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.
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.