Simple steps to fighting climate change in Saskatchewan


Simple steps to fighting climate change in Saskatchewan


In Saskatchewan one of our biggest challenges is going to be finding environmentally friendly ways to heat our home and provide power.

When I got married our CO2 situation looked like this.   

Drive a 2000 Toyota Echo 15000 km/year : 2.27 tonnes
Drive a 1990 Buick Regal 30 000 km/year: 7.31 tonnes
Electricity: 6.9 tonnes
Natural Gas: 7.64 tonnes
One return trip flight: 1.5 /tonnes

Total CO2: 25.62 tonnes

To do my part to save the environment I need to reduce that 80% to 5 tonnes by 2050.  To calculate your co2 footprint go here.

Step 1: Buy Renewable Energy from local utility
You don’t have to buy solar panels just purchase renewable energy from Saskpower or Saskatoon Light and Power. It costs $2.50 for each 100 kilowatt hours of electricity you use. Our home uses about 700 kilowatt hours a month. The cost to switch to green power is an additional $17.50 a month. Compared to a home solar installation this is cheap.  If you combined this with energy efficient appliances and lighting you could bring this down even more.

Annual cost: $200
Reduction: 6.9 tonnes
Total Percentage of CO2 Reduced: 27%

This little action by itself reduced my footprint by 27%. My role in meeting the Kyoto targets was done at a cost of $200 / year. At a large scale this isn’t as feasible because Saskpower doesn’t have the renewable energy capacity, but all that extra cash they are collecting will make it much easier to invest in more wind power.

Step 2: Drive Less
We parked the Buick in the back and now live with one very fuel efficient car. Through biking, car pooling, working from home and using public transit we reduced the amount of distance we traveled by car. This step will be tested if Carol ends up working somewhere she can’t walk to.

Cost: Nothing – just the convenience of having two cars
Reduction: 5 tonnes
Total Percentage of CO2 Reduced: 47%

Step 3: Home Insulation
This step we haven’t done yet so I can’t give you firm numbers. I am comparing my house with very little insulation to one a similar sized one with more insulation. I can spend about $4500 to wrap the exterior of my house with insulation and new siding. $3000 of which I can get from the government in the form of home improvement grants. This would reduce the amount of natural gas I use by at least one third.

Capital Cost: $1500
Reduction: 2 Tonnes
Total Percentage of CO2 Reduced: 56%
Long term Utility Cost Savings: Tens of thousands of dollars over 25 years.

Step 4: Geothermal heating
Geothermal heating and cooling is very efficient. Pipes are placed underground and liquid is pumped through the pipes to transfer heat from the ground which maintains a constant temperature to the house. These pumps use a significant amount of electricity but it is much less than using natural gas, oil or electric heat.

How much can I save with Geothermal over natural gas? First I have to figure out how much of my natural gas bill is associated with heating my home. We pay $120 month. About $20 of that is infrastructure and delivery charges that are standard on every bill. Unless you can completely eliminate the use of natural gas that $20 doesn’t change. 20% of our heat bill goes to heating water. The standard Geothermal installation I’m looking at doesn’t heat water. So $80 of my natural gas bill is for the natural gas to heat my house. Take that number out of the equation, cut it in half and add it to my electricity bill. So switching to Geothermal will save me about $40 a month in utility bills.

The cost for Geothermal installed in my house is $20000 taxes included. This number assumes I’ve already done my insulation upgrades. I can get a $7000 grant to install it reducing my capital cost to $13 000. If I borrowed the money to do this at my current mortgage rate my monthly payment would increase $77. So the net difference is $37 a month.

This might seem expensive but in the long term it won’t be. Natural gas supplies are not as abundant as they once were. Much like oil the world is beginning to use up as much natural gas as we can supply. The oil sands project isn’t making things any easier as they use massive amounts of natural gas to steam out the oil in the sand. The cost of natural gas has gone up an average of 11% a year over the last 7 years and 14% in the last 5. That is a total increase of 77% in a mere 5 years. When that happens again geothermal starts to look like a bargain. Another real advantage comes with inflation as the loan payment doesn’t change over 25 years but your utility bill goes up every year with inflation. The cost of natural gas will likely increase faster than electricity.

If you didn’t have to borrow the money to do it your $13 000 investment would save you $500 a year which is 3.5% guaranteed return on your investment. That isn’t stellar but it is better than a Canada Savings Bond, and you are saving after tax income. If natural gas prices increase another 50% the savings would then double. An $80 natural gas bill becomes $120 but the monthly cost of the geothermal is still $40. The difference between the two is $80 or $1000 year. Now we are looking at a guaranteed 7% return.

Another factor in this is the increased value of your home. Home appraisers use the following formula. For each dollar you save a year increase the value of your home $20. So saving $500 a year would add $10 000 to the value of my home.

