How to stay cool and save energy this summer

Any good Canadian will always know what they constantly repeat in Game of Thrones; winter is coming, but not before the arrival of summer’s scorching sun. During this season, people tend to beat the heat by blasting their air conditioning night and day. Unfortunately, this will only add to your already costly electricity bills, and if every household in Ontario were to do the same, our electricity demand would skyrocket. So to save you money and at the same time, decrease strain on our electricity grid, here are some simple, no-hassle tips that can save electricity and keep you cool at the same time.

1. Close your blinds during the day

blindsWhile the sun is shining bright, a clear, unobstructed window will let in sunlight, which will in turn heat up your house. Closing the blinds will help keep the sunlight out and your home shaded and cooler. If you need some light, venetian blinds can be adjusted so that a varying amount of light gets in while blocking the rest.

2. Use your ceiling fans

ceiling_fanAlthough they don’t actually cool the air, by keeping the otherwise stagnant air moving, it feels cooler and increases the level of comfort for occupants. Above all (no pun intended), a ceiling fan uses much less electricity than an air conditioning unit.

3. Refrain from using the oven

ovenIt’s really a no brainer that using the oven will introduce REALLY hot air into your already hot home, which means the air conditioner will have to work even harder to cool the air. Instead of baking and broiling, try using the microwave, or better yet, have a barbecue outside. If you need to use the oven, it may be better to do it in the early morning or later at night when it’s cooler.

4. Hang dry your clothing

Hang-dryTake advantage of the summer heat by drying your laundry the old-fashioned way. On scorching days, your clothing and linen will be dry in no time and you won’t have to use a clothes dryer, which tends to be the biggest electricity user of all household appliances.

5. Take short, cool showers

showerTaking a cooler shower can be refreshing in the hot summer heat. Above all, you’ll need to heat less hot water at a time when you really don’t need it.

6. Replace all incandescent and halogen light bulbs

Light-bulb-comparison-1Incandescent and halogen light bulbs emit a lot of heat as a by-product when turned on. LED lamps and compact fluorescent bulbs, on the other hand, do not emit nearly as much heat while typically using a quarter of the energy incandescent bulbs use. They also last a lot longer.

7. Adjust your thermostat before you leave your home

T-Stat_SetThere’s no need to keep blasting the air conditioner when no one’s at home. If you’re leaving your house for a prolonged period of time, raise the thermostat and give your air conditioner a break. When you come back, lower it to your desired comfort level.


Energy Security and Independence

In this world of ours, you’d be hard-pressed to find a country that is entirely independent when it comes to resources, trade, labour, and even energy. In the case of countries that rely on others to supply them with natural gas, oil or electricity, they are often at the mercy of changes in energy prices and policies that can drastically affect their own. As such, many countries are pursuing avenues in which to decrease their dependence on foreign oil and gas imports through energy reduction, becoming self-sufficient in terms of energy production, and by diversifying their energy generation with more clean and renewable sources. This is something in which all countries must pursue, not just for the sake of economic and political stability, but also for the sake of the planet.

The most recent example of energy dependence backfiring horribly is Ukraine. Russia is the Ukraine’s biggest natural gas supplier by far and has supplied Ukraine with natural gas since the latter’s independence. As a result of the ongoing crisis in Crimea, Russia has threatened to increase Ukraine’s gas prices by 44%. Such an increase could potentially cost Ukraine an additional $2.5 billion (US), which is the main reason why Ukraine is now looking westward to France and Germany to supply its natural gas.

Ukraine imports most of its natural gas from Russia and now finds itself in a very heated political standoff.

According to the US Energy Information Administration, 40% of Ukraine’s energy comes from natural gas and of that natural gas, around 60% was imported from Russia. It’s no wonder then that Ukraine’s energy fate is so closely tied with Russia’s foreign policy. In order to counter this, last August, the Ukrainian government approved an updated energy strategy through to 2030 shifting from natural gas to more nuclear, coal (of which Ukraine has a lot), and more renewable sources. Unfortunately, Crimea was supposed to play a large role in securing Ukraine’s domestic energy production, and with the ongoing crisis, those plans are now in jeopardy.

