Tag Archives: Microgeneration

Alberta Views – “Kill (Your) Bill”

Alberta Views – “Kill (Your) Bill”.

This whole Alberta Views July issue was awesome, but this particular article is definitely worth a read. Chris Turner is a great writer and if you haven’t picked up “The Geography of Hope” I strongly recommend it.

 

IF YOU’D LIKE TO SEE A SORT OF SNEAK PREVIEW of what Alberta’s future could look like, you’ll find it in a warehouse that comprises part of a bland, big-box commercial strip in southeast Calgary. The sign out front reads “EasyMax Homeservices,” and the warehouse is accessed through a generic office space where Enmax customers can come to order new heating and air-conditioning systems.

 
Wikipedia What is Microgeneration.
 

Enmax (an energy utility wholly owned by the City of Calgary) has long been one of the province’s most vocal proponents of “microgeneration,” the production of electricity by homeowners. Homes with solar panels on their roofs or wind turbines in their backyards can generate their own electricity instead of relying solely on companies operating big centralized plants powered by coal or gas. As part of an ambitious plan which will see the homes of 250 Enmax employees retrofitted with small-scale green-power generators over the next year (this as a test run of a broader rollout to all its customers in 2010 or 2011), Enmax has gathered the leading microgeneration candidates at the back corner of this nondescript warehouse.

A solar thermal panel (which harnesses the sun as a water heater) has been mounted on a large plank and rests propped against the wall like a half-completed home improvement project in some do-it-yourselfer’s garage. Along one stretch of wall, household-scale wind turbines have been stacked neatly in their shipping boxes. Elsewhere a couple of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, await the chance to generate electricity in southern Alberta’s annual 300-plus days of sunshine.

It all looks no more substantial than a specialty aisle at the rear of a Home Depot, and some of this stuff—the solar water heaters and PV panels in particular—has been on the market for years. In other jurisdictions around the world, from sunny California to oft-dreary northern Germany, forward-thinking legislation has turned rooftop solar into a household feature as common as a skylight. By one report, though, there are only about 100 microgeneration installations in all of Alberta right now. At a guess, I’d say the assortment of demo-project materials in Enmax’s warehouse could nearly double that.

Still, none of this—the panels and turbines, the workaday warehouse and Enmax’s bold plan to expand far beyond it—would be of much significance without the necessary bureaucratic infrastructure. This was created only recently: Alberta’s “Micro-generation Regulation,” officially AR 27/2008T, was passed on the first of February 2008 and came into effect on New Year’s Day, 2009. It’s a simple and fairly common piece of policy, a document similar to ones enacted in several other provinces, all but a handful of American states and just about every country in Europe. AR 27/2008T obliges owners of electricity utilities to install a new kind of electricity meter on the houses of any and all customers who would like to generate their own renewable energy and feed it back to the grid in exchange for a credit on their power bills. You’ll generally hear this process referred to as ” net metering” or “two-way metering.” AR 27/2008T, in short, enables Albertans to reduce their power bills by generating green power in or on their homes and selling it back to their utility at the same rate for which they might otherwise purchase it.

Pembina Institue
…analysis of Alberta’s power production and energy efficiency

What fanfare there was to greet AR 27/2008T was mostly muted. A Pembina Institute spokesperson characterized it as “a positive baby step,” while Enmax CEO Gary Holden called it a “critical first step.” Only the Edmonton Journal mustered any real enthusiasm. With AR 27/2008T, the Journal reported, “Alberta entered a new energy age.”

How, you might wonder, could a whole new age be ushered in by a single baby step? Well, consider the difference between a spark and a raging bonfire—and moreover consider the essential continuity between them, which of course can only be seen in retrospect. AR 27/2008T is, for now, just a spark, and it could easily fade to a cinder. With the right kind of fuel, however, it could be the start of a mighty conflagration indeed. Or, actually, the end of the greatest conflagration in human history—our 200-year bonfire of the fossil fuels—and the beginning of the sustainable new age of renewable power.

