The Canadian Government is on Board with Renewable Tidal Power

Nova Scotia’s Bay of Fundy has some of the greatest potential for tidal power generation in the world.

Solar and wind technologies have made significant developments in recent years. Now, tidal power is catching up.

The government of Canada plans to contribute $1 million to help develop tidal stream technology and research tidal power in Nova Scotia. The Offshore Energy Research Association and the Nova Scotia government have each pledged to add an additional $125,000 to the project.

Jim Carr, the Minister of Natural Resources, says the project will aim to study the environmental impact and reduce costs associated with tidal power.

“Few countries in the world have the advantages we do when it comes to tidal power,” says Carr. “Bordered by three oceans and with the longest coastline of any nation, Canada understands the potential of tides as a source of electricity,”

The Potential of Tidal Power

Tidal power has massive potential as a renewable energy source. The ocean tides are an inexhaustible source of clean energy, with the benefit of being far more predictable than the wind or sun. However, tidal power is currently underutilized.

Currently, there are two main methods of generating tidal power: tidal barrages and tidal streams. But both technologies have downsides in their current form.

A tidal barrage works much like a hydroelectric dam, allowing water to flow in at high tide and trapping it as the tide lowers. Then, a gate at the bottom of the barrage opens to let water through, spinning an underwater turbine.

Tidal barrages only work in areas with a high tidal range (a large difference between high tide and low tide) and appropriate terrain for building a large barrier. And although they generate clean energy, barrages are not entirely environmentally sound, as they can cause damage to local ecosystems.

Tidal stream technology is like an underwater wind turbine, capturing the kinetic energy of tidal currents to generate electricity. But since they’ve only been around for about ten years, the tech is still very expensive compared to other renewable energy sources, like wind and solar.

But tidal stream technology is on the rise. Last year, the first grid-connected tidal turbine was installed in Nova Scotia, generating enough electricity to power 500 Canadian homes. Researchers are now studying the impact of the turbine after its first year in use.

4 Realistic Ways to Use Less Water

use less water

We can all do our part to use less water.

How much does the average person use each day?

According to the United States Geological Survey, most people use 80-100 gallons of water every day when they could easily get by with 20.

There are hundreds of ways we can use less water in our daily lives. Unfortunately, not all these methods are realistic (or desirable) for the average person. We understand that most people, for instance, are reluctant to re-use their bath water. Nor are they willing to withhold flushing the toilet until the end of the day.

Fortunately, conserving water doesn’t have to be an inconvenience. Here are some simple, effective, and (most importantly) realistic ways you can start using less water today.

Take a Shower Instead of a Bath

Showers and baths account for the majority of the water consumption in our homes. An average tub takes about 36 gallons of water to fill, while a shower only uses about 2-5 gallons of water per minute. If you can keep your showers under the fifteen-minute mark, chances are you’ll use less water than you would with a bath.

Estimated water savings: 15-20 gallons per day. Assuming an average of 100 gallons a day, that’ll bring your daily usage down from 100 to 80 gallons.

Don’t Wash Until the Machine is Full

Doing laundry or dishes with a half-empty machine wastes both water and electricity. If you need to wash just a few dishes and you can’t wait for a full machine, wash them in the sink instead.

Estimated water savings: 15 gallons per day for laundry and 10 gallons per day for the dishwasher. On days where you don’t run these cycles, your water use is down to 50.

Turn Off the Faucet

Brushing your teeth only uses about a gallon of water, but that adds up if you’re brushing twice a day (as you should be!) Get your toothbrush wet and then turn off the faucet until it’s time to rinse. The same goes for washing your hands or shaving.

Estimated water savings: 2 gallons for brushing teeth and more for your hand-washing. You’re sitting at 59 gallons now.

Check for Leaks

You’d be shocked at how much water you can waste through a tiny leak in your plumbing. A small toilet leak alone can cost you 20 gallons of water each day! According to Save Our Water, most people would save 110 gallons a month if they fixed their leaky faucets and toilets. That’s a lot of water and a lot of money on your monthly bill.

A quick way to check for toilet leaks is to place a food drops of food colouring in the back of the tank. Let it sit without flushing. If there’s colour in the bowl after 30 minutes, you probably have a leak. But don’t panic! It’s an easy fix.

Estimated water savings: at least 20 gallons.

Taken together, these tips take your water use from 100 gallons a day all the way down to 33! That’s a great start.

Do Carbon Offsets Actually Work?

Airlines are doing it. Movie studios and restaurants are in on it, too. Major corporations like Google and Nike have embraced it in their long-term goals. Even entire countries, like Iceland and Costa Rica, have joined the cause.