Island nations are also particularly vulnerable to sudden changes in fuel prices. Many countries in the Caribbean import diesel for electricity so when the price of fuel increases, they have few alternatives but to increase the price of electricity. As such, electricity prices in many Caribbean islands are often more than $0.42/kWh (nearly triple the amount most Europeans and Americans pay). In Anguilla, they pay an astronomically high $0.63/kWh!


Anguilla, blessed with beautiful beaches, and incredibly high electricity prices.

Such energy inflexibility is the main reason why the Caribbean region is now getting more than $1 billion in loans to fund renewable energy, particularly wind and solar. Spearheaded by billionaire philanthropist Richard Branson, these loans are to help reduce electricity bills amongst some of the more impoverished people in North America, and at the same time, help the region become more sustainable and less vulnerable to sudden shifts in fuel prices.

Photographer: Robert R Gigliotti

Wind farm at Vader Piet, Aruba. There is a lot of wind power potential in many Caribbean islands.

Some countries (such as Canada) are rather fortunate to have a plethora of natural resources in its own backyard. Other countries, not so much, and there will always be countries that need to rely on neighbours to provide what they cannot create themselves, but even so, that shouldn’t stop countries that have fewer options from exploring potential options.

It is absolutely paramount that countries around the world begin to shift from energy importers to energy producers. And so long as they are relying on non-renewable sources like oil and natural gas, their fate will be tied to fuel prices. The more we rely on finite resources to spur our economic growth, the more vulnerable our economic prosperity becomes. Along with a shift from importer to producer, we must also rely on clean and renewable sources like wind and solar. The sun and wind aren’t subject to market variability, only natural fluctuations, which are much easier to predict. If we start to depend more on dependable resources, energy independence becomes much easier.

Clean energy; anywhere but here… or there

It seems like when it comes to energy we all want it to be the same things; cheap, reliable, and plentiful, clean would be nice, but it’s not mandatory, and since clean energy tends to be more expensive in this market, it’s often overlooked. Furthermore, if these clean energy alternatives happen to be aesthetically unpleasant, then it’s definitely avoided. But in the cases where renewable energy (such as wind or solar) does make sense, often times, it is opposed for a number of reasons by local residents, much to the dismay of green-minded individuals. But why are so many local residents opposed to clean energy projects? Do they really find solar panels and wind turbines that ugly? Are they paranoid? Or are they just misinformed? The answer is rather complex, but in reality, it is all of the above.

Here in Ontario, there has been a significant amount of opposition to new renewable energy projects (wind turbines in particular). Many residents in Bruce County fuel the not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY for short) sentiments that seem to be gaining traction. Local residents claim that the noise and vibrations from turbines can cause a number of different sicknesses, leaving many sleepless, disgruntled, depressed and above all, disgusted from the sight of wind turbines. This phenomenon isn’t just confined to Canada. In the United States, some 45% of all clean energy projects are delayed or scrapped altogether due to some form of local opposition.


Bruce County has become a hotbed of wind turbine resistance.

It seems strange that though there are opponents to clean energy projects citing health and safety concerns, they seem to remain silent in regards to other controversial projects. Residents of Bruce County have been quite vocal in their opposition to wind farms, but they don’t seem to be at all concerned about having the world’s second largest nuclear facility in their own backyard. Although, Bruce Nuclear Generating Station has never had any serious issue, surely the potential for one should have the entire county up in arms. In the Southern Ontario counties of Haldimand and Norfolk, opposition to wind turbines has been quite strong as well, but did local residents forget that up until the end of 2013, the nearby, coal-fired Nanticoke Generating Station had been consistently spewing pollutants into their air for over 30 years?

wind protest

Anti-wind groups have been voicing their displeasure for years and are still quite vocal about the subject.

It is said that familiarity breeds contempt, well if that’s true, unfamiliarity seems to breed downright hostility. Simon Chapman, a professor of public health at the University of Sydney, has surmised that perceived ill-effects of things like wind turbines and solar panels can be explained by the nocebo effect. The nocebo effect (opposite of placebo) is a term to describe general feelings of malaise when a harmless substance (or in this case, object) is introduced to a subject who perceives it as harmful. So essentially, those who look at wind turbines with disgust may end up feeling sick simply because they dislike the wind turbine, not because the turbine is actually making them sick.

