What’s developing in renewables?

windmills-984137_19202015 was an exciting year for renewables. The Guardian announced that the Renewables Global Status report found, ” Overall, more than twice as much money was spent on renewables than on coal and gas-fired power generation ($130bn in 20150).”

Lots of progress is happening in renewables—much of it is expansion of wind and solar farms, but there are more far-reaching developments going on. Batteries are getting better and cheaper, solar panels are more efficient, and new storage methods are being investigated. Here are some recent developments.


Sunflare has developed a thin-fim solar technology. Here’s what it offers:

  • much lighter weight—65 percent less than conventional panels
  • simpler installation—no mounting rack necessary
  • increased energy generation—produce up to 10 percent more energy
  • fexible—can be applied to any shape

Sunflare’s founder, Len Gao states that, “the panels can be secured to any surface with a special double-sided tape.” While the cells themselves are more expensive than conventional solar panels, you don’t need a mounting rack so the total price should remain about the same. The amazing thing about these cells is the variety of mounting possibilities.


A white paper from Mita-Teknik describes an Advanced Blade Pitch System: New blade pitch technology uses electricity instead of hydraulics, which is more reliable because of the absence of hydraulic fluid leaks. The pitch systems have also been improved, which means that the systems are more responsive to changing wind conditions. This is especially important in machines that are designed for extreme weather and for offshore wind farms. This control lets the turbines operate in higher wind speeds, permits longer blades, and reduces wear on the turbine components.


For Canada with a record of no geothermal projects something is finally happening—in Hinton, Alberta. According to the Hinton Voice, this project that brings Epoch Energy and the town together, is currently at what they refer to as, “the pre-feasibility stage.” The plan is to look at whether existing capped oil wells could be used to heat some public buildings in the town. Although, it’s not electricity generation, this is a first for Canada to investigate the use of actual geothermal energy, not geo-exchange, directly as a heat source.

The Financial Post on August 9 of this year reported that a provincial legislator had requested, “the Alberta government to allow an old well to be converted to geothermal energy to heat an 8,000 square-foot greenhouse.” He proposed this for a former oilfield water disposal well in Leduc. Additionally, DeSmog described what the Alberta government needs to do to seriously develop geothermal energy in the province.

Smart Electrical grids

A smart electrical grid provides two-way information and power exchange between providers and consumers so that all of the devices on the grid can be managed to maximize conservation, efficiency, and continuity of electricity. The addition of renewables with variable power output increases the need for a smart grid that can ensure that power is available where and when it’s needed. Data that tracks electrical energy in real time is essential to operate a smart gird. Smart meters can provide this data. Ontario installed them several years ago and the U.S. currently has 65 million of them.

Greentech Media announced that several companies are currently designing and building devices for the grid that can “actively manage voltage and power at the distribution circuit level.”

Good news

In a year that should have shown lower investments in renewables because of  low oil prices, the reverse happened. This is a good indication that renewables are here to stay.

Who cares about saving fuel? Gas is cheap! (Part 2)

Last week I said I would discuss the three remaining questions about your vehicle choice this week. The questions was, “Is it crazy to consider a new vehicle’s fuel economy with these prices?”graph-36929_1280

3. Who’s hurting?

Somebody must be hurting and certainly it’s the countries that depend on oil exports as a large part of their economies—Iran, Russia, the Emirates, Venezuela, Canada, and Saudi Arabia.

How does this affect your decision? Remember oil is hurting and this hurting must be forcing some of the big investors to worry about the volatility of oil. We know that fear and greed controls the stock market; consequently, some of the big oil investors must be getting fearful as they see the price remain low. If I were choosing a vehicle, I would consider fear and choose a vehicle that uses less oil (fear). Perhaps those big investors are also considering the long-term promises of renewables.

Are you hurting?

4. Who’s winning?

The net importers of oil are winning, but here’s the real effect.

Momentarily, motorists—especially commuters—are winners. The low prices are providing relief, especially to the lower income drivers. However, these winnings aren’t unqualified. The price reduction at the pumps doesn’t reflect the tremendous drop in the price of a barrel of oil.

In a further win, consumers spend their savings in the economy. Even better, the environment’s winning: the reduced price means that high environmental-cost oil recovery such as the oil sands and fracking experiences cutbacks.

