Thursday, August 20, 2015

Renewable Energy Could Supply Most of BC's Energy Needs

IMGP0334
23 kW solar array in Delta, BC
Blair King's recent blog post  (August 17th Huffpost British Columbia) “Dispelling Some Myths About British Columbia's Energy Picture” attempted to create a more complete picture of BC's energy use.  He makes an important point that we need to move beyond rhetoric about renewable energy and focus on practical solutions based on quantitative analysis. Unfortunately, King made some miscalculations and inaccurate statements in his piece.

He is correct that electricity is only part of the picture when it comes to BC energy use.  King points out that gas and diesel accounts for about 78,000 GWh of energy.  But he then incorrectly assumes that if we converted all these vehicles to electric the consumption would be the same.  Electric vehicles are about 80% efficient compared to 20% efficiency for internal combustion engines.  So if we converted all vehicles to electric it would account for only about 19,000 GWh of electrical consumption.

King comes back to transportation later in the article.  He states that the “vast majority of British Colombians can not be served by mass transit.”    In fact, over 75% of the population of BC live in municipalities that have a public transit system.  The problem is that our transit modal share is abysmal by international standards.  For example Zurich, Switzerland has a transit modal share of 65% - more than four times the best example in BC.  There is no reason why we can't achieve this type of modal share if we give people good options.

It is also true that we could only achieve this type of transit use in areas of significant population.  But almost 70% of BC population lives in just 3 metro areas so focusing on those areas could result in a large dent in private vehicle use.  Inter-city electric trains could provide an alternative for another significant portion of trips.

If we use electric public transit it would results in over a 90% savings in energy compared to private vehicle use.  Assuming only a 50% modal share (much less than Zurich) and applying it only to the top 3 metro areas of BC we now are down to 13,000 GWh to replace gas and diesel use.

King seems to think that public transit is an expensive option but the evidence suggests otherwise.  Research by UBC's Professor Patrick M. Condon and Kari Dow showed that an extensive light rail transit system could be built over much of the lower mainland for the cost of expanding a single bridge to include more light vehicle traffic.

King is correct that panel vans and commercial light trucks could not be replaced by public transit.  But we already have a least two companies in Vancouver using 100% electric vans for delivery.  In other areas of the world they are using hybrid bio-diesel / electric vans.  Bio-deisel can also be used for transport trucks.  Fully electric transport trucks are currently being tested in some corridors.  And of course fully electric trains are already used for long distance goods transport in some areas of the world.

The article also discusses natural gas use but once again makes a calculation error. About 83,000 GWh of energy is used by natural gas to heat buildings, heat water and for industrial processes.  The author seems to assume that if we switch to electricity the consumption would be the same.  But it would not.  Many natural gas burners are only about 80% efficient.  Yes, some new expensive boilers are over 95% efficient but there are also many old boilers in BC that are well below the 80% value.

So, just by switching to electric resistive heaters (which are close to 100% efficient) we would achieve a 20% reduction in energy use.  But from an energy perspective this makes no sense when we could switch to heat pumps which are about 300% efficient (efficiencies can even be higher if it is a water or ground source heat pump).  So the reduction would be closer to 70%.

This ignores the gains that can be made even before we make the switch to electricity.  Energy efficiency engineers regularly are able to achieve 30% reductions in energy use in commercial buildings in BC.  One recent example in Vancouver saw a 90% reduction in natural gas use based on a technology that had a payback of less than 5 years.

It also ignores the reductions that could be seen if we adopted a PassivHaus standard for building construction.  This standard is widely used in parts of Europe and results in buildings that use 90% less energy for heating than we do here in Canada. 

Based on the factors described above we would need less than 33,000 GWh of electricity to replace all the gasoline, diesel and natural gas use in BC.  The BC Sustainable Energy Association has estimated that BC could produce 58,000 GWh annually from renewable resources excluding large scale hydro electricity.

