Clean technology journalist Tyler Hamilton's columns and podcasts in the Toronto Star (Canada's largest-circulation newspaper) are consistently useful, and fun to read. He also maintains a personal blog, Clean Break. With Tyler's permission, we're posting a selection of excerpts.
Utility tests Zebra batteries in load-shifting project: [A] local utility called Halton Hills Hydro [is] testing Zebra sodium-nickel-chloride batteries as part of an energy-storage system for demonstrating utility-scale load shifting. Halton Hills Hydro will use the system to store energy at night when it's cheap and dispatch it back into the grid during daytime peaks when market spot prices are at their highest. It's only a small system -- 100 kilowatt-hours -- but can be easily scaled up beyond 1 megawatt-hours, the company claims. On top of peaking shaving and load levelling, the system could also be used for grid stability and to ease transmission bottlenecks so that infrastructure investments can be deferred. Coupled with wind turbines, it could bring "hardness" to wind energy output.
Anti-idling efforts go high-tech: Delivery firm Canpar Transport LP is using a system from Ottawa-based Netistix Technologies to monitor the idle times of its 650 delivery vehicles, a lion's share in Toronto. The company hopes to use the information to alter drivers' habits with a goal of reducing idling time on each vehicle by an average of 30 minutes a day, leading to savings of $250,000 a year for its fleet. The system transmits vehicle data wirelessly, and the application can run over municipal Wi-Fi networks such as the one being deployed in Toronto...The goal is to eventually introduce a mass-market product that will help drivers adjust their on-road habits and in the process get better fuel economy -- and lower emissions -- from their vehicles.
New building code aims high, falls short: Last week the Ontario government introduced its new Building Code under much anticipation. The good news is that, on top of provisions that will promote use of solar PV and hot water systems, all new houses built in the province will have to be 35 per cent more efficient -- i.e. they'll need to comply with the high EnerGuide 80 standard (roughly comparable to an Energy Star home). The bad news is that this standard won't be imposed until 2012! ...Within five years, I'm willing to bet that you can fetch a premium on resale for EnerGuide 80 homes and may be at a disadvantage if your home is deemed below standard when it comes to energy efficiency.
Cleantech and railways: the ties that bind: TieTek makes railway crossties that are made mostly from recycled materials, including old car tires, plastic bottles and plastic bags. They apparently have double the lifespan of standard wood-based ties. On top of that they don't warp like wood and are not vulnerable to decay, bugs and deterioration due to extreme weather...[Railway crossties:] boring, boring, boring. But huge opportunity, not unlike the market for printer cartridges, batteries, Mach III razor blades and vacuum bags. People always need replacements, so revenue is recurring once market share is wrestled away from the incumbent, in this case wood.
Pumping C02 into outer space? Hmm...: Given that wine and beer were involved in this brainstorming, I don't expect you to take these suggestions seriously... My brother-in-law lamented that there was no way for people to sequester their own carbon emissions. I told him you can plant trees, or engage in aggressive conservation, or put up solar panels, etc... and he said that wasn't enough -- he had to see the carbon and literally bury it in the ground to get a sense and the satisfaction he was actually doing something. He said people need a way, similar to blue/grey recycling programs, to take direct action and assume responsibility for their carbon emissions, and that this requires a way to directly offset emissions. Now, in this discussion we didn't come up with a solution. Though we imagined a process that could convert C02 into baking soda and turn the powder into bricks that can be buried -- sequestered -- in the ground. Myself, I'm perfectly happy with planting trees and embracing renewables, but perhaps there is a market for personal carbon-capture machines aimed at alleviating our inner guilt.
Community solar movement grows in T.O: My Clean Break feature in today's Toronto Star looks at homeowners in several Toronto communities that have banded together to make bulk purchases of solar PV systems. So far more than 200 people have committed, and organizers of the groups plan to replicate the model in other communities across Canada to help take the complexity and risk out of purchasing solar PV. This is a great story about how the community -- not government or industry -- is rising up, creating awareness and ultimately making real change in their own backyards.
Chinese could teach Canada a few lessons about Kyoto: I've got a story in today's Toronto Star about how the Chinese, while not required to reduce emissions under the first phase of Kyoto, have in many ways been more progressive in terms of climate change and pollution policy compared to western developed countries, including Canada. The story is anchored by an interview with Canadian environmentalist, businessman and UN powerbroker Maurice Strong, a controversial figure but at the same time an influential man who is spending his time in Beijing these days advising Chinese government and industry on economic sustainability.
I truly hope that other papers across Canada offer "clean tech" columnists or pick up Tyler's stuff. The Vancouver Sun is very much still taking the "global warming caused by humans is debateable (sp?)" line.
I see grassroots movements, such as the community solar movement and personal carbon sequestration discussion, as key.
Global warming is decidely still not on a lot of people's radars. And the challenge is to start quickly to push the issue into the global conciousness. I have always found the agressive selling techniques extremely tricky and, more ofen than not, problematic.
I would love to see a column on "how to talk to your friends about global warning".
R.E. The hydro utility using batteries
Australia's Snowy Mountains Scheme uses cheap off-peak power (presumably generated from coal) to pump water back uphill into storage reservoirs so they can reuse the water and make more peak electricity the next day.
I suppose you might call it nature's battery.
Anyway, anything that improves the reliability and perception (and hence uptake) of wind power and other recurrant energy sources is only a good thing.