Posts Tagged ‘energy’

Its been quite the year for me. I started writing this blog in August of 2012, with a goal of sharing some of the knowledge that I have gained – and am still gaining – in trying to reduce my family’s consumption of water, energy and resources.

Its been so busy, the only reason I know it has been a year is the annual renewal reminder from WordPress to keep this site alive.

In the year since I started trying to write monthly, I managed to complete a LEED Platinum certification, learned the value of certified wood products first hand, purchased an electric car and started writing a blog for work, focussed on commercial green building. I even managed to grow some vegetables in my back yard.

The most recent development comes from my volunteer efforts through Canada Green Building Council. I have been volunteering with the CaGBC Greater Toronto Chapter as a way to network, to get to know the movers and shakers in the green building industry and to understand the latest and greatest trends in this rapidly advancing industry. I was elected to the board in 2010, and was elected to the Chair position in May of this year.  Its been a great opportunity to meet the best and brightest in this rapidly growing industry and I’ve been happy to play a part in the growth of the Chapter and its membership.

So what’s in the cards for the next year? I’d like to jump into the home market in Toronto (if the bank lets me that is!), and either deep-energy-retrofit, custom build, major reno or some variation on that theme. We’ll start with homework on the Living Building Challenge, LEED for Homes, Passive Haus and Energy Star, and maybe even look for an architect if we get that serious. Green building magazines will likely play a large role in this as well, as I work to inspire my better half with some existing amazing green homes.

A trip to Philadelphia to Greenbuild, the USGBC’s annual conference, should fuel this search.  It may even inspire something I’m not even thinking about now.

My term as Chair of the CaGBC’s Toronto Chapter will end in May, so there is still plenty of time for me to support the growth and development of the Chapter while learning as much as I can.

The coming year will no doubt be busy. My boys are growing and getting busier. Work is still challenging. I’ll take it as it comes, but if things happen at the same pace as this last year, it’ll be fun and challenging. Stay tuned!

It’s been a while since I wrote anything for my blog, and it’s because I have been writing almost non-stop during work hours. Have a look at the site, and feel free to comment here or on the ERC site.

Whether you are interested in energy metering, efficiency or generation, water conservation or reuse, carbon offsets, EV charging and more, this commercial building really has pulled out all the stops to demonstrate the next generation of green building technologies and how they interact.

Earth Rangers Centre Showcase

Earth Rangers Centre Showcase

The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO), Gord Miller, recently released a report summarizing the progress of Ontario’s energy conservation measures. In short, there is good news and there is bad news.

Everyone loves the good news first so here it is: conservation results in 2011 were “generally encouraging” meaning that consumed energy and peak demand decreased, with some pretty big caveats. Energy saved in this reporting period was the result of investment in the previous period, results were mixed at best in the residential sector, and so on. I encourage you to read the full report here.  605,000,000 kWh were saved at the cost of $0.03/kWh. Peak demand was reduced by 16% of the 4 year target. We seem to be on track for consumption, with work to do on demand reduction.

Now the bad news. We are focussed almost entirely on how the power we consume is generated and where its coming from. “Wind turbines are ugly” or “they’re not putting a power plant in MY neighborhood” comments drive me crazy. The Green Energy and Economy Act, political hot-potatoe that it is, has not been implemented with nearly enough focus on “the culture of conservation” as promised in its’ initial rollout.  More power plants wouldn’t be needed if we didn’t need more energy.

So what to do about this? Obviously, if you have read any of my other posts, my opinion is to invest more heavily in conservation, agreeing with the ECO. Simple conclusion, but how? Engage people. Make it easier, heaven forbid maybe even fun, to save energy. Collaborative apps and websites are coming along.  Apps like Powercents give plenty of tips on how to reduce home energy use, and how to manage time of day price differences to home owners financial benefit.  Gridwatch, another app from Energy Mobile, shows users the power sources required to supply consumed energy and the resulting CO2 emissions. I’m looking forward to an upcoming update that will show emissions per kWh in real time based on the province’s energy mix at that time.