Annual cost in the first year: $444 (drops as the cost of natural gas increases)
Capital Cost: $13 000
Capital Appreciation: $10 000
Reduction: 5 tonnes
Total Percentage of CO2 Reduced:76%
Long Term Cost with borrowing: Save thousands
Long Term Cost without borrowing: Save even more thousands

The last hurdle
The last big hurdle to over come is our driving. We still drive a lot and if I didn’t work in a small town 50km away from my house that would probably drop our annual driving distance another 5000km. That would bring us down another 3/4 of a tonne and we would hit the elusive 80% target. Almost everything I do in this scenario saved me money in the long term.

One of the stubborn problems is transportation. Ethanol is isn’t going to help much. Hydrogen is 40 years away. The solution is likely to be found in plug in hybrid vehicles. You’ve likely heard of hybrid gas electric vehicles like the Toyota Prius. GM is looking at introducing the Chevy Volt which would be a plug in hybrid. You plug your car in at night and it charges the batteries. When you drive it uses up all the power in the batteries before it switches over to gasoline. A typical driver would see over 100 miles per gallon.

Conclusion
Most of the changes an individual home owner can make will save them money in the long run.  There is a problem with my purposed solutions.  Realistically not everyone could sign up for green power from the power company it because there is only so much wind power capacity in Saskatchewan.  The solution to this problem will be home solar.  The cost of going solar is dropping rapidly.  Most projections for new solar technologies see the price dropping to a fifth of what it is today.

For any home owner there is very little reason to not go green.

  1. #1 by Rob Kroeker on June 18, 2007 - 11:20 am

    I have a problem with your numbers for Geothermal heating. Generally speaking, Natural Gas has always been cheaper than electricity. Many electrical generating stations run on natural gas – if the gas was more expensive than the electricity, these electrical generating stations would be losing money. They must charge more than what they pay. Electricity is the one of the least efficient uses of energy.

    I am also unfamiliar with the type of heat exchange system involved with this as well. Is it a boiler? a hot water tank? a condenser unit on a refrigeration system? The only real place where a geothermal system is really advantageous is in the situation of running an ice rink in the middle of summer. Here, heat can be sucked from the arena (to produce ice), and transferred to a cool 12 degree celsius underground coil. This is much better than using a traditional condenser unit (where a fan tries to blow outside air over a coil to cool it down…well, if it’s 40 degrees outside, it’s really hard to cool down 42 degree refrigerant in the condenser unit). However, a house is a different story. Geo-thermal could be used quite effectively for cooling, but for heating, your limited to this 12 degree celsius mark. I suppose if the temperature of the inside of your house was lower than 12 degree celsius, and you were using a water heater or boiler system, you could be more efficient by using the geo-thermal 12 degrees to warm up your house to that mark. Then, you would only have to heat your house from 12 degrees up to 22 degrees with natural gas. But then the question becomes, who’s house is ever colder than 12 degrees celsius?! Your furnace (or boiler) will always kick in long before the temp drops to 12 degrees. Even though, in theory, it is more efficient, you will never use any of that efficiency because the settings on your heater will never allow you to drop that low in temperature.

    Add to this the price of recirculating glycol with 50amp pumps, and I become very very skeptical on how much of an advantage geo-thermal really is in a household situation.

    Now, I don’t claim to be an expert in this area, but from what I understand on geo-thermal, this is the conclusion I have come to at this time. Currently, I am looking into the possibility of a solar-water panel situation. In this situation, it is exactly like geothermal, except it is above ground, and in an oven-type of panel that theoretically absorbs enough sunlight to heat up water in a hot water tank, which then joins with a regular natural gas hot water tank. This way, the temperature of your main hot water tank should not drop as easily, and therefore it becomes much more efficient in it’s use of natural gas. However, my big question is, can sunlight in the middle of -30 degree winters really heat up a panel of glycol anywhere above the temperature of tap water (5-10degrees)? I’m not sure – I’m skeptical. However, again, in the summer time it makes a lot of sense if you have a regular hot water tank (used for bath’s, etc). But, then why doesn’t someone just get a hot-water on demand system, and save the money of a solar-water panel in-stall? Plus, those dang pumps are still needed to circulate glycol (although, they would probably be 5amp, instead of 50). If this solar system proves to bring value in the middle of a sask winter (and there’s enough heat transfer through reflection using radiant heat) -then I will probably look at that route before a geo-thermal install used primarily for heating. I hope it does, because then I would use it for in floor heating as well.

    But then again, it’s probably simple just to get a hot-water on demand system.

    Either way, it’s not just simple enough to look at Geo-thermal installs as the answer to fighting climate change in Saskatchewan.

  2. #2 by Leighton Tebay on June 18, 2007 - 11:32 am

    Rob:

    Admittedly physics is not my strong point but the system works. Here is an explanation.

    http://www.geothermalheatpump.com/how.htm

    I’ve read a number of case studies and these systems result in much lower utility bills. The system isn’t new and it has been proven.

    I do know that you can use a boiler or forced air with geothermal.

  3. #3 by Rob Kroeker on June 19, 2007 - 8:58 am

    I am familiar with a heat pump – it is an air conditioner working backwards. Instead of your condenser coil (outside your house) being hot, and trying to get rid of heat, it is cool, trying to draw heat from the outside air. This is not effective at all in the winter, so a good geothermal heat pump puts it’s coils in the ground (or in a heat exchanger for solar water panels) where it draws from that 12 degree heat. However, because of the nature of refrigerant, and the power of a compressor, the minus 25 degree or so coil in the ground easily sucks in the 12 degree heat. It then transfers that to the compressor which raises it up to 40 degree heat (through the compression of refrigerant gases) and then pumps it to a evaporator coil either in your furnace or your boiler where a heat exchange takes place.