You can invest those savings in better fuel economy to increase your winnings even more—using the savings from lower fuel to use less fuel saves you even more money!

Where’s your sanity reading now?

5. How does this affect renewable energy?

The low oil prices won’t affect the electrical energy sector because less than five percent of the world’s electricity is produced from oil.

And the transportation sector? The economist claims that the sales of electric cars will be unaffected because the price of electric vehicles such as the Tesla is so high that it has nothing to do with your choice. However, incentives and tax credits can help to reduce the cast of hybrids and plugins, plus the cost of driving on electricity is about one-quarter the cost on oil. Lovaas says that the quality of these vehicles has improved remarkably in the last 20 years.

Additionally, a sign of the times is that the California legislature has just passed a bill that requires 50 percent of its electricity to come from renewables by 2030 and to use this green electricity to assist in the placement of one million electric vehicles on California’s roads by 2023. What happens in California doesn’t stay in California, but influences the rest of North America.

The good news (for the long term, but not necessarily for your choice) is that the fear stock holders have for the volatility in the fossil fuel market may drive some of them to invest in renewables.

Consider this! If it’s going to take the long term to produce an affordable electric vehicle (or one with some other alternative such as the fuel cell), then buy a vehicle that’s going to provide more of that long-term development time. Fuel conservation now can help reduce the environmental cost of the high-risk oil and buy time for the development of renewables.

Take a look at the more fuel efficient and alternatively fuelled vehicles; fortunately, their quality has improved dramatically. Investigate the incentives and tax credits that apply. “Remember, the payoff will be there, not just in terms of dollars and cents,” says Lovaas,” but that you’re making an investment in your family and the environment.”

Who cares about saving fuel? Gas is cheap!

fiat-837865_1280Is it crazy to consider a new vehicle’s fuel economy with these prices? Five questions for a sane choice!

(I’ll discuss two of the questions now and the remaining three this Friday.)

You’re looking for a new vehicle and fuel prices have been low for months. Dilemma alert! You’ve always considered fuel economy as a critical factor in your choice. Perhaps you’ve already made your choice and ironically, it’s been complicated by low fuel costs. What to do? Do you stand by your environmental beliefs or opt for saving money?

Before you self-destruct with this dilemma, you can ask yourself these five questions for a sane choice:

1. Why low fuel prices?

Many “experts” have diverse ideas about the causes, which range from Saudi Arabia trying to permanently shut down the oil sands production to the lunatic fringe’s accusation that it is a U.S. government conspiracy. Inexplicably, the lunatics grasp at an imagined conspiracy to punish countries such as Russia and Iran. However, when you dig more deeply, the Economist cites experts who seem to agree that there is a worldwide oil surplus caused by increased production from many sources including the mounting oil sands production, widespread fracking operations, and improved recovery techniques.

According to Deron Lovaas from the Natural Resources Defense Council—the non-profit international environmental advocacy group—oil prices have always been volatile with unpredictable fluctuations. He reminds us that historically, low oil prices have alternated with high prices and there doesn’t seem to be any way to predict these fluctuations.

How does this affect your vehicle choice? If you bet on prices remaining low and chose a vehicle with poor fuel economy, you lose if the price increases. But, if you choose good fuel economy, you win even if the price remains low. How much you win depends how much you invested for fuel economy. If you made a choice of a relatively standard vehicle with better than average economy, your win will be higher than if you invested more money in, let’s say, a hybrid.

Still feeling crazy?

2. What is the real price?

Although the price per litre has gone down (Many consumers say the current level doesn’t reflect the actual cost per barrel.), the real cost—the hidden cost of oil—continues and could get worse. Worse! The tendency for most drivers is to drive more as the fuel price drops.

The hidden cost is continued damage to the environment and to people from the use of the internal combustion engine. All of the pollution from millions of these engines continues to spew into the atmosphere—CO2, mono-nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, ozone, carbon monoxide, hazardous air pollutants, and particulate matter. All of these contribute to problems ranging from climate change to respiratory and coronary diseases, to premature death for thousands.

If you choose a vehicle with good fuel economy, you have chosen to produce less pollution with every kilometer that you drive. Less pollution reduces all of the nasty effects from the internal combustion engine and that can’t be a bad thing.

How’s the sanity factor?

