We’re seeing a groundswell of green action
From the May 2016 print edition, page 3.
Today the impulse to do what’s right for the planet is becoming entrenched in what we design and build.
Big shifts are taking place in the political stratosphere, worldwide and in Canada. In the month of April alone 175 world leaders went to the United Nations in New York to sign the Paris Agreement. Quebec issued its 2030 Energy Policy saying it will increase renewable energy by 25% and biomass by 50%. And Ontario announced it will contract for another 930 MW of renewable energy.
But at a more fundamental level we are seeing a groundswell of real projects. For decades government investment on the sustainability front mostly went into roundtables and policy making. Now, good intentions are materializing in actual buildings, programs and technologies that have measurable benefits. Here are a few of the most recent developments.
In the buildings sphere the Canada Green Building Council announced in April that it had certified its 1,000th LEED Gold project in Canada. It calculates that between 2005-2015 Canadian LEED certified projects have cumulatively reduced over 1 million tonnes of CO2e. CaGBC has also just produced a guide to help municipalities set up energy benchmarking programs. These could require all building owners to report their energy use, which will be a real incentive for owners to take action on retrofits.
ASHRAE, standard bearer for the HVAC industry, has just issued the results of its research to achieve “the maximum technically achievable energy targets for commercial buildings: ultra-low energy use building set.” The researchers measured 400 energy efficiency tools, and of those selected 30 technologies, any of which are “widely available today.”
Universities have long led the way in green building in Canada. This issue features two campus buildings, our cover feature at the University of Toronto Scarborough (p. 16), and another at the University of British Columbia (p. 35). But there are also private initiatives. In Montreal, a community group in Rosemont is planning to install a geothermal system in an alley. And five housing developers across Canada are building net-zero subdivision homes.
In the renewable energy sector there are exciting developments. We feature a flywheel energy storage plant in southern Ontario that helps stabilize supply to the grid (p. 33). But there are advances in other types of storage, such as fuel cells. Some see them as an almost ideal alternative to diesel generators in remote and First Nations communities.
Then there is biomass. Ontario Power Generation converted its Atikokan plant two years ago. Instead of belching black coal, the 227-MW plant now burns waste wood pellets. The forestry industry has many cogeneration plants, thus capitalizing on a perfect synergy of reducing waste and also emissions. And as Jean Sorensen explains (p. 35), municipalities like Surrey are building large plants to convert household waste into energy.
Even cattle farmers are getting in on the act. They are marketing the gaseous emissions of manure, in what amounts to the most literally grassroots initiative of all.