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Climate Heroes

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The intention of this post is to offset some of the gloom created by yesterday’s offering. Canada is not a good example to the rest of the world in tackling climate change, but that should not deter us from seeing what we could do, if we want to see change. And usually this blog bangs on about policy – because that is the field that I used to work in. So this is a departure, for this blog.

It also is due to the emergence in recent days of an alternative to facebook, which seems to have been sucking up a lot of my online time. I am not very happy about that, but the content that I find on facebook is what matters, more than the medium itself. If there can emerge another social medium that does not share some of Facebook’s characteristics, that would be a very good thing. I do not know if Ello will do that, but I hope so. This trailer for a new documentary was posted to Ello by Darren Barefoot – someone I met way back when I started blogging and went to Northern Voice to learn how to do that. He was involved in producing the trailer, and promoted it on Ello.

I did actually watch the whole thing and if you do nothing else I urge you to check out the making of bamboo bikes. The role of the Chinese government in the final segment also provides an interesting contrast to the way we do things here.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 26, 2014 at 9:42 am

Conservatives vote against helping Canadians save on home energy costs

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This is actually a Green Party of Canada Press Release. My expectation is that this topic is unlikely to get much coverage in the mainstream media.

I have to say as well that I did try to take advantage of the ecoEnergy Home Retrofit program, despite its somewhat cumbersome requirements. I did not get a penny from it. The simple reason being that while it was available it was almost impossible to get hold of tradespeople, who in any event at that time were also very much occupied on fitting out new build housing which was flooding the market. So when I bought an older townhouse in Richmond I got a new high efficiency gas furnace. I had to replace the hot water tank too and found there was no realistic alternative to like for like (tankless systems being only viable for larger households). I was then told by a City of Richmond gas inspector that if I installed a sealed system gas fire – to replace the negative efficiency open flame one – he would insist on the installation of a totally unnecessary air brick in an outside wall. This was because he did not understand the words  “coxial flue” and thought the new gas fire would need an additional supply of combustion air. At that point I gave up on a campaign with the strata council to speed up replacement of the windows and doors identified by the mandatory house inspection required by the ecoEnergy program which disqualified me from all rebates. And having replaced the extractor fans in both bathrooms I was not in a hurry to go back into the loft and add insulation up there.

Even so, and recognising that there is much more energy to be saved by cutting transportation emissions, I still think that retrofitting homes is a sensible thing to do, as the payback periods are shorten when energy costs rise. Of course the current glut of natural gas due to excessive fracking is not helping there either.


(Ottawa) September 25, 2014- In a House vote on September 24, 2014, Green Party Leader and MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands Elizabeth May and Green Deputy Leader Bruce Hyer, MP for Thunder Bay-Superior North, voted in favour of a motion to have the government establish a program to support energy efficient home renovation.  

Once again, the Harper Conservatives put partisanships ahead of good policy and voted it down.
“Canada wastes more than half the energy we use,” said Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party of Canada and MP for Saanich–Gulf Islands. “Heating the outdoors in the winter and then cooling it in the summer just doesn’t make any sense. I am stunned that the ecoEnergy program was cancelled by the Conservatives in 2012, at a huge cost to homeowners.  This motion would have brought the program back – yet sadly, the Conservatives voted against saving Canadians thousands of dollars in energy costs.”

NDP MP François Choquette’s motion M-497 stated that an energy efficiency program would help to combat climate change while reducing Canadians’ energy bills and creating jobs.

“It was disappointing, if not unexpected, to watch almost every Conservative MP in the House stand against a proposal that could have restored the successful energy efficient home retrofit program,” Hyer said. “This motion was a no brainer. The Conservatives could have killed two birds with one stone – creating jobs while lowering carbon emissions. It’s beyond me why any government would oppose it.”