Some simple legislation could accelerate that shift— complementary policy initiatives to make AR 27/2008T into something downright epochal. The Alberta government could provide strong incentives for the installation and perhaps even the manufacture of microgeneration systems, whether by tax rebates, direct government investment or some kind of favourable-interest-rate loan scheme. Or it could decide it truly wanted to lead the transition to a 21st century economy, in which case it could pass the much more ambitious legislation known as a “feed-in tariff,” a powerful policy measure that sets prices above market rates for electricity generated by renewable sources. The feed-in tariff has transformed several European countries (most notably Germany) into titans of the renewable-energy industry in less than a decade, and the Ontario government seems intent on importing the policy wholesale later this summer. Alberta could take a lead role in the manufacture and implementation of the technologies that will drive this new economy—if it’s ready to fully embrace the future.

“Skip ahead 15 years, and witness a dream nearly realized.”

BACK AT THE ENMAX WAREHOUSE, ON A PALLET in front of the shelfload of tiny wind turbines, there stands a sleek metal appliance with a digital display mounted along its top rim. It’s a miraculous little machine, one that might prove to be the most revolutionary in Enmax’s microgeneration arsenal. You could easily mistake it for a dishwasher, but it is in fact limitless abundance of energy-dense fossil fuels relegated the frugal Stirling to the dusty back corner of the lab for the past hundred-plus years. This is pretty much where the Stirlingpowered WhisperGen was when Gary Holden—at the time the chief executive of TransAlta’s New Zealand subsidiary— discovered it on the campus of the University of Canterbury in Christchurch in the mid-1990s.

Holden: “What I found was a university laboratory with wires and gauges and pipes everywhere, and some sheet-metal contraptions to capture the heat. It was a relatively crude example of the technology. But I understood its potential back then, and when I asked the inventor—he was a 28-year-old grad student at the time—he said, ‘Well, my vision for this is to see one of these in every home in Europe.'”

Skip ahead 15 years, and witness a dream nearly realized. The lab project gave rise to a technology start-up that sold the little devices to yacht owners, and that start-up was eventually bought by New Zealand’s state-owned power company, Meridian Energy. Meridian recently entered into an agreement with Mondragon of Spain to start churning out 30,000 WhisperGens per year, with the intent of bringing them to a great many homes throughout the efficiency-obsessed European market.

All well and good if you happen to be Spanish or Danish, but what relevance does any of this have to an average Alberta homeowner? Well, consider the value proposition for the WhisperGen, the thing that convinced Holden to bring it all the way from New Zealand: the WhisperGen can be installed in any basement in Alberta, about as quickly and easily as any old boiler, where it can be connected to the existing natural gas line and used to heat the entire house much more efficiently than a conventional gas furnace. In addition, the WhisperGen’s chief by-product is a steady stream of electricity, which could be connected to a two-way meter to offset a significant portion of the home’s power bill. It does more heating with less fuel, and it discounts your electricity bill as a side effect.

Get Holden going about it and he’ll paint a rosy Jetsonian future just a few years off where the benefits of that softly whirring Stirling engine begin to multiply all but exponentially. “You have a plug-in hybrid car in your garage, and in the middle of the night when your lights are off and your TV’s off and everything, your demand is low, you take the power from your Stirling engine [to] your car and you drive to work each day,” he says. “It’s actually a benefit that even solar power doesn’t create, because you’re generating electricity in the off-peak hours, and the synergy that has with plug-in hybrid vehicles is amazing. And so then you get into payback periods that are just unbelievable. You’ll be paying the equipment off in months, because you’re offsetting some of your power bill during the day when it’s running, and you’re offsetting a huge fuel bill in your vehicle during the night.”

Holden was not the first executive I’d found starry-eyed by the revolutionary potential of this “energy Internet” idea. Last October—the same week that the global economy began its plummet, I sat in on a conference call at the end of theRocky Mountain Institute’s three-day “Smart Garage” charette. The RMI (a Colorado-based energy efficiency think tank) had gathered together senior executives from a cross-section of Fortune 500 companies—Ford and Nissan, Duke Energy and PG&E, Cisco, Google and IBM—to explore the feasibility of building a next generation of infrastructure, an energy Internet it christened the “smart garage.” The assembled industrial heavyweights envisioned the harnessing of green power (produced at household or regional scale) to feed plug-in hybrid cars, which then used Internet technology to automatically coordinate recharging and the sale of excess power back to the grid, based on the energy demands of a given home or workplace and the current price of electricity. The consensus was that the technology already existed; it simply needed a few big players—automakers and utilities in particular—to begin manufacturing the right kinds of cars and installing the right kinds of infrastructure. “It’s hard to see another infrastructure play,” RMI’s Michael Brylawski concluded, “that has so many simultaneous benefits—oil security, climate, jobs.”