Shifting clothes dryer use to off-peak

Shifting clothes dryer use to off-peak

I agree with the ECO that the price difference between on- and off-peak just isn’t big enough to encourage real changes in behaviour, and my house is the perfect example. My wife is home on mat leave with my 6 month old son, and does the majority of home tasks when she can, irrespective of what time of day it is. If I tell her that we can save $0.27 cents per load by doing it at night instead of during the day, she’d throw a quarter at me and tell me to be grateful its being done, and I don’t blame her. Make that a dollar per load, and she’d likely think twice, quickly equating that to $6 per week, almost $30 per month.

Screen Shot 2013-01-26 at 2.07.42 PM

Weekly, monthly consumption trends summarized in Quinzee

We have the tools in place to evaluate, learn and change our behaviours with resulting dollar savings and reduced environmental impact. I spoke with Faizal Karmali, one of Quinzee’s founders some months ago, and he envisioned neighbors competing against each other to reduce energy use. I would love to beat the pants off my neighbour at something that saves me money AND reduces all the environmental impacts that result from power generation.

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See what time the oven was turned on?


I will admit that I am a gadget geek. Electronics companies love me, as I am always interested in trying the latest and greatest. That love of bigger, better, stronger, faster, has translated into my professional life as well, albeit now tinged with green – high performance buildings. Now it’s smaller, better, faster and more efficient that I am gunning for.

As you can see from my other posts, that extends into my personal life as well. For some time now, I’ve been looking for a way to reduce, if not eliminate, my gasoline purchases, and to green my commute. My gadget obsession extended to my previous car, and I tinkered with it as a bit of a project. A rally car converted from an econo-box, the Subaru Impreza WRX has served me faithfully since I purchased it new in October of 2005. The good: its a tank in snow thanks to snow tires and full-time all-wheel-drive, it has more than enough power to make your hair stand on end, and it’s sharp looking (the functional hood scoop ramming air into an intercooler to cool turbocharged air is a pretty distinct feature). The bad: 10 to 11 liters per 100 km, or 21-23 MPG for my American friends, means a pitiful 400km (250 miles) per tank of 91 octane fuel in mixed highway and city driving. I don’t baby the car, nor do I drive like a maniac, not with that quickly moving gas gauge staring me in the face. I new what I was getting into when I purchased it, and it has delivered on those expectations.

So, as per my previous post, I’ve been looking for an electric vehicle (EV), and have been smitten by the Leaf (even though that name is pretentious beyond belief). My goal is to sell the Subaru to a fellow enthusiast (still in progress), and use that to pay for the majority of the Leaf. The remaining finance payments will be covered by my not having to purchase any gas, or change any oil. Being able to charge at work definitely plays a major role in this decision. Insurance, unbelievably, is exactly the same as the Subaru.

EV-Chargers and Leaf

I have been looking at all the pros and cons for a year now. I’ve looked at the various Plug-in hybrids (Prius, Focus) and the Volt, I’ve driven the i-MiEV, and nothing seemed to really accomplish what I wanted like the Leaf, nor provide the bang for the buck in terms of gadgetry and performance.

The end result? There is now a 2012 Leaf SL in my garage (with quick charger and cool little PV cell on the spoiler to trickle charge the 12V battery). Now we will see how this thing performs when I have to use it on a daily basis instead of just borrowing someone else’s. I just put 45 liters of gas into the Subaru, and I am hoping that is the last tank of gasoline that I will ever purchase for my personal vehicle.


Is that a proboscis?

I am sure that I have some surprises in store. Will I run out of charge? How much will my home energy consumption increase as a result of charging at home? How does it handle in a Canadian winter? How the hell do you use the navigation system?