Clearly we have the technology to replace the majority of our fossil fuel use with renewable energy.  We just need the political will to make it happen.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Let's Be Honest about Rejecting Resource Extraction

My response to an interview with Dan Miller on CBC Radio's The 180:


Your interview with Dan Miller contained more misinformed views than I have probably heard in any single interview.

I am resident of Vancouver who is very much opposed to new LNG infrastructure, new pipelines and new coal exports. But that doesn't mean I don't understand the resource industries. I was born in northern BC. My family has worked in resource industries for generations. I have worked for oil refineries in this region and in the tar sands in Alberta.

He claims that my position is simply an “emotional” argument. But it is not. It is based firmly in science. The science is clear that we need to reduce green-house gas emissions by 80-90%. That means that it makes no sense to build any new fossil fuel infrastructure.

On the other hand his arguments were entirely emotional with no evidence offered to support his position.

He claims that those opposed to expanding fossil fuel infrastructure don't care about human lives. This is Orwellian double-speak at its worst. Solving the climate change issue isn't about saving the environment. The environment will survive, although likely with much less biodiversity. However, global warming will bring about immense human suffering. And that is why so many of us dedicate time and effort to this issue. It is very much about saving human lives.

He also claims we don't care about the poor. But the overwhelming evidence is that climate change will disproportionately affect the poorest of the world. In fact, it is already affecting the poor of the majority world. Some estimates have hundreds of thousands already dying in sub-Saharan Africa as a result of anthropogenic climate change. Mr. Miller seems to think we should only be concerned about middle-class workers in Canada. His attitude smacks of neocolonialism and racism.

He made a passing reference to the amount of single-occupancy vehicles in the Metro Vancouver area. He conveniently ignores that fact that surveys showed that the the majority of Metro Vancouver residents favoured investment in cleaner public transit infrastructure. But the provincial government with a majority primarily elected outside Metro Vancouver ignored those wishes and built infrastructure that primarily supports those single-occupancy vehicles.

In his bizarre fantasy world it seems that resource industries are the only way to fund education and health care. Again he conveniently ignores the evidence of the real world. Countries like Japan, Switzerland, Denmark and the Netherlands which have social program as good, if not better, than Canada but have little or no fossil fuel resource extraction.

He makes the unsubstantiated claim that environmentalists have ignored the labour movement. Apparently he has not heard of the Blue-Green Alliance, an organization that exists in both the US and Canada. The Canadian organization includes two of Canada's largest unions. Dan Miller also ignores the research that shows that green industries like renewable energy and public transit employee more workers than fossil fuel industries.

Of course we will need to transition our economy so that it is less fossil fuel dependent. But there is on evidence to suggest that it is not possible or that it will have a negative affect. Sweden saw its economy grow by 44% while surpassing the Kyoto targets for green-house gas reduction.

He claims that his organization is dedicated to a “positive” discussion of resource issues. In reality it seems he is more interested in misrepresenting the views of others.



Friday, February 01, 2013

My Comments to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel

The official transcript is at:https://www.neb-one.gc.ca/ll-eng/livelink.exe?func=ll&objId=914749&objAction=Open
I have made small edits for clarity.

Good morning, everyone. Thank you for listening.

In 1827, over 180 years ago, a French scientist, Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier, wrote a paper that helped us understand how our planet works. It was based on earlier experiments by a Swiss scientist, deSaussure. In 1896, Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish scientist, building on that paper developed a formula that allowed him to calculate exactly how much temperatures would rise based on the CO2 that we put into our atmosphere.

That was 117 years ago. We’ve had 117 years of experiments, data collection, research, measurement and even more precise calculations and yet, from what I understand, this Panel is not even going to fully consider the impact of that science and this project.

Anthropogenic global warming has been called the most peer-reviewed project in the history of science. Every scientific body of national and international standing has taken a position in favour of it and yet we’re not allowed to fully consider the impact that this project will have based on that science.

The Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline will pump about 525,000 barrels per day of petroleum. That works out to 225 million kilograms of CO2 warming potential each day, or about 225,000 tonnes per day. That’s 82 million tonnes per year, or at least I thought it was when I did those calculations. Then I realized I was using the factor for conventional oil to do those calculations, and since this is coming from the tar sands, the factor should be higher. So it works out to be about 99 million tonnes per year of CO2 warming potential that will be going through this pipeline.

