Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Long Emergency, Oil Production Decline, and the Economy

For Christmas this year, I received a copy of James Kunstler's book "The Long Emergency". If you've never heard of James Kunstler, he is a very engaging writer and commentator from upstate New York. He's written a number of books, including "Geography of Nowhere" and "Home From Nowhere" and is a former editor with Rolling Stone.

While reading this book, (published in 2005--back when the markets were roaring along making lots of money), I came across the following passage:
"The best information we have is that we will have passed the point of world peak oil production sometime between the years 2000 and 2008. The date is inexact for several resons. One is that the reported reserves (oil left in the ground) of private sector and nationalized oil companies tend to be routinely overestimated, variously to benefit the share price of the stock, or to gain export quota advantages in international markets, as in the case of Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) members. Another reasons is the "peak" will tend to manifest in several years of oscillating market instability, a volatile period of recurring price shocks and consequential recession dampening demand and price, presage a terminal decline. The peak therefore will only be seen in a "rearview mirror" once the terminal decline begins. Signs of sustained market instability therefore tend to suggest the earlier onset of peak but would not be probable except in hindsight."
This was written three years ago. Doesn't this very pointedly describe our current economic situation? It looks like Jim nailed it.

As Robert Heinberg described in his article "Say Good Bye to Peak Oil", the one-two punch of rapid oil field declines (IEA estimates global average oil field decline of 6% / year) coupled with the current low oil prices causing lack of investment in new development, has likely lead to peak global oil production having occurred in July 2008. Is this the peak starting to appear in our "rearview" mirror?

With respect to our current global economic instability, Jeff Rubin of CIBC World Markets has identified that the current global recession is the result of high oil prices. Again, Jim nailed it - volatile energy prices, price shocks followed by recession with dampened demand and prices

Charts from CIBC World Markets' October 31st, 2008 report.

All in all, the forecast presented in the preamble to "The Long Emergency" seem to be panning out. So, the Long Emergency might be a good description for the years to come.

Happy New Year.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Fuel Switching - Energy, Cost and GHG Emission Reductions

Last year we "fuel switched" from oil heat to electric heating for our house. The following is a summary of cost savings, energy savings and reductions in Green House Gas (GHG) emissions resulting from this fuel switch.

Figure 1. Monthly energy costs savings for adding electric pre-heat to oil-fired combo heating system.

We have an Green Home which means it is a energy efficient home (Energuide Rating of 81, equivalent to R-2000) - or in other words, our house should use half the energy of a normal home. Our home is heated with a combo-system: it's a oil-fired hotwater tank that provides both domestic hot water and space heating. The "fuel switch" was achieved by installing an electric hotwater tank in front of the oil-fired hotwater tank - that way the electric "pre-heats" the water entering the oil-fired tank. Both tanks are set at 140 DegF (I tried putting the oil-fired tank lower than the electric, but the relatively colder water from the oil-fired hot water tank was causing my fancoil (which provides the forced air space heating) to run in low-speed due to low inlet water temperature).

Figure 2. Electric Pre-heat for combo-heating system. Electric hot water tank on left (half-height space saver so it fits under the fancoil unit) pre-heats water entering / returning to oil-fired hot water tank on right. Yes, I know it's a pretty messy install - but it works.

I installed the hotwater tank in December 2007 due to both rising oil costs, but also in consideration of the benefits of using our locally produced hydroelectricity: very low GHG emissions and investing locally (e.g. energy expenditures flow to Yukon owned energy corporation). The hotwater tank cost about $250, and then I spent about another $200+ on fittings, copper, valves, breaker, wire, etc. So, the conversion probably cost me $450 plus a bunch of my labour (I'm not a very fast plumber).

Building Energy Use
During the design of our house, we had an energy model run (using HOT2000). Figure 3 below shows the modelled energy consumption of our house, and the acutal energy usage before and after the fuel switch to electricity
Figure 3. Actual and modelled total energy consumption for 705 Jarvis St.

We are using a wood stove for much of our space heat, and the HOT2000 model did not originally consider that. Overall we see that our house is using about 12% more energy than originally modelled, even when you take into consideration the relatively lower combustion efficiency of the wood stove.

The fuel switch to electricity did not substantively reduce our total energy usage (only about 1% annual energy consumption savings), however in 2008 it has saved about $260. The simple payback on the electric pre-heat system should be about two years: not a bad investment given today's investment opportunities!

However, looking at Figure 1 you can see that the differential between oil and the electricty has decreased in recent months, reducing our savings. Oil prices have dropped and net electricity prices have risen due to YEC and YECL rate riders.

Green House Gas Emissions
Reductions in green house gas emissions are substantive. Figure 4 shows GHG emissions for our house. Note that biomass related GHGs have to be reported under most GHG protocols, but as biomass (e.g. burning wood) is considered renewable and carbon-neutral, it does not count towards your total emissions.
Figure 4. Green house gas emissions for 705 Jarvis Street.

