Archive for May, 2008

In Canada it is time to consider geothermal heating


Peak Oil is finally starting to get some respect in the press.  Under the radar natural gas is also steadily climbing.  The price on the chart here is in MMBTUs which is roughly equivalent to a Gigajoule.  The price I pay here in Saskatchewan is $6.57 per GJ.  Canadians which have already been hit by high gasoline prices are about to pay a lot more to heat their homes.  Natural Gas prices historically trend upward in Sept and Oct and usually don’t spike in spring. 

When does geothermal make sense?  It all depends on how much energy you use, the cost of electricity and the cost of natural gas.  Geothermal pumps use electricity so a switch will see your natural gas bill drop but your electricity bill go up.

According to Manitoba Hydro an average home uses $385 worth of electricity at 5.8 cents per KwH.   So the geothermal pumps use about 6183 KwH to heat an average home.

Manitoba Hydro estimates that the average home with a high efficiency furnace uses about 1700 cubic metres or 62 Gigajoules of natural gas in one year.  In Manitoba that cost is $880 when factoring in the delivery charges and infrastructure fees.  The cost to heat this home with a mid-efficiency natural gas furnace is $1000 and a conventional furnace runs about $1280.

Manitoba Hydro’s example is likely a brand new 1000 sq/ft home.  My older house uses about 170 GJ of natural gas not 62.  If my house was in Manitoba then going geothermal would be a no-brainer.  I would be paying about $2050 to heat my house with a mid-efficient furnace verses $828.40 worth of electricity.

This is how my house would look.

Energy Cost Per Unit Energy Cost Delivery Charge Total Cost
170 GJ $11.2 per GJ $1905 $156 $2056
14300 KwH $0.058 per KwH $828.40   $828.4

In Saskatchewan the numbers change because we pay much more for electricity and much less for natural gas.  Our cost for electricity is 9.4 cents per KwH and natural gas is $6.57 per gigajoule.  Right now geothermal heating would actually cost me more money each month.

Energy Cost Per Unit Energy Cost Delivery Charge Total Cost
170 GJ $6.57 per GJ $1120 $156 $1276
14300 KwH $0.94 per KwH $1340   $1340

However if we look at market price for natural gas the numbers change heavily in geothermal’s favour.

Energy Cost Per Unit Energy Cost Delivery Charge Total Cost
170 GJ $12 per GJ $2040 $156 $2196
14300 KwH $0.94 per KwH $1340   $1340

The cost of the electricity isn’t the only cost with Geothermal.  You have to have to put down a significant amount of cash to get it installed.  A typical residential situation will cost about $20000.  If you have a lot of space in your yard the pipes can be laid down horizontally rather than drilled vertically and this drops the price to $16000.  For me a $20000 investment will likely save me $850 a year.  Not a great investment even with natural gas prices at $12 per GJ.  However the federal government has a program that will rebate home owners $3500 for a geothermal installation.  Now we are looking at $16500 and things start too look a bit rosier.  In Saskatchewan the provincial government will match the federal grant and bring the price down to $13000.  

What if you don’t have $13000 to invest in your home?  If you have equity in your home you could refinance your mortgage.  Adding $13000 to 25 yr mortgage at 6% will increase the monthly payment $84.  If I borrowed money to put in geothermal my monthly utility bills would go down $71 and my mortgage payment goes up $84.

There are a couple other factors that make this strategy more tempting and some that make it less.  In the long term the price of natural gas will trend upwards outpacing inflation.  It is a finite resource and the production of natural gas has already peaked in North America.  The price may settle back down but there is much more upward pressure on natural gas prices than there is on electricity.  There are too many unlimited sources of electricity that cost just a little bit more than what we pay now.  We will never run out of wind, solar, wave and hydro energy.   The price of electricity will likely go up as we shut down cheap coal plants and natural gas fired stations but it will likely never double.  

Geothermal heating can also cool your house and it definitely increases its value.

Are there alternatives to natural gas and geothermal?  Yes you could go with a biomass furnace.  Go back to the old days of using wood to heat your home.  It costs a lot less than geothermal to install and the operating costs are close to what natural gas will be in the hear future. It looks like the cost for me would be around $2200 for the year.  Not much savings over natural gas but the price of pellets is likely to be more stable than natural gas because grass and wood are renewable resources.

The other way to reduce costs is drop your joules.  If you use less energy it costs less regardless of your source of heat.  Insulating my house, replacing my windows and stopping the leaks would likely cut my energy use in half.  That is a very expensive messy upgrade.  The best long term answer is to do both.  Eventually natural gas will get too expensive to use. 

Currently if you only use $700 worth of natural gas to heat your home geothermal isn’t going to save you much and the installation cost is not going to change much.  Going geothermal is a relatively painless upgrade (installation of the pipes does mess up your lawn) compared to new insulation and windows and those items can be done one at a time. 


The heart and the heartache

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I decided to join a family with one very difficult boy. Like many others I believed that this boy’s problems could be resolved with firm but loving consistent attention. My naivety became apparent early on. This boy had issues that went beyond normal parenting. After a full court press involving mental health professionals the results were very promising.

After a few life changes and environment changes things took a deep dark turn. I’ve encountered situations that I never thought I’d be involved in as a parent. Despite the efforts of a great many sincere people our son may not avoid the darkest of potential consequences. We are not without hope but after we’ve been through there isn’t much pride left.

This situation asks me “are you willing to love sacrificially and get heartache in return?” The truth is I am but at times I am heavily burdened with grief and sorrow. This is so very very hard. It has put some things in to perspective for me. What is love? What is ministry?

I was reading today about the good shepherd John 10. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. There is nothing in the story that says the sheep is always saved. There nothing about bragging about how many sheep you’ve saved or the accolades received for your “sacrificial” service. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

This kind of love is the heart of Christ and it cannot be separated from the heartache.


Carbon Tax or no Carbon Tax

It was up until very recently I was a supporter of a broad based carbon tax but I think peak oil has risen the price of fuel far more than any government would have dared to accomplishing the same thing.  With projections of $200 barrel oil in the near future I don’t think we need the government to add to the price.  What we need the government to do is start building infrastructure that reduces our need for oil.  We can drop gasoline taxes which will only boost consumption and move us further away from the real solution.  We have to use less oil rather and anything that entices us to use more of it moves us in the wrong direction.

Do we need a carbon tax on natural gas?  Probably not in North America.  The spot price for natural gas has doubled from its most recent low last fall.  This winter could be a nasty one for home heating bills.  The same kind of scarcity that is tightening up the oil market is about to hit North American natural gas. 

There is one source of energy that we could tax.  Coal is dirty, nasty and very cheap.  We have to move away from it.  The question is do we really want to pay more for electricity when our transportation and heating costs have skyrocketed?  Probably not but conservation is much cheaper to our economy than building new sources of power.  The only way to move us towards conservation is to kick up the price.

I already pay something of a carbon tax on my electricity.  We pay an extra 25% on the electricity portion of our power bill for "green" power.  If we boosted the price of electricity 20 or 30 percent and used all that money to get us off of coal it could make a real difference.

In Saskatchewan we are debating whether we should go nuclear.  I agree whole heartedly with my friends in the Green Party  that we should invest in as much renewable power as possible.  The one downside to renewable power is that aside from geothermal it isn’t something you can turn off and on.  Solar panels create power when there is sun and wind turbines when there is wind.  Conservation is great but it means everyone has to do it and some people can’t and some people won’t.  I believe a nuclear power plant would allow us to turn off all coal fired generation and that would be a huge step towards reducing carbon emissions.  It has risks and some serious downsides but it is probably the most feasible solution politically.   It takes a long time to build a nuke plant and one could argue that the 10 year window to get a plant up is too little too late.  However how long would it take to convince people global warming is a real threat?  Most people believe that we are causing global warming but the same people believe someone else should be doing something about it.  There is still the belief that somebody must be extreme if they actually sacrifice some elements of their lifestyle for the sake of the environment. 

All in all a nuke plant is a better option than the half-hearted progress we’ve made so far.  I’m not sure we are going to get much more out of the current provincial government.


Church in the age of scarcity

Coop has a pretty good post up about church in an era without cheap oil and natural gas.  His thoughts echo the very same concerns that I have.  Our church buildings are big empty spaces for most of the week and some people drive a long way to suburban church campuses.  As the oil and natural gas become more scarce this way of doing things will end.  I think the church will shift towards smaller community churches, simple churches and anything that will meet in a multipurpose building.  You may see more congregations share a building and stagger their services.

The college I work for relies heavily on long distance ministry whether it be a music or drama team traveling to churches or our annual short-term missions trips.  I can’t see this continuing in the long term.  While it has become quite fashionable for bible colleges and youth groups to attract youth with short term missions it will simply become too expensive to do so.  I personally think we should shift to more in depth local mission experiences.   You will lose the benefit of the in depth cross cultural experience but it offers more opportunity and flexibility.

National conferences are another thing that will slowly pass by the wayside.  More and more people won’t be able to fly across the country regardless of the quality of the content.

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Sacrificial love should be the life blood of Christian ministry

A lot of great thinkers have concluded that the church needs to shift towards mission. Frost, Hirsh and others believe that Christ should shape our mission and the mission shapes the church. That might be an overly simplistic description but I’m not picking on it. In general I think it is a good move.

Changing the flow our strategy will not be enough. The next reformation of the church needs a sweeping change in heart and values. I’ve probably been spending a little bit too much time reading 1cor 13 and John but more and more I believe sacrificial love should be the life blood of Christian ministry. In conventional ministry the life blood of ministry is information. The underlying assumption is that knowledge changes people so find the right people who will present the right information to everyone else and they will change. It isn’t working out so well now.

If sacrificial love is as important as Jesus, Paul and John make it out to be why doesn’t this value shape what we do? If love is more important than knowledge than why do we spend so much time absorbing information and so little time interacting with people we care about? In as much as I believe in a simpler approach to church organization the size isn’t the pivotal factor. It really isn’t about how many people are meeting where. It goes deeper than that. It is about the Spirit having an opportunity to work through the body and that a Christlike genuine sacrificial love be evident in the lives of those who are committed to each other. If we organize ourselves in such a way that we prevent real genuine caring relationships to form and we put curbs and barriers up to manage people we are squeezing off the life blood of Christ’s body.

Don’t get me wrong, knowledge is an essential element and with out it we are destined to get sidetracked. Theology is very important but it too is also better understood in the context of learning interactive loving community.

Paul said it well when he said “without love I am nothing.” If our ministries are full of good things but do not have sacrificial love they are nothing. Jesus said “the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” What does it mean to be a people that will leave the ninety nine to find the lost one?

I’ve had to ponder this deeply lately as I consider all the options for my son.

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Life’s been good to me so far

Actually it hasn’t, it has been a really crappy week and I’m afraid I’m in too truthful a mood.  In such a state I tend to call BS in situations that would normally require more tact.   Why was my week crappy?  One of our boys is going through a really difficult time at school.  I’ve had to stop working and drive to the school and take him home 3 times in the last week.  The potential ramifications of what we are seeing aren’t pleasant.  I hope he can turn things around soon.  If not I’m not sure what we will do if things don’t take a turn for the better.  Being a parent can be a very difficult job and the answers don’t come easy.  We’ve got some good allies in our struggle.  The school staff are top notch.  Our church has been warm, supportive and kind.  My church pretty much rocks even though we’ve only been meeting since October.  Even with all the support we have received the problems we face are a heavy burden.  My friends can see it on my face (I’ve never been terribly good at hiding what I’m feeling). 

Uh oh, here comes a big flock of wha whas!

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The Empire Strikes Barack

I’m still giggling, I can barely write this post.

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Gormley makes no sense on Global Warming


I was listening to local radio personality John Gormley rant on about what calls enviro-fascists making seemingly ridiculous statements about how the warming of the earth will slow or plateau over the next 7 years because of natural variations in the Earth’s climate.

Climate scientists understand that there are completely natural things and manmade things that influence temperature up and down on the earth.  Increased sun activity will warm the earth.  Huge volcanic eruptions cool the earth.  CO2 warms the earth while certain kinds of pollution cool the earth.  Each of these "forcings" can influence the climate in different directions. 

In 1998 increased CO2 combined with natural variations in climate like El Nino made it the hottest year on record.  It hasn’t been warmer since because there aren’t always natural and manmade forcings combining to force the temperature up.  In the last 10 years the rate of temperature increase has been muted because natural variations were influencing the temperature lower.   This isn’t a sign that global warming isn’t real, it just slowed down.  This position is nothing new for scientists.  Certain folks in the media paint this as if the IPCC needs to change its story now that things aren’t getting warmer quicker.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  If the temperature doesn’t trend upwards over the long term then people can proclaim global warming dead.

Looking at the following temperature graphs I’d say that the last 6 dots don’t exactly show enough of a trend to disregard global warming.



I pulled the graphs and the cartoon from Skeptical Science.