Reducing Your Home Carbon Footprint Is Easy

This is the story of how Bill and Lenore (a couple living in Ottawa, Canada) were able to reduce their home carbon footprint with one simple choice. Lenore and Bill are climate colleagues and friends. We met a few years back as members of Ottawa. Their story was first published in Medium.

Back when our environmentally-conscious friends were lining up to buy Toyota Priuses and Teslas, Lenore and I went down a different path. To do our part in the fight against climate change we decided to replace our gas furnace with an electric heat pump. With this single action we reduced the greenhouse gas emissions from our home by an astounding 90 percent. And, contrary to everything we were told, switching to electric heat in Ottawa has not increased our monthly costs.

Weighing Our Options

We decided to get rid of our gas furnace after first calculating our carbon footprint. A carbon footprint relates the things we do and the things we buy to the resulting emissions of climate-warming greenhouse gases. For the most part, these emissions are the result of burning fossil fuels — coal, oil, propane, and natural gas. Reducing our carbon footprint is the most effective way that we can combat climate change. Ultimately, the goal is to eliminate using fossil fuels entirely.

Fossil fuels are used in just about everything we consume and everything we do. That’s what makes combating climate change so difficult. I used an online tool to calculate the carbon footprint for our two-person household in 2016.

Reducing Your Home Carbon Footprint Is Easy, Below2C
Carbon footprint in 2016 for our two-person household in a 1300 square foot semi-attached house heated with natural gas in Ottawa, Canada. Emissions of greenhouse gases are expressed as an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide.

At 21 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year for a two-person household, our carbon was about 30 percent lower than average for Canada. This reflects our lower-than-average energy use, because our house is smaller than most and we don’t use our car every day.

The largest portion of our carbon footprint, about 15 metric tons per year, is from fossil fuel use that is embedded in the food we eat and the stuff that we buy. This is also the hardest part of our carbon footprint to manage. These emissions are the result of decisions by other people who we rely on indirectly to produce stuff and deliver it to stores, where we buy it. It is nearly impossible for us to know the lowest-carbon options for stuff we need to buy.

The remaining 30 percent of our carbon footprint is easier to manage because it relates more directly to decisions that Lenore and I make about travel and how we use energy in our home. In 2016, home energy use accounted about 18 percent of our total carbon footprint. So, we decided that our first move would be to reduce these emissions.

In Canada, buildings account for about 23 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions. Heating is the largest source of emissions from homes. For most people in Ottawa this means burning natural gas in furnaces. Burning natural gas is convenient source of heat, but it’s bad for emissions.

One strategy for reducing these emissions is to make our home more energy-efficient. However, we learned that affordable measures to make our 1920’s house more efficient would not take us very far toward the ultimate goal of completely eliminating the use of fossil fuels.

We also learned that we could have a far greater impact on our carbon footprint by changing the type of energy we use. In Canada, 82 percent of electricity is produced from sources that do not involve burning fossil fuels, such as hydroelectricity, nuclear power, wind and solar. So, we decided to switch from natural gas to electric heat when the opportunity arose.

They Said We Were Crazy

We were spurred into action on the fateful day of Friday, January 13, 2017. It was the coldest day of the year and the day for the annual checkup of our heating system. We were getting dinner ready when the service technician called me to the basement to show me a crack in the heat exchanger. He was “red tagging” the furnace and disconnecting it. The furnace had to be replaced, immediately.

No sooner had the technician packed up and was out the door when the phone rang. It was a salesman from the heating service company. Did we want to buy or rent our new gas furnace? When Lenore replied that we had decided to switch to electric heat, the salesman laughed derisively.

While not particularly effective as a marketing ploy, the salesman’s reaction was understandable. Conventional wisdom is that heating with natural gas is by far the less expensive option. Everyone in Ontario knows that you’d have to be crazy to switch from gas to electric heat. A few months earlier, in 2016, an article in the Toronto Sun reported that switching from gas to electric heat would cost an Ontario homeowner over $2000 per year in higher heating costs.

Reducing Your Home Carbon Footprint Is Easy, Below2C
Heat pumps use a little electric energy to move a larger amount of heat energy from the outside air to heat the air inside a home.

That might have been our fate if we had installed conventional electric heat. However, we went the unconventional route and installed an air-source heat pump, which uses only a fraction of the amount of electricity required by a conventional electric heating system.