The Yukon's electricity is generated primarily by hydro-electric generation, and hence the Yukon's emission factor for electricity is currently very low (on the order of 1.6 g/kWh of CO2e). Given our use of biomass (aka wood) for heating our house, our baseline (pre-fuel switch) GHG emissions were already 16% lower than modelled, even though we are using 12 % more energy than modelled. With the fuel-switch to electricity, we've reduce our home related GHG emissions another 70% - from 5 tonnes of CO2e per year to 1.6 tonnes of CO2e/yr.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Old Buildings Photo Gallery

I've started a gallery of old building photos:

  • Haines, Alaska - mainly Ft. Seward buildings from 1898.

  • Victoria, BC

Monday, December 8, 2008

Forest's Christmas List

To make Christmas even easier, here is my Christmas list:

1. New skate skis (ok, that one might be a bit much, since I want the REALLY expensive ones ;-)
2. new ski boots (Solomon pro combi - I'm size 10 1/2 to 11)
3. Socks okay (not big wooly ones, just day-to-day sock), NO underwear (I have lots, and never wear it anyway).
4. A zola coffee card
5. New headlight for my bike - there looks like a nice one at MEC
6. Beer & wine!
7. Any Memoir '44 items (see Fun Games Cafe for a good canadian place to order from)
8. The Memoir '44 campaign bag - its cool, but never mind, no one will play M44 with me anyway.
9. A new job

Georgi's Christmas List

To easy Christmas concerns, I am sharing with you all Georgi's Christmas list. If you want to claim a list item, let me know and I'll cross it off so we don't double up:

1. Chocolate (item not sanctioned by Forest)
2. Smart Wool socks (size M, not mega long ones, bright colour w/ stripes)
3. Skate ski wax job
4. Massage....
5. Yarn store gift certificate
6. Snowpants
7. Metal water bottle, with elephant picture or eggs & chicks
8. Helley Hanson long underwear: bright colours
- top,long sleve, size M
- bottom, size L
9. Fox Fur - from trappers assoc.
10. Spice bottle stickers - at Coffee, Tea and Spice store.
NEW 11. Book "Saving Fish from Drowning" by Amy Tan at Coles (paper back).

Merry Xmas!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

2008 Yukon Orienteering Campaign Results

Just for fun, I developed a ranking system for the Yukon Orienteering Association. It is based off of the IOF system, but ranks ALL Yukon Orienteerers over a season. It also "flattens" categories/courses so it acknowledges orienteerers can be competitive at what ever level they are at.

The ranking system has no official or sanctioned purpose. It is just for fun to see, relatively, who is the Yukon's best orienteerers and how you improved over the orienteering season

Click here to download the 2008 Yukon Orienteering Campaign Rankings results.

Title Page Picture - Carcross Performance Pavilion

The building on the header of the site is the timber frame performance pavilion in Carcross, Yukon. I did the design of this building with Dave Brook and Mike MacDonald, who are the builders. This is the second of these buildings that have been raised, the first was at Mt. Lorne Community Centre built in 2006.

The original concept and the bents (the structural elements) were by Mike and Dave with review by a structural engineering in Canmore, Alberta. I facilitated the design, overall layout, generally building aragement, massing, facade and ultimatly prepared the design. I should post a few more pics of it soon, as this building really does nicely showcase the structure of timber frame.

What Does "Old Way of Seeing" Mean?

The name "Old Way of Seeing" comes from a book written by Jonathan Hale called "The Old Way of Seeing: How Architecture Lost Its Magic - and How to Get It Back" (it's at Whitehorse Public Library if you are curious).

Although the book is a bit lackluster and rambling, the concept does nicely capture my view on our built environment: We are always hoping technology and new ways of doing things will solve our problem, but fail to recognize that we've been building our environment for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, and that many of the lessons have been learned, but simply forgotten or forsaken.

A few reviews of Hale's book summarizes this sentiment nicely:

"...[a] calling for a combination of design that incorporates universal human fondness for pattern with a designer sense of intuition and play. He argues that such "old way of seeing" has been lost in much by both the designer and the wider public and that today's contemporary architecture and built environment is the result."


"if you've ever wondered why new buildings, even though they seem to try very hard, still pale in comparison to old buildings...[there is a] missing "something." He promotes rediscovering our aesthetic eye-- that part of us that knows unconsciously the pattern and geometry of nature, the balance of shape and form that brings us joy."

Forest, Georgi & Finn's 2008 Online Christmas Card Album

We did up our family Christmas card / newsletter today - it's very cool, so check you mailboxes soon! It also comes with online content: A Christmas card photo gallery at Flickr.