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.

Smart Meters: Why should I care?

Picture this, an electrical grid perfectly balancing generation, demand and distribution. A grid that is capable of accommodating abundant wind, solar and other renewable sources of energy into its system without issue or complication. On the rare occasion that problems occur, they are quick to be resolved. Such a technological wonder is not only possible but is already under way and it has started with the mass deployment of smart meters, so why then is there so much opposition towards them?

Smart Meter

Smart meters like this one are being deployed across North America

For those that don’t know, a smart meter is a device that collects a building’s energy use along with the time it was used which is then sent to the utility companies via Wi-Fi network at set intervals per day. Utilities will then use this data to get a more accurate, up-to-date picture of demand and consumption, which will make the grid easier to manage.

Currently, many utility companies across North America are installing smart meters at peoples’ homes and businesses as part of a greater vision to build a smart grid. There has been, however, a significant amount of resistance to them in many areas. In British Columbia, many groups have sprung up vehemently opposing smart meters. In a more extreme example, some families in Texas have been threatening utility workers at gun point to prevent smart meter installations. Such resistance to a seemingly benign piece of hardware has raised concerns over privacy invasion and health risks. However, are these legitimate concerns? Are these groups just buying into their own paranoia? Looking into this subject, it seems like logic and science are being ignored at the expense of innovation and progress.

BC Residents Protest smart meters

British Columbia has become a hot bed of smart meter opposition

Much opposition towards smart meters is that fact that they monitor a building’s energy usage throughout the day. Some are concerned that this is an invasion of privacy and is akin to a form of surveillance. Although smart meters will give utilities a more accurate picture of how much energy you’re consuming throughout the day, utilities will not know how you’re using that energy. This is similar to how we already deal with our internet service providers (ISP). Most ISPs will know how much bandwidth you’ve used, but they won’t know whether your bandwidth was used for downloading, uploading, streaming, etc. Privacy hasn’t been violated; the ISP is merely collecting your bandwidth usage so that they can bill you for the services they provide. Utilities will work in the exact same manner (as they do now), the only real change brought about by smart meters is that utilities will now gather your energy data via Wi-Fi signals, which is the other main area of concern for smart meter opponents.

The radio frequency (RF) radiation emitted by a smart meter’s Wi-Fi component is often cited as a major health risk by smart meter opponents. However, given the common sources of RF radiation, it seems short-sighted to villainize smart meters. Any wireless device will emit RF radiation; this includes cell phones, wireless routers, radios, garage door openers, etc. According to the American Cancer Society, cell phones will emit significantly more RF radiation than a smart meter and at a closer distance as cell phones are often pressed against a person’s ear whereas a smart meter is usually located outside of a building. Furthermore, a smart meter doesn’t emit RF radiation continuously like a cell phone; it will only emit when sending data to the utility. This is all making the assumption that the amount of RF radiation emitted by cell phones even poses a health risk in the first place, which modern science has flatly refuted. Frankly, the Sun is a far more dangerous emitter of radiation (and a proven cause of cancer) than any cell phone or smart meter, but that doesn’t seem to stop smart meter opponents from stepping outside to protest.


Beware, it could actually kill you… unlike a smart meter

The proven benefits of smart meters outweigh any inconclusive (or downright false) claims surrounding them. As more and more buildings have them installed, the grid will become far more interconnected in terms of its ability to share energy data information with utilities. It will make our grid more efficient, more responsive, and could potentially save us billions of dollars in the long run. But all this could be delayed or even prevented if smart meters continue to be opposed for illogical reasons. Now is not the time to let stupidity impede progress.

Winds of Change

Ontario’s power generation is changing rapidly. By 2014, there will be no more coal generation while renewable energy sources (particularly wind) will make up the difference. This goal has been lauded by a number of environmental groups as it will help lower Ontario’s carbon emissions, reduce air pollution, decrease our reliance on non-renewable sources of energy and at the same time, create jobs in a rapidly growing industry. However, no matter how positive these changes may be, there are certain concerns that need to be addressed about going green.

Wind Farm

Amaranth Wind Farm, the largest of its kind in Ontario

Wind power has made significant strides here in Ontario; the industry has seen an increase in the number of large scale turbines from 10 in 2003 to more than 700 today. You can also expect that number to increase in the coming years as well. According to the Ontario Ministry of Energy’s Long Term Plan, by 2030, wind power will generate 10% of the province’s energy needs (in 2010, it supplied only 2%).

Increasing our reliance on wind turbines, however, has its own set of challenges. Unlike other sources of energy such as nuclear, coal or natural gas, wind turbines can only generate energy if there is a sufficient breeze. As a result of this inherent flaw, wind power is not ideal for baseload capacity as it is not entirely reliable. Of course, when building wind turbines, energy planners look to build turbines in areas that are consistently windy, however, it’s possible that even the most notoriously windy areas can go without a breeze for prolonged periods of time.

