Low Carbon Heating Solutions in Ontario

From the Arborus Efficiency Journal:

The GHG impact from building heating can be easily reduced by close to 90% through better building design and the use of low carbon energy in off-peak hours from the electricity grid. In order to capitalize on this low carbon energy, the use of thermal energy storage is required. The proposed strategy utilizes water/mass storage in combination with the building mass to serve day-time heating needs ...

The best energy saving strategies offer multiple benefits that go beyond energy savings and GHG reductions. Designing a building for low carbon heating offers significant benefits, including improved occupant comfort and satisfaction, better indoor air quality, and a corresponding potential for decreased absenteeism and higher productivity. These additional benefits deliver human health and financial benefits that go well beyond those realized by energy cost savings.

Carbon intensity and the Ontario electrical grid

With more renewable power coming on line every year — I just checked Gridwatch on a weekday morning in April and wind was supplying more electricity (11%) than natural gas (5%) — it’s more clear than ever that if the Ontario government wants to reduce carbon emissions in buildings, it will have to encourage the development of low-carbon space heating strategies that do not rely on natural gas. If the carbon intensity factors of the OBC were to change so that electricity had a lower carbon intensity than natural gas, this would represent a dramatic swing to a new structure that favours energy saving strategies that reduce natural gas consumption over those that reduce electricity consumption.


Understanding heating loads in commercial buildings

From my latest post on the Arborus Efficiency Journal:

We recently encountered some head-scratching results in an energy analysis of an existing office building in downtown Ottawa. This is an old building with out-of-date, metal-framed, leaky windows and we wanted to know what would happen if we replaced the old windows with well-sealed insulating windows. Expectations for energy savings for high, but when we finished the analysis the annual energy savings were only 7%. What happened?


Einstein’s theory about gravitational waves confirmed today

This is amazing! People have detected gravitational waves for the first time. I remember working on gravitational waves for my undergraduate thesis project. At the time – almost 20 years ago – the Laser Interferometric Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) was still under construction. Many scientists have dedicated years of effort to detecting gravitational waves and their efforts have finally come to fruition. Hooray!

How to Maximize Thermal Performance in a Wall Assembly

From my latest post on the Arborus Efficiency Journal:

Adding insulation to building walls and roofs is a simple and straightforward energy saving strategy. By resisting the flow of heat through the building envelope, insulation keeps buildings comfortable while reducing the energy required for heating and cooling. Unfortunately, many wall assemblies, and details at, for example, corners, parapets, and windows, are designed in such a way that large amounts of heat can bypass the insulation by flowing through structural components and framing elements, leading to decreased comfort and increased energy consumption. Quantifying the impact of these thermal bridging details can difficult, requiring precise three dimensional calculations and measurements of heat flow rates through assemblies under carefully calibrated conditions. Fortunately, a great deal of this work has already been done.

Cornel West

I loved this interview between Paul Kennedy and Cornel West. Given the struggles that people are up against, Cornel West is asked “Where do you find your hope?”. His response is pure gold:

I don't think hope is predicated on the future getting better ... that's the difference between hope and optimism. You see, I come from a people terrorized for four hundred years, traumatized four hundred years, stigmatized four hundred years. You can imagine slaves in the first thirty years didn't believe things would get better. They just said as a human being I am going to live this kind of life of integrity, honesty and decency. That's what I'm called here to do and whether there are consequences that flow beyond that that make the world a better place is beyond my control. So I don't think that there has to be some direct connection between trying to be a decent person and somehow decency becoming more pervasive in the world.

Wind leapfrogging coal in South Africa

The Guardian is reporting on the amazing growth in renewable energy generation in South Africa:

Although still heavily dependent on fossil fuels, South Africa has been quietly creating one of the world’s most progressive alternative energy plans. Solar, biomass and wind energy systems are popping up all over the country and feeding clean energy into the strained electrical grid ...

“What we are seeing is not only is the technology producing much cleaner power but it’s doing so at a lower cost than traditional fossil fuel technologies,” said Evan Rice, chief executive of Greencape, in Cape Town, a government funded not-for-profit development agency.

The technical advances that could make wind power viable everywhere

Ars Technica has a great summary of the current state of the art in wind turbine technology:

As a result, enough wind power has been installed in the US to avoid 115 billion tonnes of carbon emissions in 2013 alone.

Despite that progress, wind currently accounts for less than five percent of the total electricity generated in the US. That stands in stark contrast with the total potential for wind power, which is more than 10 times our current electrical consumption.

We aren't taking full advantage of this for several reasons. It's partly a matter of manufacturing capacity; wind has only been booming for about a decade, and it takes time for companies to respond to that demand. But two interrelated factors have also slowed wind's adoption. Many of the best areas of the US for wind power are in the most sparsely populated states, far from the high-capacity transmission grids that support more populous regions. And many of the most populous regions have wind resources that we simply can't harvest economically at the moment.

Frames Matter

From the Aborus Efficiency Journal, a new post on the importance of window frames to window performance:

So how do we get the most out of our windows? Specify larger windows, and use simulated divided-lites to maintain the appearance of smaller windows where desired. Specify better thermal breaks, and swap out the aluminum edge spacer with steel or with insulating foamed rubber. Your building will use less energy, feel more comfortable, and your windows will be less likely to suffer from condensation.