Still, however, there are those who are convinced that wind turbines do actually cause illnesses to those who live near them (aka Wind Turbine Syndrome), despite study after study confirming that wind turbines do not cause any harm to humans. To date, wind turbines have been blamed for the increase of more than 100 illnesses in areas where they are built. This list includes insomnia, migraines, nausea, anxiety, depression, and even epilepsy. Interestingly, some other illnesses supposedly caused by wind turbines include lung cancer, sudden weight gain, sudden weight loss, and most perplexingly of all; herpes. It often seems like the only people who live near wind turbines who aren’t getting sick are those making money through them. I guess the cure to Wind Turbine Syndrome is money.


Wind turbine syndrome seems to be a rather odd concern given the health effects caused by other sources of energy.

Misinformation and hysteria seem to be the driving factors for many wind opponents, and unfortunately, these sentiments are behind moratoriums on further renewable energy projects in a number of jurisdictions. Where we put our wind turbines and solar panels is not a health question, but purely one on aesthetics. I agree that local residents do need to be consulted before large scale projects are undertaken near their doorstep, but if we don’t want to burn coal, oil or gas, enrich uranium, or capture the wind or sunlight, our energy options will become severely limited.

Cleantech is Alive and Well

Last month, CBS ran a piece on 60 Minutes called “The Cleantech Crash” about the wasteful decline of companies coined as Cleantech industries (a generic term for industries in alternative energy). In 2011, President Barack Obama funded approximately $100 billion into developing Cleantech industries hoping such an investment would spark innovation, development, and ultimately, jobs. According to 60 Minutes, this expensive project turned out to be a large mistake funded by taxpayer dollars. Several companies like Abound Power, Beacon Power, Range Fuels, ECOtality and a host of others went under, which begs the question whether clean, renewable technologies will ever become a viable alternative given what was seemingly a massive failure.

After CBS aired that segment, they received quite a lot of harsh criticism from many experts within the green industry, even the US Department of Energy called it “flat wrong”. Although there were a number of Cleantech companies that went under, the segment failed to mention the resounding success stories that emerged from Cleantech funding. The American solar industry (which had benefited from the $100 billion US government funding) has grown dramatically since 2008. According to Slate Magazine, there were more solar power installations in 2013 alone than in the previous 20 years combined. Employment in the solar industry grew 10 times faster than the US average; it now employs more people than the natural gas and coal industries combined.

Solar generation plant

Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in California, the word’s largest solar thermal facility is now operational.

Clearly, such growth is not an indication of decline and decay, but rather, a sign of strength and stability, and it isn’t stopping there. According to Mercom Capital Group, an Austin based clean energy firm, US solar energy generation is projected to increase by another 6,000 MW in 2014 alone!

It isn’t just the solar industry that has benefited from Cleantech funding; wind power has also grown substantially in recent years. According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), the cost of generating wind power has decreased by more than 40% in only 4 years, and at the end of 2013, there was an additional 12,000 MW of planned generation under construction. Furthermore, the vast majority of the additional wind power capacity will be coming from onshore wind turbines; the US has barely tapped the potential from offshore wind generation, where wind speeds are greater and more consistent.

Flat wind farm

Shepherds Flat Wind Farm in Oregon, the second largest of its kind in the US began operations in 2012.

During the 60 Minutes segment, reporter Leslie Stahl lists a whole group of companies that failed even though they received funding from the federal government. It is understandable that some would oppose the US government’s handling of Cleantech given that so many government subsidies were wasted on projects that never left the ground, but if that’s all it takes for collective outrage, the fossil fuel industries should never hear the end of it.

According to Businessweek, when it comes to government subsidies worldwide, coal, oil and gas have received more than $400 billion in 2010 alone. That same year, renewable energy industries received a comparatively small $60 billion. Additionally, every year, the US government subsidises coal, oil and gas by as much as $50 billion if the cost of securing oil reserves in the politically volatile Middle East are included and for what? A 2009 study conducted by the National Academy of Sciences reported that burning fossil fuels costs the US around $120 billion a year in health related costs and thousands of premature deaths. In essence, the American taxpayer is giving $50 billion to some of the wealthiest corporations only to have them contaminate the environment making them sick and slowly killing them. Additionally, the costs resulting from the effects of global warming have yet to be fully quantified with no realistic estimate available. Even so, I can’t imagine that it would be a small figure.