In 2012, the Conservatives cancelled their own ecoEnergy Home Retrofit program without warning. The ecoEnergy program gave out grants of up to $5,000 to homeowners to help pay for energy efficient upgrades like replacing furnaces, improving insulation and sealing windows and doors.

The program helped over 750,000 Canadians during its five years, saving users an average of 20% on their home energy bills every year, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and adding up to $4 billion to the Canadian economy. It increased government revenue and created thousands of jobs.

“EcoEnergy brought huge benefits to the environment, the economy and the average Canadian.  It was particularly significant in Northwestern Ontario, where the cost of home heating is rising rapidly,” concluded Hyer.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 25, 2014 at 11:29 am

Batteries included: Network Rail begins on-track trials of prototype battery-powered train

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6_class 379_train_stock_image

Network Rail picture of a train on the type that has been modified

‘What’s this got to do with transit in Metro Vancouver?’ you might be asking. Well, it’s a trial of a new technology that does actually have potential impact here.

Network Rail and its partners believe battery-powered trains could be used to bridge gaps in otherwise electrified parts of the network or be used on branch lines where it would not be cost effective to install overhead electrification equipment,

You can read the entire press release, if you are interested. A couple of important bits of information are missing: the weight of batteries and what they do to the power consumption of the train when it is running under the wires. The second bit there is probably one of the key determinants of whether this project goes on to production. There are many prototype tests: many of them have short lives or look very different by the time they get into production.

The technology is the interesting bit, because it does not necessarily need to be confined to trains. Vancouver has an extensive network of electric trolleybuses, but the wires do not always extend to useful destinations. It is very expensive to construct the overhead (back in 2004 I used to use the figure of $1m per kilometre for plain track – more for “special works” like switches and diamonds). So to add enough wire to get trolleybuses from say 41st at Crown to UBC is cost prohibitive.

The “new” trolleybuses – actually entering service at the end of 2006 – have much better batteries than the previous generation, but even so can only run at low speed and limited distances. And someone has to be stationed at each end of the gap to do the pole pulling. So battery power is for short distances and for temporary disruptions. Routes like the #7 Dunbar – Nanaimo have been running diesel buses under wires most of the way for at least a year by my observation. This new technology could see faster, longer operation on battery power for longer distances. This would both reduce the use of diesel – a worthy aim in itself – and cut costs. As long as someone comes up with a automated pole puller. Routes like the #9 could actually terminate somewhere useful, like Brentwood Mall, instead of the traditional loop at the city boundary. The #41 could run out to UBC electrically and use the wires for most of the route.

This is probably more likely than seeing CMBC put poles on hybrid buses to achieve the same objectives.

Translink 2135 on wb 9 Broadway Vancouver BC 2007_0108

 

In other news

The draconian changes in drive driving rules in BC have worked to reduce collisions and casualties. No mention is made of why this change in legislation was controversial in this UBC study, so it does not come across as an evenhanded or even objective assessment of the policy change. Were the fears of the restaurant/pub operators justified? Are there any civil liberties concerns about the presumption of innocence lost at the “sobriety checkpoint” or the absence of due process when the police impose penalties without judicial oversight? Or is the unspoken rule any life saved is worth any cost?

Written by Stephen Rees

August 15, 2014 at 9:42 am

Making the wrong choices

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“No matter what they say, no country is going to take actions that are going to deliberately destroy jobs and growth in their country.”

Stephen Harper (source: CBC)

This post is inspired by an email from David Suzuki “Here’s to a radical Canada Day!”

Stephen Harper’s statement is willfully misleading.

Many countries are taking actions to tackle climate change. The record to date is that they are performing better in terms of jobs and growth than the very few (like Canada and Australia) who have decided to destroy the environment on which all life depends. Countries like Germany, that have far less sunshine than we do but make half of their electricity from it now. Solar power is now cheaper than electricity made from fossil fuels.

