Climate and Energy:
Climate and Energy
"I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy.
What a source of power!
I hope we don't have to wait 'til oil and coal run out before we tackle that."
- Thomas Edison

Ten Ways for Canada to Flourish without Fossil Fuels

1. Green Power from the Sun, Wind, and Tides

For how much longer will we burn coal and gas to generate the electricity we need, generating asthma, lung disease, air pollution and global warming? It makes no sense. The numbers show that as a world, we can generate all the electricity we need from solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, hydro and the other renewables, plus the best of efficiency, with no need for nuclear. Ontario is phasing out its coal-fired power plants, and could get 100% of its electricity from renewables by 2027. Connected by a smart supergrid, using our hydro-dams and other means for storage, we can have smart, reliable power that never runs out.

2. Electric Cars, Powered by the Sun, Wind and Tides

Who killed the hydrogen and biofueled cars? The electric car, in a delightful act of revenge. Right now, the world’s major automakers are all engaged in a race to produce the best electric car. Better Place is working with Nissan/Renault in Israel, Denmark, Australia, Hawaii, San Francisco and 20 other places to produce an integrated system with electric cars, EV charging posts and EV battery replacement stations. Plug-in Hybrid EVs are coming that will run on electricity for 80% of their miles. Combined with regular EVs and lightweight designs, these cars could reduce our need for liquid fuel in cars and light trucks by 95%.

3. Walk, Cycle and Ride the Bus for 50% Less Car Travel

Go to Copenhagen, Denmark, and you’ll find a whole new culture emerging in which 36% of the residents use their bicycles for regular trips. The goal is 50% by 2015, as part of a quest to become the world’s most sustainable city. When walking is pleasant, cycling easy, and buses and trams clean and reliable, many people are happy to get by without a car. In the Freiburg suburb of Vauban, 72% of the residents live this way.

4. High Speed Electric Trains

We came so close. According to the late Jean Pelletier, Chretien’s chief of staff, Chretien came within a hair of signing the papers that would given Canada a high-speed railway in the Ontario-Quebec corridor (The Walrus, June 2009). In Japan, 410,000 people ride high-speed trains every day. Where is the political leader who could help us do us the same, enabling us to travel in high-speed comfort from Vancouver to Halifax in 24 hours, zipping across the prairies at 300 green-powered kilometres per hour?

5. Algae Biofuel for Trucks, Shipping and Airlines

If we generate biofuel for flying from farmed jatropha or woody crops such as miscanthus or willow, we would need an area twice the size of France, that could otherwise grow food. If we generate it by growing algae, using technology that looks increasingly hopeful, we could grow it on 65,000 sq km of land, which is just 0.15% of the world’s farm and pastureland. Add the land for trucking and shipping, and the numbers still look good. Expensive? Maybe - but much less so than using oil, once it passes the production peak.

6. Green Heat from District Heat and Heat Pumps

Wherever an ice rink is cooled or sewage is treated, heat is available. In northern Europe, highly insulated pipes carry hot water for over 20 kilometres, enabling whole communities to use district heating systems. Around the world, buildings are also using heat pumps to tap into heat in the ground and the surrounding air. On Salt Spring, BC, the Gulf Islands Secondary School obtains the heat it needs from under its playing field. At the nearby Brentwood College, in Mill Bay, the Performing Arts Centre obtains its heat from the cold waters of the Saanich Inlet.

7. Green Heat from Stored Solar Energy

In the frigid cold of a Calgary winter, the residents of Drake Landing, Okotoks, are warmed by the last summer’s sunshine. Gathered in more than 700 solar hot water panels on their garage rooftops, the heat is stored underground and brought back in winter, providing 95% of their warmth. In Europe, there are plans to provide 50% of the heat for all buildings from stored solar heat by 2030. It will require new heat storage technologies, but that’s not putting them off.

8. Green Fuel from Biogas

The Danes and Norwegians like their drink, while Swedes are more uptight. So every weekend, Swedes in search of a good time smuggle cheap wine and spirits across the border. In the past, the border guards in Linkoping used to dump the confiscated alcohol. Now they turn it into biogas, which they use to run the train between Linköping and Vastervik. Wherever there’s organic waste from sewage, farms or compost, it can be processed to generate biogas. Germany’s biogas is now being mixed directly with imported gas from Russia.

9.  Organic Agriculture Without Fossil Fuel Fertilizers

The nitrogen fertilizer so many farms depend on is made from ammonia, and its manufacture uses 5% of the world’s natural gas supply. Take away the fossil fuel, and farmers will discover what organic farmers have known for years - that their yields are fine, and their lives are healthier. Farms can generate the energy they need from solar, wind and biogas, enabling the world to go on eating long after the last fossil fuel has been forgotten.

10. Green Jobs in a Thriving Green Economy

We need not fear that a life without fossil fuels will be a life of medieval misery. Renewable energy never runs out, and since its source is free, it will become steadily cheaper as the technologies to deliver it develop. It is the continued use of fossil fuels that will bankrupt us, not once but twice, first by the scarcity that will follow peak oil, and then by global warming. Since green energy supports many more jobs than fossil fuels, a green economy transition could provide a welcome boost to local economies all across Canada.

Guy Dauncey is author of the newly published book The Climate Challenge: 101 Solutions to Global Warming.

First published in Corporate Knights Magazine, December 2009