In the months since RMI’s “smart garage” confab, Barack Obama’s new administration has announced generous incentives for electric-vehicle buyers, and Hyundai has promised to bring a plug-in hybrid to North American roads by 2012, where it’s expected to join the new plug-in Toyota Prius, the Chevy Volt and the debut plug-in vehicles from Chinese upstarts like Build Your Dream (this as part of the Chinese government’s recently declared goal of manufacturing half a million electric vehicles per year by 2012). And, of course, Calgary’s own Enmax has unveiled a suite of funky new microgeneration technologies particularly well suited to feeding juice to such vehicles.

“Your economy’s joined the front ranks of the green-collar boom that dug the industrial world out of its recessionary rut…”

SO THERE’S A FUTURE, ALREADY TECHNOLOGICALLY feasible, the bulk of it indeed already sitting in a warehouse overlooking the Deerfoot Trail, in which you plug your car in at night and drive off the next morning using the excess electricity generated by your furnace while you slept. Maybe you’ve decided to go even further and put some solar panels on the roof, in which case you can whistle happily through the day’s work at your office while your house is feeding the provincial grid with peak-load power, busily chewing away at its own utility bill. Your car, meanwhile, figures out the price of electricity that day and if it’s looking profitable, it sells the extra power in its battery pack to the building you work in.

You are less reliant on the vertiginous fluctuations in oil and natural gas prices, your provincial government has come to realize it will never need to build another coal-fired power plant and will soon shutter those that remain, and these basementscale Stirling engines proved so popular that they built a big factory down next to the Deerfoot to manufacture the things for the whole North American market, so you even know people that have stable jobs building them. Your economy’s joined the front ranks of the green-collar boom that dug the industrial world out of its recessionary rut, and though you still hear the occasional grumble from afar about the emissions-belching tar sands, you just as often hear about another refugee of the Okanagan drought arriving in Calgary to work in WhisperGen sales. When the Edmonton Journal talked about a new energy age dawning, this is what it was driving at.

Let me reiterate: this is all already technologically feasible. Indeed, it’s much closer at hand than a scenario in which some indeterminate portion of the emissions from the province’s fossilfuelled power plants is carried away via pipeline for injection into a permanent reservoir deep beneath the boreal forest—by which I mean carbon capture and storage (CCS). The Alberta government, however, has sunk $2-billion into CCS this year alone, and it has made no direct investment whatsoever into microgeneration. The province’s preference, it would appear, is to help big corporate polluters instead of putting clean, moneysaving tools in the hands of regular taxpayers.

Gary Holden of Enmax, for his part, is optimistic that the technology fund created by the provincial carbon tax could be a sufficient source of funding to create the proverbial “level playing field” for energy production in the province. (At present, as Holden notes, existing fossil-fuelled power plants have an unfair advantage owing to the vagaries of energy pricing—”historical averaging,” for example, whereby current prices are determined not by what it costs to generate power today, known as the “marginal cost,” but rather by the total cost of electricity production over the life of the plant.

I’d argue, though, that a far more ambitious plan is warranted. Perhaps something like Germany’s feed-in tariff model, which involves setting prices higher than market rates for green sources, thus going far beyond encouraging the odd “alternative” installation, instead putting renewable power at the very centre of the energy market. In the German case, the feed-in tariff in less than a decade created an industry that employs 250,000 and turns over $40-billion in annual revenues. And it did so by increasing the average German’s power bill by about $50 per year. Of course, hundreds of thousands of Germans opted instead to stick solar panels on their roofs, sell green power back to the grid and offset the price hike—and then some.

“And so the question for the province,ultimately, is whether it intends to lead or merely follow reluctantly along.”

HERE’S THE CRUX OF IT , THE REAL PROMISE OF AR 27/2008T: 
I firmly believe, after four years and counting spent circling the globe on the sustainability beat, that this new age has already begun. Microgeneration is as disruptive to our relationship with energy as digital technology has been to human communication. And its full potential is much greater, because electricity enables so many more of life’s necessities than telephones and mail services ever did.