Coal Generation Plant

Fossil fuel industries receive far more in government subsidies than Cleantech.

It seems rather blind and contradictory to condemn the US government for subsidising Cleantech while remaining silent over the subsidies given to oil, coal and natural gas. In the worst case scenario, subsidising a renewable energy project could result in wasted money; subsidising oil, coal or natural gas could result in an environmental disaster and wasted money. Since there is a fixed amount of things we can burn, it seems rather obvious that some kind of an investment into Cleantech industries will be necessary now and in the future.

It is very clear then that calling Cleantech a failure is far too premature, and from the projections and potential for growth, it seems as though Cleantech has a great future ahead. Although there were some bumps along the way, the journey is far from over, and the experiment continues. Just because the first attempt wasn’t a resounding success, it doesn’t mean that any future attempt is doomed to fail. Like many industries, those behind Cleantech are still learning and adapting with the best yet to come. The present has already proven Leslie Stahl a little premature in her judgments, I’m certain time will prove her completely wrong.

The Rising Cost of Energy

A few weeks ago, Ontario released its 2013 Long Term Energy Plan promising a new set of reforms and policies, among the more important points were:

  • Shut down of all coal-fired generators
  • Implementing conservation programs to offset growing electricity demand in the next 20 years
  • Refurbishing Darlington and Bruce Nuclear Generating Stations beginning in 2016; shutting down Pickering by 2020
  • Expanding renewable energy generation to 50% of total capacity by 2021

Critics of the government, however, were quick to point out that under this new plan, energy rates were almost guaranteed to increase by as much as 43% in the next 3 years, which has businesses and home owners worried. However, is an increase in electricity rates such a horrible thing? It is true that governments can and have mishandled energy issues (e.g. Oakville natural gas cancellation), but in this case, increasing electricity rates is hardly a reason to get angry especially when we have it so well compared to other countries around the world.

The average weekday price of electricity in Ontario is about 9.55 cents/kWh and under the government’s plan, that rate is expected to increase. But according to data gathered by Shrink That Footprint, electricity rates in Western Europe and Asia are typically more than double the Canadian average of 10 US cents/kWh (refer to Figure 1), giving Ontarians very little reason to complain.

How Much Does Energy Cost

Figure 1

The United Kingdom pays twice as much per kWh than we do, in Spain their rate is three times ours, and in Denmark, they pay, on average, a whopping four times what we pay per kWh! Furthermore, this study doesn’t even consider the different economic disparities between countries. For example, $ 1 US can buy considerably more in India than it can in a relatively more expensive country like the United States; therefore adjusting the price per kWh using the purchasing power parity makes electricity rates in Canada the cheapest out of the surveyed countries at a paltry 8 cents/kWh.

Electricity Prices relevant to purchasing power

Figure 2

Our electricity prices here in Ontario are the envy of the rest of the developed world; however, other provinces do have it better than us. Manitoba, British Columbia and Quebec, in particular, have electricity rates that are considerably less than Ontario’s. However, this is because Ontario has the distinction of being the only province that uses nuclear to generate more than half of its demand. Evidently, nuclear energy has proven to be very expensive not just to build, but to maintain and keep.

The actual market price for electricity in Ontario is only about 2.5 cents/kWh; however, this is before the Global Adjustment (GA) fee is added to the price, with it, electricity rates are more than tripled. The GA charge was added to provide electricity producers with added revenue. Unfortunately, the vast majority of it was used to subsidize nuclear, natural gas and coal generation. According to the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, from 2006-2011, 45% of all GA revenue was used to subsidize nuclear power, 6.7% was used to subsidize coal and an additional 34% was given to natural gas generation.

Global Adjustment Payments

Only 6% of all GA revenue was used to subsidize new renewable energy projects and 8% was used for energy efficiency programs. Simply put, nuclear and natural gas subsidies are the reason why Ontario’s electricity rates are higher than other provinces’ and increasing. If Ontario weren’t so dependent on nuclear for its electricity, there wouldn’t be such a great need to subsidize it.