Fuel efficiency savings

The following table (You can see this information at the University of Calgary Energy Education Website.) shows the fuel efficiency for 8 vehicles produced in 2014. The rate of 10.L/100km for the Toyota Camry V6 is taken as the baseline for the savings. Fuel savings less than the Toyota’s, therefore, are negative and savings, which are greater than the Toyota’s, are positive.

Vehicle fuel efficiency

Mpg (US) Vehicle Km/L L/100km L/Year CO2 (kg) produced Yearly savings from 24 mpg (1.20/L) 5 year saving 10 year saving
18 Jeep Wrangler 7.58 13.2 2,234 5,343 Costs an extra $668.40 -$3,342 -$6,684
24 Toyota Camry V6 10.1 9.9 1,677 4,011 0 0 0
30 Mini Cooper Clubman 12.63 7.92 1,341 3,207 $403 $2,015 $4,030
38 Fiesta 3-cyl 16 6.25 1,059 2,533 $741 $3,705 $7,410
45 VW Golf TDI 18.95 5.27 894 2,403[1] $939.60 $4,698 $9,396
60 Kia Rio 1.1 CDRi 25.26 3.96 671 1,603 1,208.40 $6,042 $12,084
73.5 VW Golf TDI Bluemotion 30.94 3.23 547.6 1,309 $1,355.28 $6,776 $13,552
114[2] Nissan Leaf (electric) 48 2.08 844 $1,588 $7,944 $15,888


[1] Diesel emits 2.6889 kg of CO2 per liter

[2] Miles per gallon gasoline equivalent (MPGe)

Imagine what the savings (extra cost) would be for the Ford 150!Proportionately for a Ford F150 with a fuel consumption of 14.5 L/100 km, the fuel consumption would be 2,454 L/year and the yearly savings (extra cost) would be -$932.40, -$4,662 for five years, and -$9.324 for ten years.How much sacrifice is involved in switching from a Ford F150 pickup truck to a Toyota Camry V6? This is a personal question. Do we ask ourselves those kinds of questions when we’re thinking about a new vehicle?

We all have choices and we all try to make good choices—some are better than others. I don’t want to look at this in extremes. Instead, I want to examine what choices are available to us and how they could affect the consumption of fossil fuels, which in turn could help the environment. What would the savings in fossil fuel consumption be at the national level? According to Natural Resources Canada (NRC), the 2009 statistics for the number of light motor vehicles in Canada was 19,755,945. Also according to NRC, the average light vehicle consumption was 10.7L/100km. What savings could be realized with is this could be lowered just 2.7 L to 8 L/100 km?

Number of vehicles in Canada 19,755,945 vehicles x 2.7L/100km x17,000km/100 km/100 x 0.00838641436 US barrel/L= 76,047,8 27.25 barrels. That’s over 75 millions US barrels per year. The savings in CO2 would be around 30 billion kilograms.



Energy Efficiency

Our choice of vehicle can have a great influence on energy use. Most of us don’t have much choice about the driving that we have to do: commuting to work, seeing family, accessing goods and serves, etc., but we can choose the vehicle that we drive. We base our choice of a vehicle on many things, but fuel efficiency seems to be low on needs. We seem more concerned about power, prestige, size, bells and whistles, and other features rather than the effect that our vehicle may have on the environment.

It’s true that for a long time there weren’t a lot of clear-cut choices. Although Americans made some choices towards energy efficiency during the energy crisis after the October War in 1973 (lighter cars, lower speed limits, smaller cars) this move was quickly forgotten once the oil supply was restored. An article from Gizmag, which states that, “US vehicle efficiency has increased only 3 mpg in 80 years.” Luckily, there are other options: the Europeans and Asian have developed gas and diesel cars, in reasonable price ranges, that have overall mileages in the range of 35 to 40 mpg (7.1 to 8.1L/100 km) (city and highway combined, up to 50 mpg on the highway) and have reasonable price tags. Of course for more money, there are hybrid and electric vehicles available that offer even better fuel efficiency. My main point is that we know our personal needs and, if we really want to be responsible about the environment, then fuel efficiency should be one of the major considerations for choosing a vehicle. Imagine the savings if all the vehicles had one-third better efficiency!

Unfortunately, the figures on vehicle sales don’t show fuel efficiency as any kind of consideration in our vehicle choices. According to the Globe and Mail, the top selling vehicle in Canada was the Ford 150 pickup truck (sales of 84,557 in 2013). The F150 was twice as popular as the best-selling passenger car, the Honda Civic (sales of 41,836 in 2013).