With this in mind, the all-too-important balancing act between generation and consumption becomes slightly more complicated. Adding an increasing amount of intermittent wind power might cause generating capacity to fluctuate over shorter periods of time. Currently, whatever wind capacity is generated is used as there is no viable way to store energy in Ontario, and on days where demand is considerably higher and wind cannot make up the difference, more nuclear and natural gas generation fills the void. Although our current grid can adjust load to compensate for wind power, a greater understanding of what is happening to our grid at all times will be needed in the likely event that renewables will play an increasingly larger role. In the worst case scenario, excess wind generation will need to be sent to neighbouring grids that may need extra capacity (e.g. Quebec, New York, Michigan) so as to avoid potentially catastrophic overloads (refer to the August blog post).

Energy Grid Management Facility

Managing our grid will be paramount in future years

Another issue that should likely arise due to increased wind capacity is energy cost. Although several cost analysis have suggested that wind power is competitive with other sources of energy in terms of cost, as a result of massive subsidies given to nuclear power, wind is considerably more expensive per kWh. As such, more wind power will likely increase peoples’ utility bills in the near future.

With the rising cost of energy, a greater emphasis is placed on energy management and conservation. As mentioned in a previous blog post, energy management systems for large industrial and commercial operations can help reduce energy consumption and utility costs. Furthermore, an energy management system can pay for itself through energy savings within months of deployment.

Increasing wind generation capacity in Ontario will benefit the environment greatly. The challenges that come with it on the other hand, are not reasons to prevent more wind generation, but rather they should be seen as a warning that there is no perfect and certainly no free solution to our energy issues. Wind energy can play a very crucial role in our electricity system and although it may cost more and require additional technology and infrastructure to support it, if business and industry move forward intelligently, there should be no reason why we can’t have lower utility bills and an adequate supply of energy.

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.

The “Cost” of new, sustainable buildings

“The greenest building is the one that is already built.” 

This statement goes against what many people think.  All overy major North American cities, demolition crews are dismantling old, inefficient buildings and creating new, more efficient, more sustainable buildings in their place.  Seems like a great idea.  If we look at this more closely, it makes us think a little differently.

Preservation Green Labs (link here) is a Seattle-based think tank that explores the value that older buildings bring to their communities, and pioneers policy solutions that make it easier to reuse and green older and more historic buildings.  It’s important to understand this context as the research they released on January 24, 2012 as it forwards their cause.  Saying that, there is a lot of good information that is both objective and scientifically factual.

Here are some of the highlights of the report

Reuse Matters: It can take between 10 – 80 years (typically 30) for a new energy efficient building to overcome, through efficient operations, the climate change impacts created by its construction.

Scale Matters: Collectively, building reuse and tretrofits substantially reduce climate change impacts.  Cities often have an opportunity to incorporate reuse and retrofit initiatives into budgets and planning, providing significant scale and carbon reductions.

Design Matters: The environmental benefits of reuse are maximized by minimizing the input of new construction materials.  Retrofits and reuse projects using recycled materials provides big opportunities for reducing environmental impact.

Conclusion: When comparing buildings of equivalent size and function, building reuse almost always offers environmental savings over demolition and new construction.

The entire report can be read here.

The opening sentence is a comment that can be debated over fair-trade coffee and organic beer on a patio any day.  The value that comes from a report like this is the debate and how debates like this can enhance everyone’s understanding of the best ways to deal with existing infrastructure.

Please leave your comments as I would love to hear them.

Thanks for reading.

Smart Buildings highlight opportunities for commercial properties

If you are familiar with the commercial real estate sector, the phrase “Smart Buildings” won’t be new to you.  But for the majority that don’t keep up with the commercial building jargon, Smart Buildings will be a household name in the near future.  This is because the technology that is going into the newest office towers around the world will eventually come to the average home owner; in the same way innovations in the automobile sector are often conceived on the race track.

Smart Buildings are buildings that are fully connected.  This means that all the regular infrastructure that are located within a building (telecommunications, security, internet, and energy) are networked together, allowing for unparallelled communication opportunities.  Think of a building that has a spinal cord…a central conduit where all the information within the building can be transported throughout the entire building.  But why does this matter for commercial tenants or builders?  Here are the most exciting opportunities that Smart Buildings will provide us in the next few years:

  1. Give real-time information on the “health of the building”.  Smart buildings will provide information on anything going on in the building at any time.  Change the building temperature, add an internet connection, add apps to read just about anything that is going on in the building from any computer.  Value: Respond to any event in the building almost immediately; have a real-time history of what has happened in the building.
  2. Reduce building waste.  Commercial buildings account for 35% of commercial energy consumption in North American cities.  What if we were able to reduce that consumption by 5% just because the building was smart enough to adjust the temperature and lighting at night automatically?  That would mean a continental savings of over $4 Billion with no impact on operations! Value: Reduce overall electricity demand; Save money; Lower Greenhouse Gas impact.
  3. Stimulate technology development.  Some of the largest software and hardware companies in the world are investing in Smart Buildings.  This includes Cisco, GE, and Siemens.  As this technology matures, Smart Buildings will eventually become Smart Houses, enabling this same technology to achieve the same results in every home in North America.  Value: Technology transfer to everyone; lower residential electricity costs; lower stress on the electricity grid.

There is a significant amount of opportunity for Smart Buildings to have a real impact on all of our lives.  If we work in Office Buildings, we may notice it sooner, but even if you work out of your house, pay attention t some of the amazing developments that will trickle down in the near future.

If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to comment below!

Thanks for reading.