Spending tens of billions of dollars on new nuclear reactors and then several more to refurbish them years later, and have the taxpayers make up the difference is simply not fair nor does it make economic sense. Ontario is bracing for a future where renewable energy will provide the bulk of its demand, and one day it will negate the need for all of those subsidies for nuclear and natural gas generation. In the mean time, electricity rates are going to increase, and so long as renewable energy is continually opposed, there will be no end in sight for the Global Adjustment fee.

If empty promises and well wishes could power our homes, we would have solved our energy issues a long time ago. Unfortunately, reality can be cruel, and pragmatic solutions are necessary in order to ensure that our energy supply is clean, reliable and affordable in the long run even if that means increasing its price in the short term.

The Simplicity and Effectiveness of Energy Conservation

As any business owner or head of household will know, the simplest way to save money is to spend less on what you don’t need. In the same vein, the simplest way to save on energy expenditures is to use less. Now it may sound like a simple solution to our vast and complex list of energy problems, but then again, the simplest solutions are often the most effective.

In these hot summer months, power grids across North America will feel the strain of millions upon millions of people turning on their air conditioners while using all the other electronic devices modern lives and employment require. In order to meet demand, power generators need to increase their output significantly, which often means burning more coal and natural gas. Although building new power plants running on clean, renewable energy is good for the grid, good for the environment, and necessary in future years, such projects cost millions, possibly billions depending on size and scale, and may take several years to complete. Energy conservation, on the other hand, may prove to be the cheapest and cleanest energy resource as it requires little to no additional infrastructure, and it is readily available.

According to Jack Gibbons, head of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, Ontario spends $36 on new generation for every $1 invested in conservation, despite the fact that conservation is much cheaper than building any other type of generation. Such imbalance has likely contributed to a review in Ontario’s energy policy with Minister of Energy, Bob Chiarelli, recently speaking out in favour of conservation in this past Tuesday’s Toronto Star.


Grids struggle to meet demand during the hot summer months

Ontario isn’t the only jurisdiction looking to conservation to solve their energy issues. Over the past few years, British Columbia has been at the forefront of energy conservation in Canada. In 2007, BC Hydro identified a massive 22,000 GWh of electricity that can be accessed by 2026 simply through conservation. So if all savings are realized as predicted, in a little more than a decade, BC Hydro can “create” 50% of their current generation capacity simply by using what energy they already have more efficiently. Since 2008, BC has saved about 3,400 GWh/year. That’s enough to power more than 300,000 homes.


BC Hydro could potentially increase their demand capacity by 50% through conservation

California has also reaped the benefit of energy conservation. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, since the 1970s, California’s energy conservation policies have negated the need for 30 power plants, and prevented the same amount of carbon emissions generated by some 5 millions cars annually. In total, these energy policies have saved California residents more than $65 billion dollars and helped lower their energy bills by 25% below the US average.

For business, a significant obstacle to energy conservation strategies is that any ensuing renovations are very expensive, time consuming, and may interfere with operations. However, some companies are only making the simplest of changes, barely affecting operations as a whole. Unilever, for example, has merely encouraged its employees to turn lights off that aren’t in use. This very simple request alone saved the company €99 million (approximately $135 million). Likewise, since 2007, the Fairmont Winnipeg has saved 882,000 kWh per year in electricity by merely replacing all 60-100-watt light bulbs with more energy efficient ones. This resulted in no interruptions to service, and has saved the hotel approximately $44,000 per year.

Energy Savings

The Fairmont Winnipeg saves $44,000 annually because of a change in lighting

Other low cost, high savings options for business include installing an energy management system to track and monitor energy consumption. One example where savings can be easily realized is through shifting high intensity energy activities to later at night or early in the morning (load shifting) to take advantage of cheaper energy prices where time-of-use pricing is in effect. Energy management systems that can identify these areas for savings can be deployed at a fraction of the cost of large scale renovation projects.

Over the long term, power grids across North America will have to upgrade their current generation capacity and accompanying infrastructure, which will likely take decades at the cost of billions. As well, businesses that want to make their operations more efficient will have to take more complicated steps than turning the lights off. At the same time, however, solutions based primarily on conserving energy can and should be taken beforehand because energy conservation requires no additional infrastructure, it can be done immediately, it is simple. Although simple may be easy, and simple may be cheap, simple is also effective.