As you probably know, just this month the National Resource Defence Council in the United States released some information showing that we’ve actually been underestimating the CO2 warming potential from tar sands fossil fuels.

So again we have these numbers, 99 million tonnes per year, and yet, from what I understand, we’re not even supposed to be considering those numbers when it comes to the impact of this project.

Nicholas Stern, who wrote this very damming report about how climate change would affect our economies, recently admitted that he was wrong, That in fact he’d underestimated the impact. He said, I quote, “It’s far worse. This is potentially so dangerous that we have to act strongly.”

I don’t want to diminish the other concerns about this pipeline. There certainly are very valid concerns about the spills that will happen on land and on water.

My family has lived for generations here in B.C. along the coast. My family was some of the original settlers up in the area that’s shown on the map here [referring to the map on the screen] along the pipeline route. And we’ve also lived in Alberta. I actually worked in the tar sands for a brief period of time. So again, I don’t want to diminish the very serious effects that this could have on the ecosystem.

But the truth that we don’t want to talk about too much is the fact that even if we had quadruple-hulled tankers and even if we had triple- walled pipelines, even if we had no spills on land or in water, almost all of this product would still be spilled. It would be spilled into the atmosphere through combustion at the end use. To me, that seems insane that we aren’t even allowed to consider that impact in this process.


We are allowed to consider the impact that it will have on communities and, of course, climate change will affect communities, not only here in B.C. but around the world. So I guess, if we think about it that way we are allowed to consider the impact that climate change will have.

The science is pretty clear that we need to have an 80 to 90 percent reduction in fossil fuel use. What that means is that even the existing pipelines that we have are carrying too much fossil fuels and that we need to be decommissioning existing pipelines in order to meet the targets that the science
says we need to meet.

To me, it just seems insane that we are building new pipelines under these conditions. With all this evidence of the harm that it will be doing to future generations, it seems to me almost sociopathic to go ahead with a project like this.

Anyone who cares about our children and future generations must work to stop this pipeline.

In April my first daughter will be arriving, which means that I will continue to work to stop this pipeline.

Thank you

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Translink Fare Increase Talking Points

- Transportation is one of the highest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in our regions so it is important to shift to less polluting modes.
- Metro Vancouver with a transit modal share of only 13% lags behind many world class cities that have modal shares of 40-60%.
- Zurich has achieved a transit modal share of 63% by keeping fares relatively low (a one zone monthly fare card is about 40% less than one in Vancouver).
- Private automobiles are subsidized by about 6 billion dollars per year in our region.
- The subsidies that to go automobiles should be shifted to transit. This would provide long term stable funding for the service and reduce the need for fare increases.

Friday, July 27, 2012

My Carbon Tax Submission

A carbon tax can offers a significant opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stimulate innovative economic activity.  However, evidence would suggest that the carbon tax must be priced appropriately.

I believe that the carbon tax in BC is currently priced too low and needs to be raised significantly.  The net price of natural gas including the carbon tax is now less than it was before the carbon tax was introduced in 2008.   This means that it has not created any significant economic incentive for users to reduce consumption and switch to other energy sources.  And it has made it difficult for businesses to create innovative alternatives to fossil fuels.

Sweden  has a carbon tax of over $100 per ton and has demonstrated success in reducing its emissions.

We should be raising our carbon tax to at least that level to make BC a leader in innovative sustainability solutions.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Coal Train Stopped

IMGP7458 by Rob__
IMGP7458, a photo by Rob__ on Flickr.


On May 5, 2012 citizens blocked a BNSF rail line in White Rock, BC. As a result 6 trains carrying coal to a west coast shipping port were delayed or cancelled. Over a dozen people were arrested including two SFU professors (one a Noble Prize winner) and one former Vancouver City Councillor (also a medical doctor). Via Flickr: