I always look at MIT’s stuff whenever the world gets me down and I feel like giving up. There is so much innovation and enthusiasm there that my hope gets restored. Thanks MIT!
“GeoHarvey” has posted a lot of excellence and hopeful stories here. It’s nice to hear some good news for a change.
Science and Technology:
¶ A number of studies investigating the effect of wind turbines on birds have found that the actual impact wind turbines have on avians is relatively low. However, according to this new research, published in the European Journal of Wildlife Research, wind turbines’ effects on bats cannot be ignored. [CleanTechnica]
¶ Israeli alternative energy company Brenmiller Energy has solved one of the biggest issues with solar technology: how to generate electricity when the sun sets. The company says it will build a 10-MW solar facility that will generate electricity 20 hours per day through a proprietary energy storage technology. [Inhabitat]
¶ In Geneva, Switzerland just three weeks after the US Senate’s 98-1 vote that climate change is not a hoax, the first round of the 2015 United Nations talks among 194 nations produced the first-ever universally agreed negotiating text on how…
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The site at the link below (“A ‘bionic leaf’ …”) presents a really interesting idea on how to store energy from the sun and at the same time act as a temporary carbon sink by absorbing CO2 for creation of the chemicals. I will be looking forward to seeing how this plays out when they try to scale it up to household, community and industrial sizes.
Elon Musk’s electricity empire could mean a new type of power grid
Here is an e-mail I sent to the “ask-us” link from the JD Power web site about their survey methodology for “New-Home Builder’s Customer Satisfaction Survey”. I haven’t heard anything back from JDPA, but I will update this post if I do.
Be careful how you interpret the results of this survey as it is currently conducted.
Sent: Thursday, April 17, 2014 9:09 AM
To: [Hidden]@jdpa.com’; [Hidden]@jdpa.com
Subject: Builder Satisfaction Survey
I took part in one of your builder surveys (the Canadian New-Home Builders Customer Satisfaction Survey) a number of years back; in fact, results of an earlier version of the survey formed a large part of the reason I bought my house in the first place. The idea of the survey is a very good one, but the survey methodology is fatally flawed. You send out the survey within the first year of occupancy, when the builder is still on the hook to fix deficiencies. A longitudinal survey would be far more useful. Similar metrics, but taken at the 6 month mark, the 2 year mark, the 5 year mark and the 7 year mark (just as the Tarion warrantee expires). This would help you see what owners think about their builder once the hidden problems start to rise to the surface.
I gave my builder, [Hidden] , a glowing reference when I responded to your survey, but if I were asked again, my response would be far different and I would be able to provide real examples of poor service and cut-corners.
Without this type of long term look at satisfaction with home builders, the survey is misleading at best.
I have thought a lot about the vocabulary we use when we speak about issues. Much of the language we use comes to us courtesy of Economists. We speak of consumers or clients rather than citizens. We speak of economic debt and deficit to the exclusion of the discussion of social, cultural, environmental or infrastructure debt and deficits. We speak of healthy economies rather than healthy people, or healthy environments. And we rarely ever focus on important issues like fun or happiness.
This vocabulary poses a number of real problems for us. One very real problem is that if we use economic terms to describe our problems, the solutions we find will be limited to those that offer economic value. This is the old problem where having only a hammer in your tool belt tends to make every problem look like a nail. In the long-term, if we are to really deal with important issues in a constructive way, we have to change the way we speak to reflect our real values. This type of culture change takes time, and, if science is to be believed, we don’t have a lot of time before the chaos starts.
In the meantime, we can at least frame our economic arguments in terms that demonstrate that sustainability is at the heart of long-term economic success, and that is done brilliantly in a TED talk (embedded below) by Chris McKnett from 2013.
I am constantly looking for good environmental blogs and have been following a really good one lately named “Environmental world for all”. The site is authored by a university student in peace studies with minor in environmental studies. One of the author’s recent posts discusses the benefits of solar LEDs for use as Christmas lights. It is a really well thougth out article and in it the author discusses the pros and cons around this issue.
When I left a comment and asked him about the ability to recycle these devices he brought my attention to this site (Solar Lights Recycling | Your Solar Link) in the US that is trying to set up a recycling program for these products.
If you are interested in environmental issues I think a few minutes browsing these two sites would be time well spent.
I don’t know if you have noticed it too, but there seems to be a lot more power outages and surges these days. I’m not talking about the 20 day variety like the one that hit us during the ice storm, but rather the one and two second ones that seem to come in bunches every few months.
