Efficiency, Generation, and the Frivolous use of Energy
Generate it and they will come. This has seemed to be the rallying cry coming from governments on all levels over the last few weeks as discussion on global efforts to curb climate change have heated up (no pun intended). There has been abundant chatter about aggressive new renewable goals and the economic factors of environmental and sustainable policy. Yet, while renewables are vital in dealing with supply side factors, it is important to recognize the ability to also address energy use through efficiency. Focusing our efforts solely on solving supply issues is like trying to sail across the ocean with only half a boat. Less energy used = less supply needed (regardless of the source). Simple math.
Canadians use a lot of energy. While there are certain factors that influence this (industry, climate, level of development), it is still important to examine the statistics. Canada uses roughly 16,000 kwh/capita annually, putting us in the top ten globally for electricity use. We also rank in the top 5 for energy use/year. This paints a concerning picture about not only how we are using our resources, but also how we are building our infrastructure. There are challenges associated with living comfortably in a northern climate, but why has so little been done to address our efficiency problems? Furthermore, why have solutions that have been found been swept into a corner and forgotten by most?
Perhaps more telling of the importance of addressing efficiency is exploring energy use from a macro scale and its relevance to global development. An International Energy Agency study titled “Energy for All” explores the role of energy in enabling developing nations. Yet, with recent climate talks, it raises the important question; how do we increase energy supply to provide opportunities for developing nations, while subsequently reducing emissions? The IEA bases their predictions on countries coming out of poverty using around 500 kwh annually, which ignores the fact that no country with a per capita income of over $10,000 uses less than 3,880 kwh/capita annually.
So where does our ability to address efficiency fit into this equation? I will call upon the old environmentalist adage: reduce, reuse, recycle. Reduce comes first for a reason, and rightfully so. The opportunity to reduce energy usage should be forefront in talks to reduce emissions and curb climate change. The least environmentally damaging kilowatt hour is the one not used. It is also the cheapest. By saving money and protecting the environment, it only makes sense to build smarter and design with efficiency in mind. When the Oil Embargo struck in the 70’s there was no real supply answer; therefore, it became pertinent to address demand. Government support and funding spawned the Saskatchewan Conservation House, a home on the very forefront of efficient design that would go on to inform the Passive House movement. This time around renewables offer the potential to create a clean energy supply, and it is hard to ignore the rhetoric around job creation and clean generation. Yet, moving into an era where we are increasingly dependant on technology, it is pivotal to create solutions for efficiency.
This isn’t to say that there isn’t action happening to support energy efficient efforts. The US recently released a plan to reduce commercial energy use by over 10% supposedly saving businesses in excess of $167 billion dollars. In Saskatchewan there is being pressure put on civic and provincial governments to adopt energy efficient building codes to ensure new buildings are all built to a given standard. Studies have been done documenting the beneficial economic results of government programs to support renovations for efficiency and have seemingly caught the ear of the federal government seems to realize the message and private sector. At Vereco, we are working to design homes that are as efficient as possible while still being attractive economically. Will insulation and passive solar design ever be as sexy as a shiny new Tesla powered by solar panels? Depends who you talk to, but regardless of the mass appeal, efficiency is a vital component of creating a sustainable society and should be given the attention it deserves.