Dyer: Energy efficiency, the magic bullet

Kristy Dyer has a background in art and physics and consulted for Silicon Valley

A friend asked me if climate change was going to blow over, like the crises he had faced during his life: nuclear war and overpopulation. I pointed out that, even if we stop today, the carbon we put into the atmosphere was going to continue to heat up the earth for decades before leveling off. The carbon is a solid fact, not a future projection, and the heat that carbon is trapping is unavoidable.

“Well” he replied, “What if someone invents a machine that removes carbon from the atmosphere?”

It took me awhile to realize why I found this conversation so frustrating. He’s asking if I think someone is going to invent a magic bullet to halt climate change. The reason I’m frustrated is because we already have a magic bullet to stop climate change: it’s called energy efficiency.

We already have a magic bullet to stop climate change: it’s called energy efficiency

Solar power (which is close to my heart) and electric cars are great, but the biggest lever we have to stop global warming is carrying out our daily life with more efficient appliances and better insulation.

READ MORE: Canada among three G20 countries least likely to hit emissions targets

Why is this? First world nations like Canada, with sophisticated economies, are emitting more carbon than developing economies. Canada, compared to the world at large, is a wealthy nation. Poverty exists in Canada, but it looks nothing like poverty in Brazil or India. We drive cars and buy washing machines, replace heaters and build additions.

Because we have the carbon footprint of a 300 pound gorilla, we have a lot of room to reduce that footprint

On a personal level we make millions of choices a day, picking the cheapest, or the one on sale, or a color that matches the stove. On a larger level companies and governments make decisions about investment in oil, where to manufacture cars, which source to use in a supply chain.

READ MORE: Canadian vehicles are big, heavy and guzzle a lot of gasoline

We need to move from making decisions only for the immediate future, based on this quarter’s stock price. We need to move from buying the cheapest hot water heater to buying the one that will be cheapest to run.

Insulating a house is not sexy

It doesn’t come with the thrill of a new car. It doesn’t sparkle in the sunlight like solar panels. But an average residential solar array is about 5.0 kW in size. With the sun we get the Okanagan it can generate 6,000 kWh in a year. Compare this to your total electricity use of 10,000 kWh per year.

That electricity bill comes from space heating, water heating, appliances, lighting and cooling. You could reduce this bill to 1/3th of it’s original size with energy efficiency.

Here we have to distinguish between energy savings and energy efficiency: energy savings is when you turn something down or off. Energy efficiency is when you replace something inefficient, like baseboard heat, with something efficient, like a heat pump. This is not that different than your money: “Savings” is when you choose not to buy something. “Efficiency” is when you go out and get a job that pays you more. Over the course of your lifetime, savings will not add up to the amount you make from a steadily increasing wage.

We tried energy savings in the 1970’s. It’s not big enough to get us where we want to go. What we need to do is use 30 years of technological innovation (the magic bullet) to start putting energy efficiency to work. Many of our basic appliance designs date back to 1950!

READ MORE: B.C. offers businesses and homeowners more money to save energy, cut emissions

Choosing and installing these technological innovations is not a DIY project. You will be changing major systems (like your home’s envelope or HVAC) and it is worth doing a home energy audit to pick and choose your projects. Your money will go further used on energy efficiency than jumping ahead to install a solar electric system.

If you have problems summoning up enthusiasm for energy efficiency think of it this way: every kilowatt hour you save is a negawatt — something that doesn’t need to be generated by natural gas peaker plants. Each negawatt is worth every bit as much as a watt generated by a solar array, and will come at half the cost.

Missed last week’s column?

Dyer: Electricity demand and the duck curve

Kristy Dyer has a background in art and physics and consulted for Silicon Valley clean energy firms before moving (happily!) to sunny Penticton. Comments to Kristy.Dyer+BP@gmail.com

Kristy’s articles are archived at teaspoonenergy.blogspot.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Environment

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Morning Start: Night Owls Tend to Be Smarter Than Early Birds

Your morning start for Monday, Sept. 21, 2020

Ear-to-ear smiles for Kelowna woman’s 75th birthday surprise

Helen Bellinger’s early 75th birthday celebrations involved a cluster of bright yellow smiley-face balloons

Former Kelowna cop faces fourth lawsuit alleging sexual assault

Ex-Mountie Brian Mathew Burkett is also separately facing seven charges of breach of trust

QUIZ: A celebration of apples

September is the start of the apple harvest

Quirky Canadian comedy ‘Schitt’s Creek’ takes Emmys by storm with comedy sweep

Toronto-raised Daniel Levy and Ottawa-born Annie Murphy both got supporting actor nods

B.C. has highest number of active COVID-19 cases per capita, federal data shows

B.C. currently has 1,803 active cases after weeks of COVID-19 spikes in the province

‘Fed bears are dead bears’ Okanagan residents warned

Several bears spotted near Okanagan Rail Trail, and getting into garbage

181 days gone: Family continues to look for man last seen in RCMP custody 6 months ago

Brandon Sakebow’s last known location was leaving Mission RCMP cell, police say; family has doubts

B.C. unveils new cannabis sales programs to help small, Indigenous growers

Government did not say how it will define small producers, but says nurseries will be included in the policy

B.C. transportation minister will not seek re-election

Claire Trevena has held the position since 2017

Squabble over mask policy at LUSH in Kelowna mall

The woman filmed the encounter at LUSH Cosmetics, where wearing a mask in-store is company policy

Cops For Kids ride wraps in Okanagan

No pomp, no circumstance for end of milestone 20th anniversary fundraising bicycle trip

Most Read