The way a heat pump works is fundamentally different from a conventional electric heating system. In conventional electric heating, the electricity is converted directly into heat inside the home, with an efficiency of around 100 percent. An air-source heat pump heats works indirectly by using a small amount of electricity to absorb a larger amount of thermal energy from the outside air and move it inside. As a result, a heat pump can deliver an efficiency of around 300 percent.

Things Work Out Better Than Expected

We could not foresee exactly how things would work out when we launched this project. The furnace salesman was not the only skeptic we encountered. We were confident that converting to electric heat would reduce our carbon footprint. And, we hoped that installing a heat pump would not be too much trouble, and it would keep costs down. But, we could not be certain.

Reducing Your Home Carbon Footprint Is Easy, Below2C
Replacing our gas furnace with an electric heat pump reduced the carbon footprint of our home by 90 percent without affecting total energy costs.

The cost of heating with the heat pump has worked out better than expected. In 2018, the first full year of using the heat pump, the total amount we paid for natural gas and electricity was the same we were paying when heating with natural gas.

It took a over a month to install the heat pump. Most of this time was spent waiting for Hydro Ottawa, the local electric utility, to upgrade our electrical service. We needed to upgrade our electric meter to 200 amps so that we have enough electricity to run the heat pump now and to add an electric car charger later.

The heat pump fit directly into the space left when the gas furnace was removed, and it uses the same duct work as the old furnace. All the contractors we consulted recommended using the Mitsubishi ZUBA air-source heat pump. The ZUBA is designed specifically for a cold climate such as we have in Ottawa, and it is capable of keeping the house warm until outdoor temperatures drop below about -15 degrees Celsius. At colder temperatures, a conventional electric heater works in tandem with the heat pump.

Our total cost was about $20,000. This included the purchase and installation of the heat pump and the electric backup heater, upgrading our electric service, and additional heavy-duty wiring inside the house. Therefore, we have payed about $15,000 more than we would have for a new gas furnace. This amount is comparable to the premium that we could expect to pay for a new high-efficiency hybrid or an electric car.

The upside is that we have achieved a 90 percent reduction in emissions from home energy use. And, this shrank our carbon footprint by twice as much as we could have done by buying a Tesla. The downside is that we do not have a flashy new car sitting in our driveway. Also, unlike electric cars, no one is giving out rebates to offset the cost of installing heat pumps to convert from natural gas to electric heat, at least not yet.

Our heat pump is not going to save the world, but it is a start toward us doing our part. The United Nations climate panel has called for cutting the use of fossil fuels 50 percent by 2030. This is an immense challenge. Our experience shows that taking a first step is not difficult, but you have to be open to the possibility of making different choices. SOURCE


To Decarbonize, We Need To Electrify Everything



Energy efficiency is key to climate action, but which provinces are leading the way?

Energy efficiency: Canada’s ‘unsung hero’ of climate action

(Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

When it comes to action on climate change, a lot of emphasis is put on finding ways to green the power grid. One of the lesser-known strategies of reducing emissions, however, is focusing on energy efficiency — that is, building or retrofitting structures and vehicles so they use as little power as possible.

“I don’t think it’s discussed enough. It’s the unsung hero of Canada’s energy system,” said Brendan Haley, policy director of Efficiency Canada, who said that energy efficiency could represent 40 per cent of the emissions reductions needed to meet the targets of the Paris Accord.

The federal government has recognized the importance of energy efficiency, and cites it specifically in its Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. “But it’s really the provinces that are the implementers,” said Haley.

With this in mind, Efficiency Canada released a scorecard this week comparing how each province is doing across a broad list of categories, including “Energy Efficiency Programs,” “Enabling Policies,” “Buildings,” “Transportation” and “Industry.”

Out of a score of 100, British Columbia finished first, followed by Quebec and Ontario. Here’s the overall ranking:

1.     B.C. (56 points)

2.     Quebec (48)

3.     Ontario (47)

4.     Nova Scotia (45)

5.     Manitoba (32)

6.     Alberta (30)

7.     Prince Edward Island (26)

8.     New Brunswick (24)

9.     Saskatchewan (18)

10. Newfoundland and Labrador (15)

While B.C. scored well in most categories, Haley said the western province is really ahead on the issue of buildings. That’s largely a result of B.C.’s Energy Step Code policy, which “provides a clear path” toward net-zero energy-ready building standards.

