Thursday, February 02, 2012

Alternatives to Enbridge

The Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline has been a hot topic here in BC. And one question that often arises is "What are the realistic alternatives?"

The science is clear that we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80-90% (these calculations are detailed in the first two chapters of George Monbiot's book Heat). Which means we need to reduce fossil fuel use dramatically. And that means that simply refining the crude oil in Alberta or using trucks to ship it instead of a pipeline are NOT viable alternatives.

So, I have attempted to produce a quick summary of realistic alternatives. This is just a quick summary - an entire book could easily be written on this subject.

Please note that all these alternatives are realistic and proven.  They are already being used by communities, individuals and businesses around the world.  They do not rely on some new technology that has not been invented yet.

• Redesign urban areas with dense mixed use communities where most trips can be done by walking and cycling. 
• Longer urban passenger trips done by electrified rapid transit.

In many European cities 70-75% of trips are already done without cars and those numbers are increasing.
• Inter-city passenger trips done by electrified high speed trains
This is already common place in Europe and Japan.
• Dramatically reduce global air travel and replace intercontinental trips with slower but much more efficient ships using new high-tech sails.
• Long haul goods transported by electrified trains.
• Short haul goods by electrified trucks.
• Rural passenger and goods transport (eg. farm to town) by electric and bio-fuel vehicles.
Using bio-fuels in all private vehicles would be a disaster for food production, but the majority of Canadians live in urban environments and could use the transportation options listed above. Bio-fuels only make sense if used for a limited segment of vehicles.

Building Heating:
• Upgrade building envelopes on existing buildings.
• All new buildings built to passiv-haus standards (which require minimal heating even in northern climates).
• HRV (heat recovery ventilation) combined with electric heat pumps or high efficiency masonry furnaces using bio-fuels (ie. wood).
• Solar Hot Water / Hydronics and Solar Hot Air (where efficient).
• On-demand electric heater or heat pumps for domestic hot water combined with solar.

Electrical Plug Loads, Appliances:
• Upgrade to energy efficient lighting, occupancy controls, efficient appliances and phantom load controls.
Typical commercial buildings in BC can see a 30-40% reduction in energy use implementing projects with paybacks of less than 5 years. If we encouraged projects with longer paybacks we could see even greater reductions in energy use.

Embedded Energy:
• Consume less material goods!
• Require "cradle to cradle" design for all products.
• Support local economies (especially the farming sector) to reduce transportation.

• None of the above solutions require fossil fuels but many require electricity.  So electricity generated from fossil fuels needs to be replaced with Solar, Wind, Tidal, Wave, Geothermal and appropriately sited Mico-hydro. And if the solutions above are implemented efficiently we will be using less electricity than we do now.

As an added bonus, the projects involved in making the switch to a less fossil fuel intensive society would generate far more jobs than the pipeline ever would.

I am putting together a presentation based on the above summary. Contact me if you would like to have me present it.