    You are right, it works – that is not my point. My point is in the price. By using a heat pump system, you either have the price of a water pump rotating glycol through the ground or through solar hot water panels plus the price of running a heat pump compressor (just think about how much it costs to run an air conditioner in the summer – the price is exactly the same – again, a heat pump is simply a backwards running air conditioner) or you only have the price of a compressor, but a really large one because it has to pump a large amount of refrigerant. Either way, you are once again trading natural gas for electricity. Does it work? yes Is it more efficient than your plane jane forced air furnace and hot water tank? yes. But in terms of price, is it a better deal than Hot water solar (no compressor needed)? or Home made Bio-Diesel burnt through an oil burning #2 forced air furnace? Or burning coal (like the hutterites)? I suppose if your electricity was coming from wind towers or solar panels then this solution would make good sense. But then again the start up cost is SO high, simply because this is the most commercialized and popular alternative heating solution.

    All I’m saying is that there are other options, and probably other cheaper options – and in the case of solar hot water – ones that leave less of a carbon footprint (heat pump geothermal uses electricity – Hot water solar and just installing a few sky lights on the roof do not). And Hot water solar, sky lights, wind power, solar power, and even bio-diesel (which could address the commuting problem you have – at least in terms of price) are not out of reach to consumers looking for alternative heating. I mean, if I had an extra $20,000 kicking around – I don’t know if I”d go the geothermal route. It would be one of a number of options I would look at.

  4. #4 by LT on June 19, 2007 - 10:04 am

    Rob:

    I’ve looked at hot water solar systems. They seemed to be really expensive for what they actually accomplished. The solardepot.com lists their cheapest system at $5500. That will only heat half of my hot water. Or I could spend $1100 and purchase a tankless hot water system that could do the same thing.

    Say I spend $30 a month heating water.

    It seems to be the smartest strategy for hot water would be to cut your hot water use through low flow shower heads, an energuide rated dishwasher and washing clothes in cold water. That would probably cut the cost to $20. Then go a tankless hotwater system (which would likely cost over $1500) when installation and taxes are factored in). Now I’m down to $10/month. Should I spend another $5500+taxes+installation to bring that down to $5/month?

    Geothermal at $20000 without the $7000 rebate isn’t worth it from a cost perspective. At $13000 I still think it pays for itself in the long run.

    The other main option is biomass like a wood pellet or grass pellet furnace. They cost half as much as geothermal to install and wood pellets in a place like Saskatchewan are probably cheap. While burning wood does release CO2 the next tree that is planted absorbs it so it doesn’t actually add CO2 through its life cycle. Grass pellets have promise because it is really easy to grow grass.

    I like biodiesel better than ethanol. I can see how it would be attractive to people like farmers who grow canola and can do a cold crush to get the oil. However with an ever expanding population on this planet we are going to need the good farming land to grow food. The reality of global warming is that Texas (and likely southern Alberta, California and Australia) will start too look like Mexico, Nebraska starts too look like more like Texas, and Saskatchewan/Manitoba starts too look more like Nebraska. Food production will have to shift north and during the transition overall production will likely decline. It is already happening in some places.

  5. #5 by Rob Kroeker on June 19, 2007 - 11:21 am

    I agree with the Texas comments – now, combine the solar panel heating with the $1100 hot water on demand system and install infloor heating, then you save money not only on your water heater, but on your house heating costs as well. So, look at a start up cost of probably around 10,000 (3 panels with rebate, infloor heat, hot water on demand) compared to 13,000 (Geo-thermal) – plus you’re not using as much electricity (bad carbon foot-print) – and add to that some possible wind/solar power combo or a woodstove or bio-diesel idea and I think you got her made.

  6. #6 by LT on June 19, 2007 - 2:08 pm

    Rob:

    The real problem with that is your solar thermal solution produces very little heat in the winter when you need it most.

    I’ve got a cousin who lives in a very environmentally friendly development in Okotoks. They use solar thermal to do most of the home heating but they have to take that heated up glycol and store it deep underground in well insulated bore holes. When winter comes they used the stored heat. Even this solution doesn’t do enough and they end up using a natural gas boiler to do the rest.

    If you are going to with bio-diesel or a pellet furnace why bother with the solar? Wait a little while and use solar to generate electricity.

    Geothermal does use a lot of electricity but it is easy enough to find green electricity. While your woodstove/biodiesel solution isn’t going to use a lot of power in your house, somebody is going to burn up diesel and power harvesting the wood or processing the biodiesel and getting it to your house.

    From a cost perspective electricity is far more stable than natural gas. The most our electricity will likely ever cost is 13-15 cents (In 2007 dollars) a kilowatt because that is what wind/nuclear costs. Natural gas will run out and it will get very expensive before it does.

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