According to Natural Resources Canada, the fuel consumption figures of the F150 are:

  • [*]City Range from 14.5 to 18.3 L/ 100km (19mpg down to 15 mpg)
  • Highway 10.6 to 12.9 (27 mpg down to 22mpg)

In the same report, the figures for the Honda Civic are:

  • City – 6.7 t0 7.3 (42 down to 39 mpg)
  • Highway – 6.0 to 6.6 (47 down to 43 mpg)

How many people really need a pickup other than for some type of show? There are lots of disadvantages compared to cars:

  • Safety is questionable except for passive safety when a collision actually occurs – harder for collision avoidance, fewer safety features
  • Rear wheel drive creates a lot of problems with no weight in the back. Have to carry extra weight in the winter just for traction.
  • Need an extended cab for more than two people.
  • Larger size means increased costs -tires, engine size, fuel, and so on.

How may times in a year do you actually need the box? Most of the trucks I see except for farm and industrial vehicles have a tonneau cover or truck cap. When I need a pickup truck I rent one – no more than once a year. The rest of the year I have the fuel economy and lower costs of a mid-sized vehicle that averages between 5.5 to 6.5L/100km.

I do not intend this to be an attack on the Ford 150, but the attitudes that make this vehicle the number-one-selling vehicle in Canada also raise questions about our commitment to fuel efficiency. Do our decisions force us to increase the supply of fossil fuels and increase the risks to the environment or decrease the demand for these fuels and ease the pressures on our environment?

[*] This range is due to different engine sizes and varying weight for different features.

Energy Conservation

Energy conservation, according to Natural Resources Canada, means using less energy (behavioural change). Energy efficiency means using energy more efficiently (technology change).

Wastefulness seems to be a way to conspicuously proclaim our wealth in this society.Sometimes its a byproduct of other displays of wealth. An example of this is the monster house. According to the Globe and Mail, the average house size in 1975 was 1,050 square feet. As of 2010, it was 1950 square feet. From 1971 to 2006, the average number of people living in a household decreased from 3.5 to 2.5. Why do we need all this extra space? The increased size increases the energy use for heating, cooling, lighting and cleaning. Then all of this increases the amount of building materials.

I can’t believe that I actually forgot to add the conservation and efficiency challenges to my original list.  That shows how easy it is to forget these two. That’s unfortunate because they can be effective for at least a couple of reasons:

1. Replace or delay the costly development of new energy sources such as power plants, or fossil fuel supplies
2. Buy us time while we develop alternative energy sources

It seems that there are ways that we can introduce conservation and efficiency into all aspects of our lives. It doesn’t have to be so drastic that it affects our standard of living just enough to stop the unnecessary waste.

An example is vehicle idling, which has increased drastically since the introduction of the remote starter. I personally have witnessed neighbours who have let their cars idle for more than 20 minutes on some cold winter mornings. Natural resources show the calculations for the idling of various sized engines for a range of times from 1 to 10 minutes per year. One example is a 3-litre engine that is idled 10 minutes a day. It uses 110 litres of gasoline for a cost of $132 for the year (assuming gas at $1.20/litre) and produces 253 kilograms of CO2.

There were 23,006,222 registered road motor vehicles in Canada in 2013. Using the above figures if each vehicle (assuming a 3 litter engine size) was idled 10 minutes per day, the total fuel used would be more than 21/2 billion litres per year. The resultant CO2 emissions would be almost 6 billion litres!

Obviously, these calculations are approximate because of the assumption of a 3- litre engine, but it’s fairly realistic because the engines of 432,684 vehicles weighing more than 15,000 kg could balance out the engines of 672,428 motorcycles and mopeds.

Even so, if you assumed an engine size of only one litre, the results would be almost 1 billion litres (37 litres per vehicle) of fuel used and almost 2 billion litres (85 litres per vehicle) of CO2 emissions.

What hardship would be created by reducing this idling time by one-third? Look at the savings. Most vehicle manufacturers recommend that a vehicle should be driven gently to warm it up rather than idling for an extended time. 30 seconds is sufficient even in cold weather. If you want to have a warm engine, use a block heater with a timer. Remote starters just waste fuel and wear out your engine sooner.