Windows Matter

Check out my latest post on the Aborus Efficiency Journal:

Windows are one of the most important elements of a building envelope. They provide views to the outdoors, and bring in sunlight while protecting the building interior from the elements. Unfortunately, windows tend to do a poor job of resisting the movement of heat. Compared to an opaque wall, which will likely have three to six inches of insulation, windows are weak thermal insulators and usually make up the weakest link in the building envelope. Given that windows take up increasingly large fractions of walls in modern buildings, this presents some challenges to building designers who wish to provide a high performance building envelope.


I have been struggling to stay hopeful lately. The ways in which we are drawing down the ability of our planet to sustain and enrich our lives often seem too numerous to cope with and the appetite for change often seems too weak. Climate change is starting to bite. Hard.

In this context, it was incredibly inspiring to see hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets around the world and demand action on climate change. We know what we need to do. It's time to get to work.

Climate Change is a Matter of Morality

Joe Romm quoting Naomi Klein in his review of her recent book “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate”:

But we will not win the battle for a stable climate by trying to beat the bean counters at their own game... . We will win by asserting that such calculations are morally monstrous, they imply there is an acceptable price for allowing entire countries to disappear, for leaving untold millions to die on harsh land, for depriving today’s children of their right to live in a world teeming with the wonders and beauty of creation.

Blueprint for saving the world: Why the solution to global warming is staring us right in the face

A persuasive article by Charles Komanoff in Salon argues for a carbon tax:

Their model is British Columbia, Canada’s third most populous province, which began taxing carbon emissions in 2008. The tax rate now stands at $25 per ton of carbon dioxide (Canadian currencies and weights have been converted to American). That is probably close to the limit of what a single state or province can charge on its own without driving carbon-taxed shoppers or businesses to neighboring states.

Six years on, the tax is a smashing success. On every indicator that matters ― emission reductions, economic output and jobs ― B.C. is outstripping the rest of Canada.

David Foster Wallace and David Suzuki find common ground

Via Kottke, from a recently unearthed 18-year old interview with David Foster Wallace:

When I started the book the only idea I had is I wanted to do something about America that was sad but wasn't just making fun of America. Most of my friends are extremely bright, privileged, well-educated Americans who are sad on some level, and it has something, I think, to do with loneliness. I'm talking out of my ear a little bit, this is just my opinion, but I think somehow the culture has taught us or we've allowed the culture to teach us that the point of living is to get as much as you can and experience as much pleasure as you can, and that the implicit promise is that will make you happy. I know that's almost offensively simplistic, but the effects of it aren't simplistic at all.

From David Suzuki's 2014 Milton K. Wong lecture:

I'd like to end with a story that also illustrates a need for a shift in our perspective. In the 1990s Hong Kong was going to revert to China. Tara and I live in a beautiful part of Vancouver. We live on the water down near Kitsilano Park. We received a letter in the mail from a real estate agent that said “off-shore money is pouring into Vancouver. Now is a good time to sell your house and buy up”. I'd never heard the idea of buying up. I didn't know you would buy a starter house and then you work your way up to a bigger and bigger house. It didn't make sense to me. I was not very happy to get this letter, but I thought, you know, this is my home. If I was going to put down what matters to me, what really gives this place value, what would I put down? And the first thing I put down was the fact that when we bought the house, now it's over 35 years ago, we invited my wife's mother and father to live upstairs. For 35 years our daughters have had grandma and granddad upstairs living with them. And I put that down as one of the most important features of that house. My father was a kitchen cabinet maker. When Tara and I first got married we moved into an apartment and he built a kitchen cabinet for us, and when I bought the house I pulled that cabinet out and put it in our kitchen. It looked like hell but every time we used that cabinet I thought of my father. And I put that down. My father-in-law is a great gardener and he knew I loved asparagus and raspberries. He planted some raspberries and asparagus for me. And I had been in the States on a long tour for a month. When I came home one spring there was my father-in-law with a brown bag. He said “David, these are the first asparagus to come off and it's yours, I saved it for you” and I put that down. My children over the years have dragged all kinds of dead birds, and snakes, and animals off the street. They have a little animal cemetery in our yard. And I put that down. We have a clematis plant that grows along the fence along the water and when my mother died I put her ashes on that clematis and when my niece Janice died, very unexpectedly, we had Janice's ashes to put on that plant. And every year when the clematis come up and bloom I know that my mother and Janice are there. And I put that down. And as I made that list of the things that made my house my home, I realized those are the things that are priceless, and yet on the market they are totally worthless. And I think we've got our eyes focussed on the wrong thing. We are putting values on the wrong thing. We need to look at the world again through different eyes. And see the real home that we have in this world.

Gates Foundation Headquarters: Cost Effective Thermal Energy Storage

From my latest piece on the Arborus Efficiency Journal:

The Winter 2014 issue of Higher Performing Buildings has a great article on the new Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Headquarters, built in Seattle in 2011. Since the Foundation intends to occupy the building for the long term, the major heating, ventilating and air conditioning system design decisions were based on a total cost of ownership analysis. It’s interesting to see how this analysis informed the design of the central cooling plant. A number of configurations were analyzed and, surprisingly, the one that came out on top is an air-cooled chiller plant connected to a thermal energy storage system. This result is surprising for two reasons: 1) electricity costs in Seattle are low and do not include peak demand charges or time-of-use rates and 2) air-cooled chillers tend to underperform water-cooled systems that use a cooling tower for heat rejection ...