ways to go.”

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