Hydro has a fund to deal with hits to electronic equipment that is damaged due to surges like the one we had in Kanata when a 17 kV line dropped on a 10 kV line early in the last decade and fried a bunch of computers. Fair enough as far as it goes, but what about the things that didn’t burn up? What about the fridge that was supposed to last for 15 years, but ends up only lasting 10 years because it was hit by a large surge? What about the dozens of light bulbs that were supposed to last for 10,000 hours and end up only lasting half that because they experienced a big surge? Sure, they didn’t die when the surge hit, and there is no way to prove that their life span was decreased due to the surge, but doesn’t it make sence that it would be? Where is the compensation for these items?
OK you say, but that is history…old news…almost 10 years old now! What about today? Well, of course, you’re right. There aren’t a bunch of surges like the one I spoke of happening from day-to-day, but there are a whole bunch of little black-outs where the power drops for a few seconds and then surges back on. Aside from the inconvenience of having to re-set every clock in the house, have you never noticed anything funny with your electrical devices after such an outage? I have, and I am not speaking about problems with your computers because, like me, most of you will have shelled out hundreds of dollars to buy surge suppressing power bars or uninterruptible power sources (UPSs) for your high-end computer gear. No, once again, I am speaking about your equally expensive fridges, stoves, and even furnaces, each of which is now controlled by computer.
Every time there is a power outage in my house, the ice maker on my high-end fridge stops working. I have to cycle off the power on the fridge at the circuit breaker, leaving it off for at least a minute (so that any capacitors in the system drain) and then cycle it back on. Only then will the unit come back to life.
Or how about your heat recovery ventilator unit (HRV)? An HRV is critical to the healthy functioning of an R2000 or an energy star home as it keeps the humidity level in the house within reasonable limits). At my house, the same thing happens to my HRV when there is a power outage too. Once again, I have to cycle off the unit, wait, and then cycle it back on again.
To me, it is only reasonable to assume that these expensive devices “feel” these small power outages and surges. Doesn’t it make sense to you too? Well, if they “feel” the pain of the outage/surge combination, doesn’t it seem likely that they experience a shortening of their useful life when it happens? Where is the compensation for this loss of useful life for these expensive products?
The question in my mind is, if Hydro cannot provide more reliable power, shouldn’t they have to come up with some sort of mandatory standards for a new power distribution panel that includes surge suppression as well as some limited UPS (uninterruptible power source) capacity? And shouldn’t they subsidize the purchase and installation of these devices until the volume of sales drives down the cost to a reasonable amount, or until their service provision becomes more reliable?
I know that Hydro is bleeding red ink in a number of areas, like the need to replace dirty coal, the need to pay for expensive cogeneration, and the need to retire old debt, but in my opinion, these are symptoms of a poorly constructed business model. What they need, is to engineer resilience into their business model. I don’t want to have to replace everything in my home every time they fail to provide clean power to my home and I don’t want to have to pay through the nose to buy products to mitigate the risks associated with these instances.
Law suits are not the way to go…they are too expensive and the only ones that profit from them are the lawyers on both sides. Further, they are not the Canadian way. Rather, Hydro needs to just step up to the plate and consider the needs of their clients and get together with the various standards councils and come up with a strategy for making homes more resilient to the surges and outages until they can fix up their network so that it becomes more resilient. While they are at it, they might want to consider having each distribution panel set up for net metering (so that people can start feeding the grid using solar voltaic or wind energy generated around the home) and even consider having the panel set up to allow external generators to be plugged in (such as gas-powered generators that could be used during a long power interruption). This would allow for better engineered homes that were resilient to power fluctuations, that allow for cogeneration projects and that do all this safely with consideration for folks that have to work on the lines when there is an electrical problem in the neighbourhood.
In short, we need Hydro to take back the playing field and start planning for the future. A bright future if they play their cards right.
It is a sad fact, but if you don’t get any sun, you don’t get any solar heat. But even the grayest areas of the country get a significant amount of sun. Thermomax, a is a Canadian company that uses European technology to provide solar hot water products. Its web site has done a great job of crunching the numbers to see how much water can be heated by a solar unit given the amount of sun available by region in Canada. Its regional comparison page can be found here. They also have a great set of interactive, audio enhanced graphics that explain how solar thermal energy systems work in various configurations. They can be found here.
I will be using their charts to get a better handle on how much money I have saved in the 4 years since I installed my system and will report back to you in a future blog entry.
When we bought our new house about 4 years ago, we wanted to be able to take some control over the utility costs so that when energy prices rise, we would have a bit of protection. There are lots of technologies out there that are environmentally friendly, but not all of them are suited to use in a sub-division and many have a low rate of return on investment. Further complicating matters is the fact that many of the municipal inspectors have no idea what they are looking at when presented with some of the new technologies. So which one to choose… Continue reading Solar Hot Water – Not easy, but worth it!