Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Choices We Make, Part 2

Another Mega-project has been approved by the Government of Canada. The Northern Gateway is a proposed 1,200 kilometer twin pipeline that would carry bitumen from the oil sands in Alberta to the coast of British Columbia. From there, the crude would be shipped to Asian markets.

The $7-billion pipeline would be developed by Enbridge, a major Canadian energy delivery company based in Calgary. The application to the National Energy Board was submitted in 2010. Since then, a review panel hosted consultations and heard from residents of the affected communities. The panel eventually approved the project, but with 209 conditions to be met. It is not a surprise that many still disagree to say the least.

Former Conservative MP Stockwell Day says: There are already thousands of pipelines running across North America, and the Northern Gateway pipeline, if approved, will be one of the "safest and most sophisticated.

Dear Mr. Day. Perhaps you remember we met with you some time ago and I told you about my aerospace background. As someone who spent more than 30 years building complex systems in various areas I know not only in theory but in practice as well, that any technical system, as "safe" as it might seem, will fail sooner or later. And in most cases the reason for it would be not a natural disaster or even a terrorist attack, which are always a possibility, but a basic human error. (Just remember Lac-Megantic derailment, or the South Korean ferry accident). When failure happens, we would look back and ask ourselves: "Why?"  
Why all the discussion is around how to move oil - one way or another? Why do we need to move it at all? Why not consider refining it on-site (or as close as possible)? Selling oil to the Asian market has very  questionable economic prospects - Russia will easily undercut Canadian prices. And because Europe is transitioning to alternative sources, in 20 years (this is probably an optimistic time frame for the Northern Gateway to start its operation) Russia will flood all the oversupply to China pushing Canadian oil out.
There are different alternatives completely. If the government's argument is exclusively about money, why not compare the pipeline with other possible ways of investing $7 billion and see what return can be obtained from investing in technical innovation, energy conservation, renewable energy, distributed systems etc. On the scale 20 years many alternatives will show at least the same, but likely a bigger economic potential than pipeline ,with much less environmental risks and they would have much more public support. On a global scale, it would show our commitment to contributing into resolving global pollution problem rather than contributing into the problem. Most importantly, instead of remaining a backward resource-based economy, it would create a path for Canada to become a nation with a modern future-oriented economy, which we all would be proud of and our children and grand-grandchildren would be grateful for.   

There are choices we make, but there is at least one choice - between Future and No Future - we should not be making...

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Choices We Make: Part 1

More than a year ago I wrote about system approach which is a must for Sustainable Development.

A lot has happened in the world since then. Syria conflict, Iraq insurgency, Putin's invasion into Ukraine, Obama's announcement of the new GHG targets.
World can go upside down, but nothing seems to shift Canadian national "energy policy", still counting on oil, gas and pipelines to deliver them.

Not being a particular fan of Hillary Clinton, must say I very much agree with what she said in the interview with CBC Peter Mansbridge about climate and energy policy: "Why not to create a common energy policy for North America, including Canada, USA and Mexico based on the plan of transition from fossil fuels to renewables?".  Indeed - why not? In global issues such as climate and energy going beyond national orders is much more effective than trying to do something in isolation. After all, there is NORAD, there is NAFTA, why can't there be NAES (North American Energy and Sustainability) ?

To be continued...

Monday, June 9, 2014

Is there a future for Biofuels?

I must admit I have been always skeptical about bio-fuels. Growing corn or sugar cane to make fuel ? It may be "renewable", but it takes the land and resources out of agriculture in the world where hundreds of millions of people are starving. And is it any better than greenhouse gas emitting fossil fuels from oil and gas? 

United Nations Energy Future Coalition says cellulosic ethanol is cleaner and does not drive food prices up because it is produced from wood waste or other non-food plants.

A Canadian company, Iogen Corporation, which specializes in industrial enzyme production, is operating a pilot plant in Ottawa and is planning to build a commercial plant in Idaho. Brazil has started construction of a commercial biomass-to-ethanol facility using Iogen's cellulosic bio-fuel technology.

And of course processing waste into bio-fuel works two ways - reducing amount of refuse disposal while providing a relatively inexpensive and less polluting source of energy...

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Energy: Choices We Make, Part 3

This is a continuation of the discussion started previously. 
If you browse through the article World's Largest Solar Power Plant in Arizona, do not stop at the end of the article - read the comments. You can find other "largest": the largest floating solar farm in Singapore,  largest wind farm etc etc.

Why are we obsessed with the gigantic projects? They are financial overkill, they - even if promoted as  "clean" - inevitably harm environment, they need power generated to be transmitted, which mean losses and additional cost, they bring instability into grid and they are vulnerable to terrorist attacks or natural disasters.
We need not the gigantic centralized power plants, but distributed networks of small nodes - agile and flexible - see Energy: Choices We Make  Part 1 and Part 2.
How flexible? Each house or building can have its own autonomous energy generation and even plug-in electric vehicle batteries can be used to store energy and then charge back the building: Leaf-to-Home.

Great concept from tirelessly innovative Nissan. They should have put the car in a carport covered with solar PV panels though ...

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Adams Lake "green vision" Part 2

Two years ago I was introduced to the green vision of the Adams Lake Indian Band. Today we are working together on a comprehensive Community Energy Plan to implement that vision. I had a chance to take a closer look now at the unique solar thermal system installed on the Gym building.  

View of the rotating towers from the front (South-East). The front wall mounted panels can also be seen.

View of the rotating towers from the back (North-West).

Each tower has 36 flat solar thermal panels joined together. This photo hopefully helps appreciate the scale of the system. The system incorporates a closed loop underground heat storage. Importantly, it is a locally grown technology, which is a big plus for the community.