The tar sands have long presented a possible source of energy, but for a very long time they remained untapped simply because there were so many other sources which were easier to extract. Usable fuel from tar sands was simply too expensive to make. What changed that was the willingness of the Canadian government to pour billions of tax dollars into its extraction and processing. The subsidies to the fossil fuel industries are unconscionable. If these were cut – in the same way that so many other public expenditures that Canadians actually need and care about have been cut – then other sources would have been much more competitive much sooner. We have been burning money mining a nonrenewable resource that is causing widespread carnage in terms of its impact on local water and air quality as well the long term effect of increasing carbon and methane emissions at a time when all sorts of tipping points in climate change were passing. The only reaction to the melting of the polar ice cap seems to be a willingness to immediately seize this as an opportunity to open up yet more oil and gas exploration.

Canada has huge untapped reserves of energy – sunlight, wind, waves, tides, geothermal – which are not going to be utilized in time to save life as we know it, because our governments are obsessed with oil and gas. Yet we get very little from oil and gas in terms of jobs, or revenues or even economic activity. Unless you are the sort of economist who seriously advances the notion that cleaning up oil spills is good for economic growth.

Norway continues to  extract oil from underneath the North Sea. This was also regarded as a very expensive, risky option at one time. Yet Norway did not respond with tax breaks and subsidies. On the contrary it has some of the highest royalty revenue stream per barrel of any oil economy. And the money did not go to income tax reductions for the rich but into a wealth building fund  that will continue to serve the best interests of Norwegians in general long after their oil reserves are exhausted. BC, of course, is currently pursuing a highly risky fracking and LNG export path based on reducing royalty payments that are already low.

The other day I was in Squamish. I once again heard that the name comes from the First Nations term for “place of the winds”. It is apparently a world class sailboarding destination due to the strength and reliability of the winds. I could just about hear what the guide was saying over the roar of the diesel generator. He was telling us about how the new Sea to Sky Gondola is taking care of the environment.

Of course, wind and solar are not “reliable” in the sense that power is not available all the time. But this energy storage problem is close to being resolved. There always has been the option of pumped hydraulic storage (used in North Wales to store otherwise useless electricity produced by a nuclear power station which cannot be shut off at times of low demand). Now there are promising new battery storage technologies like vanadium and sulphuric acid, readily scalable and with very long life, and ideal for solar and wind power storage.

We sit on huge reserves of geothermal energy – but the only use we make of them is for a few hot baths, here and there.

We could have already replaced thousands of gasoline powered passenger trips by existing electric transport technologies – trams, trolleybuses, trains – but we chose instead to invest in highways, despite evidence of declining car use! There are many more potential jobs operating public transport than there are in freeway maintenance!

When I first got into greenhouse gas action plans, I decided that we should not be concerned about climate change as a selling point. There was already a cognitive dissonance in the message: the planet is heating up, so you should check your tire pressures more often. We simply concentrated on the economic/financial message. Twenty years ago, when hydro was still cheap and even gas prices looked reasonable, basic energy efficiency measures were still attractive with two to three years payback on projects which had potentially much longer lives. I still adhere to the notion that it is utterly pointless to argue with climate change deniers. But even they cannot argue that something isn’t happening that is – increasing wildfires, floods, tornadoes – and that remediation and essential protection for the future is costing us a fortune. The basic cost benefit calculations can be assessed in real dollars – without getting into any arguments about the value of life or time. The economy and job effect of energy efficiency by itself is worth having. Switching to renewable energy is even better in terms of rate of return on capital employed.

The carbon tax is working. It would have worked even better if it had not been frittered away on being “revenue neutral” but invested in sensible activities like increasing transit supply where there is already excess demand. Better still if the amounts had continued to increase and not been foolishly frozen.

Canada’s Economic Action Plan, on the other hand, manifestly is NOT working. Throwing money at billionaires is a very silly idea indeed. It does not trickle down nor are they any more willing to pay low taxes than they were to pay high taxes. Employing people to chase fugitive income and capital gains is a lot more productive than attacking the poor for trivial sums.