Quebec did well in the transportation category as a result of being what Efficiency Canada calls “the country’s vehicle electrification leader,” thanks to its support of electric vehicle sales and for helping develop a robust charging network.

One of Canada’s underappreciated performers is Nova Scotia, which has gone a long way in establishing provincial energy-efficiency programs, Haley said.

The province was early in recognizing the potential. In the mid-2000s, Nova Scotia looked ahead to future power demand and determined it could either meet it through traditional means, which meant building carbon-emitting power plants, or it could tackle the problem through greater efficiency.

Results showed that greater efficiency would avoid the need to build an additional coal plant, and save an estimated $1 billion. The province ended up making saving energy a focus through the creation of a utility known as Efficiency Nova Scotia, and spurred growth in green jobs in a new energy savings sector.

One of the beneficiaries of that was Dwaine MacDonald, co-founder of Trinity Energy Group in Stellarton, N.S., which works on making commercial and residential buildings more energy-efficient. Since MacDonald and his partners launched the company in 2006, Trinity has grown to 80 full-time employees. Not only is business good, but other regions have taken notice of Nova Scotia’s expertise.

“Efficiency Nova Scotia is now known as a world leader in these programs,” said MacDonald, citing Alberta and Ontario, as well as U.S. states like Maine, as some of the jurisdictions that have sought guidance. “Nobody has been able to touch what Nova Scotia has done. It’s extremely impressive.”

Given the sector’s potential, Haley fully admitted that Efficiency Canada put out the scorecard with an eye to “trying to get some friendly competition going amongst the provinces to improve energy efficiency.” SOURCE

Green Party’s election climate plan gets top marks from municipalities

More than 200 municipal leaders have issued a “report card” on the federal parties’ climate platforms in hope of pushing Canada’s next government to better tackle the climate crisis’s impact on cities.

The Climate Caucus is a network of hundreds of Canadian mayors and city councillors working to limit global heating to 1.5 C, as recommended by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s.

On Wednesday, the organization released grades for each party’s climate change platform based on an assessment of their policies on transportation, buildings, waste, land use and adaptation.

The grades are as follows:

    • Conservatives: D-
    • Greens: A-
    • Liberals: B
    • NDP: B
    • People’s Party of Canada: F

“One of our main purposes as local governments is to challenge the provinces and federal government to do more on climate change,” Rik Logtenberg, a city councillor in Nelson, B.C., and co-founder of the Climate Caucus, said in an interview. “We have sympathy and understanding of the task at hand that others don’t. We understand that fighting climate change is complicated, especially if you’re trying to build a realistic climate platform. We understand that it’s difficult.”

According to UN Habitat, cities consume 78 per cent of the world’s energy, and produce more than 60 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. By 2050, cities will be home to two-thirds of the world’s population.

“Our asks have a lot of weight, because these are specific things we need tomorrow. Cities are carrying a lot of the weight right now to mitigate climate change, so this report card is deeply grounded in the reality of today” – @riklogtenberg

In Canada, cities are on the frontline of the fight against the climate crisis, Logtenberg said. But receive just over 10 cents on the dollar of all taxes collected in Canada, 80 per cent of which goes directly toward providing services, operations and maintenance.

This means local governments have only 20 per cent of the tax dollars they receive to protect and preserve the majority of Canada’s infrastructure from climate change.

According to a recent report conducted by Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Insurance Bureau of Canada, avoiding the worst effects of climate change at the municipal level will cost an estimated $5.3 billion per year, shared among all three levels of government.

Whoever forms government Monday will have to work with the leaders on the ground dealing with the issues that best facilitate mitigation and adaptation efforts.

“We, probably more than any other organization in Canada, are dealing with the impacts of climate change already,” Logtenberg said. “We’re actively working on rebuilding our transportation infrastructure. We’re rebuilding our building codes. We’re managing our municipal composting system with the intent of removing methane. We are dealing with the realities of climate change day to day.”

