Sunday, March 15, 2009

Our Energy Use Implications for the Yukon's Future, Community Sustainability and Energy Security

In my previous post, I illustrated the Yukon's Energy Budget. So, what does this mean for our future? What does this mean looking forward to maintain some semblance of life-as-we-know-it in the Yukon as we enter the post oil age? We know that fossil fuel costs are going to rise exponentially (and become increasingly volatile as we've recently experienced) over the next 10-20 years. Fuel prices have doubled in the last 8-10 years, and we should expect this cost doubling to occur again in an even shorter period of time.

Space Heating - Use of fossil fuels for space heating is not going to be affordable in the next 10 to 20 years. What do we do?
  • Reduce space heating requirements - insulate, build more energy efficient buildings, etc. Although this can help, I doubt we can count on more than a 20% Yukon wide, net reduction in building heating requirements.
  • Burn more biomass (wood, pellets) - this is going back to the old way we did things, however our population is WAY bigger now, so this will mean cutting a lot of trees. And even though our new wood stoves are "clean burning", there would be a lot of local air pollution if we all burned wood.
  • Burn coal for heat - yuck, who wants to go there.
So what does this leave us? ELECTRICITY. Knowing that we won't be able to afford to heat our homes with fossil fuels in 10-20 years, then we need to start planning for the electrical production needed to replace that energy. In other words, we will have to DOUBLE our electrical production in the next 20 years to make up for the shortfall left by fossil fuels.

Some have argued that new hydroelectrical production is very expensive. Say $0.25 to $0.35/kWh. Well, right now oil space heating is in the range of $0.15/kWh equivalent. So, when our fossil fuel prices double and then quadruple to $0.30 and $0.60/kWh equivalent, then that "new" hydro is going to look pretty cheap. Let's start the planning now, especially while energy (and its proxy, "money") are still cheap.

Transportation - Energy for transportation is a hard nut to crack - fossil fuels really are not easily replaceable for transportation. Possible solutions:
  • travel less: fewer trips, transit, walk & bike, live closer to your work, friends and family.
  • produce more goods & foods locally so we are less dependent (vulnerable) to trucking goods here
  • use electric vehicles for local travel
  • use electric transit systems: either trolley buses, or electrify and extend our existing streetcar system (say to Whistle Bend?!). Grid connected vehicles are highly efficient - on the order of 98% - what other vehicle can claim that kind of efficiency?
  • switch some vehicles to biogas- again, probably relegated to relatively local travel because there isn't likely to be much biogas production outside of Whitehorse.
  • limited local natural gas production from Whitehorse Trough (perhaps coal bed methane) - a long shot, and would only be affordable if "nationalized".
Are these things going to be enough? Probably not, so let's prepare for transportation to become VERY expensive. Fossil fuels are probably going to be reserved for long-range transportation.

The Yukon's Energy Budget

Today's post has been inspired by a couple of things: 1) a casual conversation with a friend about the merits of (or as was argued, lack there of) using of hydroelectricity for space heating, 2) starting work with some folks on a sustainable building design and associated discussions about long-term operating and maintenance costs; and 3) I just finished reading James Kunstler recent fiction book "World Made by Hand" which is a "what-if" novel about life in the post-oil age.

Below is an energy budget for the Yukon - or a summary of energy usage in the Yukon - I prepared over a year ago as part of our business plan for Earth Energy Yukon, Inc. It's a useful snapshot of how we use energy, but more importantly, some insight into what we are going to need in the future:
Figure 1. Yukon's Energy Use - 2005
Energy Category Energy Use (Terajoules/year) % Category % Source Notes
Electricity - Hydro 1237 19% 20% 1
Electricity - Diesel 81 1% 1
Heating - Oil 995 15% 22% 2
Heating - Propane 184 2.9% 4
Heating - Wood 208 3.2% 3
Transport - Land 3343 52% 58% 1
Transport - Aviation 396 6% 1
Total Energy Use 6444

Source Notes:
  1. Yukon Statistical Review, 2005 Annual Report. Yukon Bureau of Statistics.
  2. ibid, sum of "heating oil" and "light fuel oil"
  3. ibid, based on firewood timber permits issued. Due to typical lower efficiency of woodstoves, total energy reduced to 65% for comparative purposes.
  4. Report on energy supply-demand in Canada, 2005. Statistic Canada.

How the Yukon Energy Budget was Created

This energy use summary is very similar to that prepared by Vector Research for the Yukon Energy Strategy - it is based on Yukon Bureau of Stats and StatsCanada data. However, there are two difference from what Paul did and my Energy Budget:

  1. Vector research included energy use and production associated with the gas development in southeast Yukon. Although technically, this is Yukon energy in the political sense, however it does not flow to any Yukon communities, and as such I excluded it when trying to understand energy usage from the perspective of Yukon community sustainability; and
  2. I included fuel wood. StatsCanada doesn't identify firewood usage. So, I took the total amount of firewood permits (cords) reported by Yukon Bureau of Stats. There is likely more firewood harvesting than there is permits, so this is likely an under-reported amount. Either way, it is not an insubstantial amount of our energy use/production. I did "down-report" the energy production by firewood by 35% to account for the lower efficiency of firewood burning. Although this energy was still used, it wasn't usable to the building, and to allow easier comparison with other space heating energy use which is typically 80% to 100% efficient. In other words, if we were to replace wood with electricity, the chart show how much energy would be required.