The actions we need to take will not destroy jobs or growth. What they will do is heavily impact the fortunes of the fossil fuel companies and those who remain invested in them. Stephen Harper does not actually care very much about Canada, or Canadian values. He does care very much indeed about holding on to power. And to do that he needs a steady flow of cash from the oil companies. And he is very unlikely indeed to insist that they leave their reserves in the ground. But if we are to stay below the 2℃ target that is what has to happen. The costs of missing that target are horrendous, no matter how you count them.

Footnotes

In a comment below I am (quite properly) chided for the lack of data in this opinion piece. Here are some routes where those who are curious can follow up on my assertions

http://www.desmog.ca/2013/05/10/just-how-much-exactly-are-you-paying-subsidize-fossil-fuels – points to an IMF study

Tackling Climate Change while growing the economy http://www.oecd.org/environment/cc/44287948.pdf

http://www.europeanceo.com/business-and-management/2014/06/germany-breaks-solar-power-records/ – “Over 50 percent of the country’s energy was generated from photovoltaic panels” for a short period recently

But the there is also this: http://inhabitat.com/german-state-to-reach-100-renewable-power-this-year/

investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency would create more jobs than the same amount of investment in fossil fuels. source: http://bluegreencanada.ca/node/175

https://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/reports/petro-path-not-taken - compares Norway to Canada and Alberta

See also http://www.progressivepress.net/us-fiscal-debate-could-learn-from-norway/

http://nextbigfuture.com/2014/06/vanadium-redox-batteries-could-balance.html

http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2014/03/12/BCs-Carbon-Tax-Shift/

Written by Stephen Rees

June 27, 2014 at 10:04 am

The Natural Gas System is Leaky and in Need of a Fix

with 2 comments

The first thorough comparison of evidence for natural gas system leaks confirms that organizations including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have underestimated U.S. methane emissions generally, as well as those from the natural gas industry specifically.

That’s a really neat summary of a new study from Stanford. The mainstream media is reporting this – often behind paywalls – so the link I have posted is to the original not them. It also seems that they have decided the story is to be about buses. That’s in the report but a ways down

the analysis finds that powering trucks and buses with natural gas instead of diesel fuel probably makes the globe warmer, because diesel engines are relatively clean. For natural gas to beat diesel, the gas industry would have to be less leaky than the EPA’s current estimate, which the new analysis also finds quite improbable.

“Fueling trucks and buses with natural gas may help local air quality and reduce oil imports, but it is not likely to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Even running passenger cars on natural gas instead of gasoline is probably on the borderline in terms of climate,” Brandt said.

At first this was the item that made me think I should blog about it. I have long been critical of the way that in BC we have glommed onto to NG as an alternative transportation fuel and have so often found it wanting. I won’t repeat that here.

What struck me was much closer to the top of the story

Natural gas consists predominantly of methane. Even small leaks from the natural gas system are important because methane is a potent greenhouse gas – about 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. A study, “Methane Leakage from North American Natural Gas Systems,” published in the Feb. 14 issue of the journal Science, synthesizes diverse findings from more than 200 studies ranging in scope from local gas processing plants to total emissions from the United States and Canada. [emphasis added]

“People who go out and actually measure methane pretty consistently find more emissions than we expect,” said the lead author of the new analysis, Adam Brandt, an assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University. “Atmospheric tests covering the entire country indicate emissions around 50 percent more than EPA estimates,” said Brandt. “And that’s a moderate estimate.”

So instead of me ranting about buses I am going after the more significant target. Our Premier’s obsession with LNG, and how this is going to be both our fiscal salvation – and will help other countries wean themselves off dirtier fuels like coal.