“Our asks have a lot of weight, because these are specific things we need tomorrow,” he added. “Cities are carrying a lot of the weight right now to mitigate climate change, so this report card is deeply grounded in the reality of today.” MORE

Breakthrough Energy Ventures collaborates with Climeon to accelerate deployment of geothermal heat power

Image result for Breakthrough Energy Ventures collaborates with Climeon to accelerate deployment of geothermal heat power
Source: distribution.cision

Breakthrough Energy Ventures, an investor-led venture fund backed by some of the world’s top business executives, has invested in Baseload Capital, the private investment company which Climeon owns part of, to speed up the global deployment of low temperature geothermal heat power.

– Working together with Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Baseload Capital we can now take leaps, rather than steps, toward our vision of becoming the number one climate solver, says Thomas Öström, CEO of Climeon.

Breakthrough Energy Ventures is an investor-led fund created to accelerate the transition to clean energy. The team funds cutting-edge companies with the potential to eliminate a half gigaton of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per year and invests across five grand challenges: electricity, transportation, agriculture, manufacturing and buildings. These are the broad areas of activity that contribute most to GHG emissions. The Fund’s investment team has identified low temperature geothermal heat power as one of the most significant opportunities available to address GHG emissions in the production of electricity.

– Geothermal energy from low temperatures has the potential to transform the energy landscape. We believe that the combination of Baseload’s implementation expertise and Climeon’s Heat Power technology has the ability to unlock the large potential of low temperature geothermal resources and result in the deployment of significant quantities of renewable electricity, says Carmichael Roberts, Breakthrough Energy Ventures. MORE

What Would a “Green New Deal” Look Like for Architecture?

The implications of such a plan—championed by new Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—extend well beyond the ecological

people in hard hats on a room next to solar panels

Going forward, the best new buildings will perform like mini power plants that can not only support their own electrical needs but also send excess energy back to the grid. Photo: Caiaimage / Trevor Adeline / Getty Images

Ocasio-Cortez’s plan, which emphasizes decarbonization, job creation, and social and economic justice, is politically audacious—it aims for 100 percent renewable energy within 12 years—but in line with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s most recent warning that the world has about a decade to get climate change under control if we are to thwart its worst effects. With close to half of all greenhouse gas emissions coming from the built environment, architects and designers should feel welcome wading into the conversation.

In the past, buildings were designed to hold people and things and to receive energy along a one-way artery from a faraway grid. Under a Green New Deal, that way of building would be considered outdated and obsolete. Instead, buildings would be considered mini power plants that can not only produce enough energy to supply their own needs, but also fuel vehicles and send excess energy back to the grid.

 “If you don’t build it to zero-energy now, you run the risk of being obsolete in ten years.”

“There’s a loosening of the boundaries around things that define energy—they’re not siloed anymore,” says Jacob Corvidae, a principal at the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Buildings Practice. “Suddenly, a building is not just a building.” MORE


5 tech innovations that could save us from climate change

The first of 5 big ideas focuses on power generation. The other four: transport, food, manufacturing, and buildings. Nuclear fusion

We already know that nuclear power is a way of producing electricity free of carbon emissions, but we have yet to harness it in a way that is truly safe and cost-effective. We may be closer to an answer, however.

Canadian company General Fusion aims to be the first in the world to create a commercially viable nuclear-fusion-energy power plant.

“Fusion produces zero greenhouse gas emissions, emitting only helium as exhaust. It also requires less land than other renewable technologies,” says the company. “Fusion energy is inherently safe, with zero possibility of a meltdown scenario and no long-lived waste, and there is enough fusion fuel to power the planet for hundreds of millions of years.” MORE



Canada driving sustainable growth of ‘intelligent industry’

The digitalization of the physical world has sparked the emergence of “intelligent industry” – a transformational opportunity to drive climate-friendly growth to a degree that the adoption of renewable energy generation can’t match.

Breathing New Life into Traditional Industries

At the steering wheel is Canada, a country assuming a leadership role in building and scaling the technology companies that are driving this global shift founded not only on climate concerns, but competitive advantage.

Addressing climate change is no easy task. Big problems often lead to big, new thinking. However, to effectively address climate change in the near term, the real focus should be on technology that optimizes the performance of existing solutions.

Simply converting to renewable energy generation will yield only a fraction of the change needed to reach a multitude of climate-based goals, including global warming, greenhouse gas emissions and carbon intensity. The most significant changes are to be driven by traditional industries, transportation, buildings, cities and infrastructure and agriculture and food. MORE