The first places to understand this potential, to leap for it and grab on tight, will become the industrial leaders of the 21st century and beyond. Significant swaths of Europe are already a generation ahead of us, California is coming on strong, and Ontario appears intent on passing the continent’s most ambitious renewable energy legislation this summer. Distributed, scaled-down power generation has already turned a Danish former farm-machinery manufacturer (Vestas) into the world’s largest wind turbine maker and transformed the collapsed industrial heartland of the former East Germany into the epicentre of the world’s solar industry. The first massmarket electric car will likely be made in China, and the furnace of Canada’s brightest future will almost certainly be built for the first time on an industrial scale in Spain, using a design developed in New Zealand.

The map of this new industrial order is already being sketched in. AR 27/2008T isn’t enough to mark Alberta’s place on it—but it is a start. And so the question for the province, ultimately, is whether it intends to lead or merely follow reluctantly along.

A House on the Prarie
(Video 17min 42s)

Builders experiment with enery efficient designs in 1978.

We can only wonder, for now, what a courageous commitment to a sustainable future might mean for Alberta. It could start, though, with Enmax’s nifty new turbines and panels—and, most enticingly, its WhisperGens. “I think it’s such a good technology,” Holden told me, “that it’s easy for me to picture, 20 years from now, every single-house dwelling or apartment block would be inherently built around Stirling engines.”

Holden likens this to the state of electric refrigeration in the 1920s: an unknown, bewildering technology, a bizarre contraption that squatted right there in your kitchen, stuffed full of exotic gases with sci-fi names, doing a job the good ol’ icebox already accomplished just fine, thanks. When it came to keeping things cold, who’d even think of competing with ice? Holden: “It was the electric utilities that sold those units first; your local utility would come and service it. It was that extra level of comfort provided by the utility that led to the widespread use of refrigerators. I see this technology being exactly the same. Utilities need to give the comfort, utilities need to show how the economics can be positive.”

Well, I was fully sold. Alas, Holden explained that it’d still be a couple years at least before I’d be able to install a WhisperGen in my own home. I can only hope my 25-year-old gas furnace holds out until then. I have no intention, in any case, of installing another “conventional” appliance of any sort in my basement. There’s no future in that.

 

Chris Turner is author of The Geography of Hope. His “The Big Decision” (AV, Oct 2008) won a National Magazine Award.

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Enhancing Edmonton: Embracing Microgeneration

At a quick glance, Federal and Provincial energy policy might seem extraneous to the mandate of Better Edmonton. But as we contemplate the future of our city, energy policies created at other levels of government will have serious implications . Though the Oilsands developments in Northern Alberta draw most of the negative attention from health, environmental and conservation groups with regard to Alberta’s environmental policy, often forgotten is that one of the largest sources of carbon dioxide in our province actually comes from the method by which we generate our electrical power.
“Most of the carbon is emitted by coal-fired electricity generating plants.” – Premier Stelmach
In order to feed our cities’ ever-growing demand for energy, we need to look to the opportunities presented by renewable energy. Ontario recently passed North America’s most ambitious piece of economic and environmental legislation, which will dramatically increase the use of renewable energy, energy efficiency, and kickstart the green energy economy. The main tools in this legislative toolbelt are a feed-in tariff; energy efficiency changes to the building code; and significant investment in the green energy economy, an added bonus that is expected to produce 50 000 jobs in ontario in three years.
Recently the Pembina Institute published a report, Understanding Canada’s Federal Support for Renewable Electricity, which noted that renewable energy investments worldwide had a record year in 2008 with over US $120 billion invested. Based on recent budgets, however, the United States will outspend Canada on renewable energy by a factor of almost 14:1. The document further compares incentives for renewable power in the US and Canada, notable as both countries are direct competitors for investment in renewable energy projects.