The problem with natural gas – methane – is that is far more powerful as a greenhouse gas than CO2. As noted above “30 times more potent than carbon dioxide” which means while burning methane is cleaner than burning coal, if just small amounts leak unburned then the advantage in terms of impact on climate is negated. Since the leaks have been underestimated up to now, that means we now need to rethink some of our strategies. I think it is very common for the people who promote fracking to downplay the destructiveness and carelessness of their activities. So the phrase “some recent studies showing very high methane emissions in regions with considerable natural gas infrastructure” is striking even though in context it is stressed that these levels are not characteristic of the continent as whole. The frackers keep secret the chemicals they add into the water – and deny that these chemicals damage the water supply of people downstream. Rather like the way the tarsand developers prefer us to not pay attention to what happens to the water supply people who live near the operations depend on.

Even though the gas system is almost certainly leakier than previously thought, generating electricity by burning gas rather than coal still reduces the total greenhouse effect over 100 years, the new analysis shows. Not only does burning coal release an enormous amount of carbon dioxide, mining it releases methane.

But I do not think that justifies a strategy that throws LNG in as the be-all and end-all. Recent developments in solar power, for instance, are showing that the competitiveness of this source of electricity has been greatly improved. BC has all sorts of renewable energy sources that remain virtually untouched. Geothermal energy, for instance, seems to be mostly confined to a few spas and hot tubs. Wind and wave energy generally is ignored, despite our location on the shore of the Pacific.

There are also very real doubts about the viability of some of the proposals being floated for LNG plants, which seem to me to based more on wishful thinking than clear headed analysis of the realities of a market place that has recently seen a flood of new production for a product that is difficult to package and transport to market. It is still the case that what I was taught in that CAPP course all new employees of the Ministry of Energy were required to attend, that what comes out of the ground is either oily gas or gassy oil. And what the market demands here is usually liquid fuel, and the gas is flared. About half of the volume produced I’m told. Using lots of energy to liquify the gas and then ship it around the planet to be sold at competitive prices to places that can pipe gas in from much closer locations does not seem very likely to be viable.

But mostly I am very tired of this administration pretending to care about the climate (because we had the carbon tax implemented before other places) while doing their very best to undermine the limited success we have had in reducing our own ghg. Which may not be entirely due to good management but simply reduced levels of economic activity.

Kinder Morgan Pipeline Threatens Ecology and Economy of Salish Tribes

Tribes on both sides of the border intervene in proceeding to address tanker traffic and oil spill risks

 Seattle, WA & Vancouver, BC, Coast Salish Territories – Opposition to Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain proposed pipeline project ramped up today as Coast Salish peoples on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border vowed to oppose the project as intervenors before Canada’s National Energy Board (NEB). Coast Salish intervenors include the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, Tulalip Tribes, Lummi Nation, and Suquamish Tribe in Washington state, and the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations in British Columbia. The deadline for application to participate in the NEB process was last night at midnight.

“Over the last 100 years, our most sacred site, the Salish Sea, has been deeply impacted by our pollution-based economy,” said Swinomish Chairman Brian Cladoosby. “Every kind of pollution ends up in the Salish Sea. We have decided no more and we are stepping forward. It is up to this generation and future generations to restore and protect the precious waters of the Salish Sea.”

“Our people are bound together by our deep connection to Burrard Inlet and the Salish Sea. We are the ‘People of the Inlet’ and we are united in our resolve to protect our land, water and air from this risky project,” said Chief Maureen Thomas of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation. “We will use all lawful means to oppose it. This is why we have applied to intervene in the NEB hearing process.”

In December, Kinder Morgan filed an application with the NEB to build a new pipeline to bring tar sands oil from Alberta to Vancouver, B.C. The NEB is the Canadian federal agency that regulates interprovincial energy infrastructure. It is responsible for reviewing, recommending and regulating major energy projects, such as the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline.

If approved, the proposal would see the transport of tar sands oil expanded from its present level of approximately 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000 barrels per day. With an almost seven-fold increase in oil tankers moving through the shared waters of the Salish Sea, an increase in groundings, accidents, incidents, leaks and oil spills is inevitable. More information here.