Key Observations about Our Energy Usage
  1. Transportation fuel is a huge part of our energy demand - over 50%. This is much higher than the provinces (transportation tends to be about 30% of their energy use. Interestingly, aviation fuel isn't that much (relatively speaking) and transportation energy usage is much higher than space heating usage (which was a surprise to me, I would have thought our space heating energy needs would be proportionally bigger).
  2. Space heating provided through fuels (e.g. fossil fuels or biomass (a.k.a. "firewood")) accounts for only 22% of our energy use, with firewood providing 3-4%. Although the percentage provided by firewood is small, that is still a staggering17,000 cords of firewood a year!
  3. General electrical use includes some space heating. I don't know what percentage of the electrical use is for space heating, so I can't figure exactly how much of the Yukon's total energy is used for space heating. Nonetheless, it is worth noting that fuel usage for space heating exceeds total electrical energy production!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

SuperGreen Vs. R-2000

In recent discussion with some folks, the question was asked "Isn't Super Green a bit much? Isn't R2000 / GreenHome (Energuide 80 rated houses) good enough? Is it worth the extra effort?"

So, to assess the difference between doing a SuperGreen building vs. a regular R2000/GreenHome, I built an example building to run through HOT2000, NRCAN's residential energy analysis software.

Example House:
The example building modeled is actually a 4-plex building consisting of two apts up and two down. The building is basically a large residential building, 40'x52' in Whitehorse, with full basement. I modeled it as half a duplex and then doubled some of the inputs (occupants, baseloads, etc.) to simulate two families. HOT200o doesn't explicitly model apartments, but since this building really is just a big "house", this is how I tricked HOT2000.

R2000/GreenHome Model
The base case is a building with basic "R2000" building design: 2x6 w/ 2x4 interior strapping, 2" under slab, ICF basement, all triple-glaze, low-e, argon filled windows, R50 in ceiling, high-efficiency HRV, electric baseboard heating. Under this model, the building take a total of 82,712 kWh of heat a year, or $3,370 in heating each year ($840 /yr / apt unit).

SuperGreen Model
In the SuperGreen model, the base case building was upgraded to R60 wall, R100 in the ceiling (where possible based on the building design - some cathedral ceilings), 4" under the slab, and R60 effective in the basement walls. Under this model, the building take a total of 46,012 kWh of heat a year, or $1,876 in heating each year ($469 /yr / apt unit).

Comparative Return on Investment Savings:
Because the base case model is relatively energy efficient by today's standards, the SuperGreen savings, although significant, seem somewhat modest. However, if we look at this from the building owners' perspective while owning and operating the building for 20-years, a clearer picture emerges.

1) Energy Cost Escalation
Modeling energy cost savings at a fixed energy cost is not reasonable. We know that energy costs are rising, especially fossil fuels which are rising much more than the cost of inflation. In fact, in the Yukon fossil fuel costs are rising at some 10% / year and have doubled in the past 8 to 10 years, even with the recent drop in prices. Electrical rates have been relatively stable in the Yukon, however are scheduled to rise. As people switch to using more electricity for heating, we can expect our electrical rates to rise in response. So, for the purposes of this analysis, I've assumed a electrical cost escalation rates of 5% going forward, which is more than inflation, but less than fossil fuel cost escalation.

2) Cumulative Savings

The second way to look at the relative effect of going SuperGreen over the building ownership period is cumulative savings. If we assume the incremental cost to go SuperGreen is $8000 on this building, the cumulative cash flow is as follows:

So, over the ownership period, going SuperGreen with this building will save the owners almost $50,000! Even if the initial investment was $10,000, this is a 16% return on investment. Can't find an investment that pays those kind of returns these days.

Follow-up Comment (March 15, 2009):
Juergen Korn at Yukon Housing Corp called me last week to tell me he was doing almost the same analysis on cost implications of SuperGreen. However, he had one important observation: In the cash flow model, you are not dropping the cash at the start of the project, as I have suggest in my cumulative savings figure. Rather, you are mortgaging that cost, and as the incremental mortgage payment is much-much-much less than the energy savings, in fact SuperGreen is cash flow positive, right from the start!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Inactive parenting means happy, smart kids

A DH Lawrence essay, Education of the People, published in 1918: "How to begin to educate a child. First rule: leave him alone. Second rule: leave him alone. Third rule: leave him alone. That is the whole beginning."

The following article sums up very nicely my philosophy to being a kid:

Manifesto of the idle parent

  • We reject the idea that parenting requires hard work
  • We pledge to leave our children alone
  • That should mean that they leave us alone, too
  • We reject the rampant consumerism that invades children from the moment they are born
  • We read them poetry and fantastic stories without morals
  • We drink alcohol without guilt
  • We reject the inner Puritan
  • We fill the house with music and laughter
  • We don't waste money on family days out and holidays
  • We lie in bed for as long as possible
  • We try not to interfere
  • We push them into the garden and shut the door so that we can clean the house
  • We both work as little as possible, particularly when the kids are small
  • Time is more important than money
  • Happy mess is better than miserable tidiness
  • Down with school
  • We fill the house with music and merriment
From Tom Hodgkinson, editor of The Idler magazine