Many Voices: Moving the Needle on Renewable Energy
The technology exists today to move the world onto cleaner energy solutions, but what's holding us up is political will.
(This article originally appeared in the June/July 2018 issue of Canadian Consulting Engineer.)
In early June I attended the final session at the Canadian Green Building Council’s “Building Lasting Change” event in Toronto, where the closing keynote was presented by Mark Jacobson, a professor at Stanford University, who was talking about the possibilities of transitioning not only buildings, but entire cities and countries to 100% clean renewable energy.
Starting small, Jacobson shared how he recently moved into a home that runs completely on electricity using an air source heat pump water heater (that uses 1/4 the energy of a gas or electric resistance heater), a ductless mini-split heat pump air conditioner/air heater, induction cooktop stove, solar panels on the roof, Tesla batteries in the garage and so on.
He’s connected to the grid, but on a typical summer day, the only energy he draws is to top up the charge on his two electric cars overnight.
As an aside, Jacobson pointed to the inherent efficiency of electric power over gas combustion for vehicles. He says in an electric car 80 to 86% of the energy is used to move the car, the rest is waste heat. In a gas car, only 17 to 20% of the energy moves the car, the rest is waste heat.
Back to his new home: over one year Jacobson generated 120% of his home energy requirements, so in other words he sent 20% of his solar generated energy back to the grid.
He paid no electric bill, and instead he received a $535 cheque. He says the payback for the entire system he’s running will be five to six years.
“The point is, you do not need gas connections to any home or building in the U.S. or Canada or anywhere else in the world,” says Jacobson.
As part of a not-for-profit called TheSolutionsProject.org, he’s participated in a study of 139 countries around the world (including Canada) to examine the requirements for a global transition to 100% renewable energy.
In the end, Jacobson says the technology exists today to move the world onto cleaner energy solutions, but what’s holding us up is political will.
Well, certainly nothing changes overnight, including national economies. While it’s hard to argue with inherent efficiencies of electically-powered vehicles, heating systems and the like, replacing mass amounts of existing infrastructure in homes, buildings and personal possessions (gas-powered cars) will take generations and true cultural shifts.
Following his talk, Jacobson was joined by a panel which included Kevin Hydes, P.Eng., CEO of consulting engineering firm Integral Group. Hydes is a former chair of both the U.S. Green Building Council and the World Green Building Council.
After leading the audience through a rendition of the chorus of “You Are My Sunshine,” Hyde kept his talk short but to the point. A strong advocate for zero carbon initiatives, when he looks at large organizations like ASHRAE (mechanical engineers) and the like around the world, he sees more champions for the cause. And as an optimist, Hydes is hopeful that sharing the zero carbon message among the community of some 4 million AEC people around the world will help to move the needle towards a clean energy future.
The many voices within the consulting engineering community are making a difference, but progress isn’t always efficient. It’s more like a gas engine, there’s a lot of heat wasted for every move forward.