Experts have acknowledged that a serious oil spill would devastate an already-stressed marine environment and likely lead to collapses in the remaining salmon stocks and further contamination of shellfish beds, wiping out Indigenous fishing rights.

“The fishing grounds of the Salish Sea are the lifeblood of our peoples. We cannot sit idly by while these waters are threatened by reckless increases in oil tanker traffic and increased risk of catastrophic oil spill,” said Mel Sheldon, Chairman of the Tulalip Tribes.

The proposed tar sands pipeline expansion is one of several projects that would dramatically increase the passage of tankers, bulk carriers, and other vessels through Salish Sea shipping routes and adjacent waters on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border. In addition to oil, regulators in both countries are reviewing controversial proposals to export huge quantities of U.S. coal.  Taken together, these projects would greatly increase the risk of oil spills and other accidents that threaten the Coast Salish economies and cultures.

“Today we are taking a stand to honour our ancient connection to the Salish Sea. The threat of oil spills and industrial pollution continue to threaten our way of life.” said Chief Ian Campbell of the Squamish Nation. “We stand in unity with all who care about the health of the Salish Sea and defend it for future generations.”

Chairman Timothy Ballew III of the Lummi Nation stated, “I am a fisherman, a father and a member of the great Lummi Nation. As the northernmost Washington Treaty Tribe of the Boldt Decision, we are the stewards the Salish Sea and will not allow the Kinder Morgan proposal along our waterways that will threaten our harvesting areas and further the detrimental impacts to the environment and natural resources.”

BACKGROUND INFORMATION HERE: http://earthjustice.org/documents/fact-sheet/pdf/faq-kinder-morgan-pipeline-threatens-ecology-and-economy-of-salish-tribes

Written by Stephen Rees

February 13, 2014 at 10:24 am

Electric Cars Won’t Save the Planet

with 3 comments

Tesla Model S

There is a lively debate going on first as a result of some research at North Carolina State and then some rebuttals at web sites like Slate. I was going to join in there but there are already 197 comments there – and anyway I am going to drag this off. It is not about the emissions – or lack of them. As I have said here before, the problem is that they are still cars. Cars are the problem. An electric car is a little bit better than an internal combustion engine car – but then a Smart car is better than an SUV or a Car2Go smart car is better than either. And in actual experience the emissions performance is better than expected.

Smart EV front off

But cars are still a leading cause of death and ill health. They take up far too much space in cities – moving and parked. We can easily accommodate the next million people who are coming to this region, but not if they insist on driving everywhere. Even the President of the Ford Motor Co recognizes that. It is bad enough what cars do to us – as the result of collisions and the inevitable congestion – but even worse is what it does to the places we live in. The interconnectedness of society is irreparably damaged by infrastructure designed simply to get cars through urban areas as quickly as possible.

We can easily electrify our transportation systems using existing technologies. We could build streetcar systems within towns and interurbans between them – and still live like they did in the 1920s. We could add electric high speed trains to cover longer distances, and reduce not just car travel but jet aircraft too – and that really does make a significant difference to emissions.

But the greatest benefit would be the ability to live without owning a car and getting everything we need within walking distance. We would abandon the ideas that have been so bad for us – like separating out land uses, and building single family home subdivisions which waste so much valuable farm land (which we do not value properly). We could protect much more of the wilderness and watersheds as a result. The reduced need for fossil fuels may be what drives this progress but the benefits in terms of health and quality of life are going to be the unique selling proposition that gets people on board. The sort of places which keep cars under control and make them largely unnecessary are going to be the ones that are most successful. While we now think that being “Green” is good, I think that “livable” may have been a more accurate term for what we want from urban regions.

But as long as there are lots of  “thought leaders” being seen in their Leafs or Teslas, we will continue to think that we can continue to live as though it was still the 1960s.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 5, 2014 at 10:31 am

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