After just a couple of hours, I have managed to connect my garage door openers to the homelink system, enter my house as my home charging station on the GPS system (just in case I forget how to get home – do people actually use these features?) and top up the charge with the supplied trickle charger. The carwings app now has a home on my iPhone – just because I really needed a new app – and I’m remotely connected to be able to pre-condition the car while plugged in, check the charge status or start/stop charging.

Carwings App

Carwings App

I will admit that I am stumped as to how I am going to get 220V power to the garage without tearing out drywall to access the top of the breaker panel. It looks like I will be taking advantage of Ontario’s EV Charging installation rebate that starts January 1. I have a feeling this will be a bit of an adventure as I currently renting my home (and content for a future post!).

We still have our family minivan for longer drives like camping trips and visits to the grandparents. My wife can now use the Leaf around town for her errands, whereas she could not drive the manual gearbox WRX (I tried to teach her and I think the smell of burning clutch was just too much to bear). I think that the sky-blue leaf now occupying my garage will make an excellent addition to the fleet.

I have a love hate relationship with my Mother-in-Law. I love her cooking, and she hates that I married her daughter. We understand each other.

She is retired, and loves to take care of her family, which includes her grandkids – my two boys. I readily admit that I am spoiled, and that she makes us dinner quite often. Like many European families, she has a kitchen in the basement where she spends the majority of her time, and another kitchen upstairs which is used for big family events when a second oven or stove is needed. She is my family’s Paula Deen.

About two years ago, my in-laws renovated the basement kitchen. Custom cabinets, slate floor, stainless fridge (I had no say in the matter, so I’m sure its not Energy Star), gas range, fume hood, the works. Lighting was also taken care of, with fourteen 50W Par 20 halogen flood lamps. For those of you counting at home, thats 700 watts of lighting for an area thats about 300 square feet.  Each of these $6 lamps is rated to last 3,000 hours with a 25 degree beam angle.  Remember these numbers.

One complaint the chef had from day one was that the kitchen was always hot. Even in winter. Remember that this is a basement in Toronto, and that usually means you need to wear slippers for 75% of the year.  She would open the window and run a fan, sometimes in January.  When you think about that 700 watts on, eight hours a day, and then add the gas range, the refrigerator, and sometimes the toaster oven (I’m a sucker for garlic bread) as additional loads in the room, you start to understand why it was borderline tropical in this room.

Being an energy nut, I decided to crunch some numbers and see if I could convince her to replace the par 20s with their screw-in LED counterparts. I found the Philips EnduraLED at Home Depot for $25 each. Sadly, no bulk purchase option was available. These LEDs use 7W each, and according to Philips, compare in light output to their par 20 incandescent equivalent. Lumens are lower, but rated life is 25,000 hours, or about ten times the bulb it’s replacing.

I can vouch for the terrible life of the incandescents, as I have personally changed the original par20’s multiple times just because it drove me nuts that one was out, not because my mother-in-law was really bothered by it being out. More technical details on these lamps here or here.

For the 8 hours per day that these lamps are usually on (I know that sounds like a lot, but its not far off), this equates to $180 per year in energy savings. Give or take 10% in terms of the cost of electricity or the number of hours actually on. So, the $350 spent on new lamps is paid for in about 2 years (up to 4 if you assume only 4 hours per day), and the kitchen is not nearly as hot.  I have ignored any A/C savings that result in the summer months, but they might only add up to another couple percent saving.

Importantly, they look almost exactly the same. The light output is less, but the space was lit like a burger under a heat lamp before this.

The 14 removed par20’s now have a home at my house, in outdoor recessed pot lamp fixtures that are probably on for 10 minutes per week. I will use them until they die, and then replace them with CFLs.

Sadly, I couldn’t convince her to undertake this LED retrofit herself (I’m an engineer, not a salesman!), so I decided to put my money where my mouth is, and I purchased and changed the lamps for her.  Now I don’t feel nearly as guilty for enjoying that home cooking!