With peak oil and a climate crisis on our horizon, we have an opportunity to protect ourselves, our children, our economy and our planet by revisiting the way we use and produce energy. Micro-generation offers an alternative that could produce lucrative dividends for our economy, while reducing our cities carbon footprint and reducing the environmental damage done by (un)clean coal.
For more information on “Greening the Grid” Check out a recent report by the Pembina Institute: http://www.pembina.org/pub/1763
       

Albertans are responsible for almost four times as much global warming pollution as the average Canadian. And close to 25 per cent of Alberta’s GHG pollution comes from its electricity sector. Given the urgent need to tackle global warming, it is clear that coal-fired power is becoming a liability.
Alberta’s renewable energy resource is vast. A new study by the Pembina Institute has found that Alberta could go from producing 70 per cent of its electricity from coal to 70 per cent from clean energy sources in just 20 years.
Using existing renewable energy technologies combined with industrial co-generation and energy efficiency, Alberta could satisfy growing demand for power. It would not need to build a single new coal-fired power plant and could start to phase out the ones already polluting the air.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Further information on the Ontario Green Energy Act from TheStar: http://www.thestar.com/article/591941

 

Greater Use of Renewables

The bill proposes enacting a feed-in tariff (FIT) with pricing that will hopefully generate more investment in renewable energy by offering investors greater confidence in the profitability of projects and increasing their access to funding. The FIT will be modeled after Germany’s successful policy.

In addition to the FIT, the bill streamlines the approvals process for renewable energy projects and provides service guarantees for them. It also establishes a “right to connect” to the electricity grid for renewable energy projects.

To support local communities, the bill offers measures to assist developers of smaller community-owned generation facilities and also implements a smart grid in Ontario, with the aim of making it easier for renewables to connect to the system.

Finally homeowners would have access to incentives to develop small-scale renewables such as low- or no-interest loans to finance the capital cost of renewable energy generating facilities like solar panels.

According to Dave Butters, president of the Association of Power Producers of Ontario, member companies of which have installed much of Ontario’s renewable energy facilities so far, the bill will ensure that Ontario makes maximum use of renewable energy.

“A ‘best-in class renewable energy feed-in tariff’ combined with streamlined approvals processes and service guarantees has the potential to help Ontario to leap forward in terms of renewable energy capacity,” he said.

Energy Efficiency Measures

Currently, Ontarians spend just over CAN $7 billion [US $5.6 billion] each year on electricity to power their homes. A 10% efficiency savings would mean CAN $700 million more in the pockets of homeowners across the province. To that end, if the GEA passes, it would help individual consumers, businesses and public institutions take steps to increase energy efficiency in their facilities.

The bill makes energy efficiency a prominent aspect of Ontario’s Building Code by requiring, every 5 years, a review of the efficiency of any given building to identify areas that might be improved through better energy efficiency technology. Further, it establishes an advisory council to provide energy efficiency advice to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

If passd, the bill would create the opportunity for consumers, public institutions and industry to better manage their energy use through various conservation initiatives, one of which may be the establishment of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver as the standard for new government-owned buildings.  It also would require the broader public sector, including municipalities, universities, colleges, schools and hospitals, to develop energy conservation plans.

In terms of household appliances and water use, the bill would require the use of Energy Star appliances as standard and require that households make efficient use of water. Homes would be required to have an energy audit prior to their sale, which some authorities say would put a “second price tag” on all homes sold in the province.

Local distribution companies would have mandatory conservation targets as well as incentives to help them achieve the targets. Ontarians living in low-income housing would also benefit from conservation measures targeted at that sector.

Green Economy

The proposed bill is estimated to create 50,000 jobs in Ontario in three years with its benefits sweeping across all communities. Employment will be in every sector,according to some analysts, from steel workers to lawyers, manufacturers and contractors.

Toronto-based Trillium Power Wind Corp., an offshore wind developer currently at work on a 710-MW facility in Lake Ontario, sees the plan as a step in the right direction.

“The Ontario government clearly recognizes that you need to make a long-term commitment to renewable energy in order to reap the economic benefits of a green economy,” said John Kourtoff, President and CEO of Trillium. “They are way ahead of the game on this, and Ontarians are going to significantly benefit from this transformational legislation.”

“Ontario’s Green Energy Act could propel the province past California as the most innovative North American leader in the renewable energy field,” saidRenewableEnergyWorld.com contributor Denis Hayes, former director of NREL and founder of Earth Day.

“This is the sort of healthy, friendly competition between Canada and the U.S. that will leave us both better off.”