Carbon offsets (also known as carbon credits) are a way for businesses and individuals to pay for their part in producing greenhouse gas emissions. But do they really work, or are they just another eco-trendy bandwagon?

What Are Carbon Offsets?

Climate change is a worldwide crisis that impacts everyone. The main culprit is carbon dioxide, which is released when we burn fossil fuels like oil, coal, and gas.

When we drive our cars, we pollute the earth with greenhouse gas. The same goes for flying on an airplane or, really, doing anything else that consumes dirty, non-renewable energy. Every switch we flick on and off contributes in some small way to this immense problem.

What can we do about it? Well, we can do out best to reduce energy consumption in various ways. We can buy energy-efficient appliances and abide by best practices for energy use.

But no matter what we do, it’s impossible to reduce our carbon emissions to zero.

That’s why carbon offsets exist. Carbon offsets are like “credits” you can buy to fund environmental projects that help to reduce future emissions in some way. By doing this, you can essentially offset your own polluting emissions, hence the term ‘carbon offset.’

For example, say you’re taking a plane trip to visit your parents in another state. You could find out how much greenhouse gas the trip will cause and, based on that amount, invest in a solar farm project somewhere in the world. The renewable energy created by those solar panels will, in theory, balance out the environmental cost of your trip.

According to the David Suzuki Foundation, “It’s based on the principle that, since climate change is a global problem, an emission reduction made elsewhere has the same positive effect as one made locally.”

Are Carbon Offsets Effective?

There are certainly benefits to carbon offsets. However, the process is complicated and sometimes controversial. To start, for the investment to effectively offset the donor’s greenhouse gas emissions, it must meet these requirements:

  1. Authentic. In short, the offset has to actually exist. Those who wish to invest in carbon offsets should carefully research the source of the offset, whether it’s trees, wind turbines, or solar panels. This is especially important if the offset is said to exist someplace far away from the seller and/or purchaser.
  2. Enforceable. There has to be a guarantee that the money will be spent where it’s supposed to go. Do not invest in carbon offsets based on vague promises – look for someone with a concrete, realistic plan showing how your investment will offset your emissions.
  3. Permanent. For your investment to be effective, the offset has to continue to exist for the foreseeable future. If you invest in planting trees, for example, your offset goes to waste if the trees are removed just a few years later. Find out the long-term plan for the offset.
  4. Additional. This means the offset has to add something new, or continue to produce something that could not exist without the investment. This can be a difficult metric to measure. For example, investing in a solar farm that already exists could constitute an additional offset if your money is necessary to maintain it. However, if the offset would continue to exist without payment, your investment is ineffective in offsetting your own emissions.

These are areas where issues have arisen with carbon offsets in the past. For example, past year, the English court shut down 19 companies for selling worthless carbon credits.

There are also concerns that carbon offsets could never truly negate the impact of greenhouse gases. As stated by RationalWiki, “the limited amount of environmental remediation available compared to the massive amounts of pollution being put out risks carbon offset inflation by overselling the available amount of remediation, rendering said offsets useless.”

Though this may turn out to be true, carbon offsets can still be beneficial in that they motivate people and businesses to invest in projects such as solar and wind energy farms. This provides renewable energy with an additional source of revenue and helps the industry grow, which helps reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

Researchers Develop Wearable Device Powered Entirely by Body Heat

Imagine never having to charge your smart watch again.

Researchers at North Carolina State University have created a wearable device that produces electricity from body heat using a flexible thermoelectric generator. This breakthrough technology could not only make wearable devices more convenient, but save on the energy required to charge them.

Why Create a Self-Powered Wearable Device?

If you don’t already own a piece of wearable technology, you’ve probably shaken hands with someone who does. Smart watches and fitness trackers are catching up to smart phones as a must-have technology. But these nifty devices aren’t without disadvantages, like the need to charge them at least a few times a week.

With thermoelectric generator technology, your Fitbit or Apple Watch could run continuously without needing to be plugged in. Such convenience has the potential to further integrate this technology into our daily lives.

But it’s not all about fun toys like smart watches and fitness trackers. The team at North Carolina University has its eyes on the market for medical devices, like heart monitors and environmental sensors. Thermoelectric generators would eliminate the need to remove these devices to charge them, making the technology safer and more reliable for patients.

Advances in Thermoelectric Generator Technology

Last year, North Carolina University produced its first experimental prototype for a wearable thermoelectric generator. It was a small, body-conforming patch that generated the most heat when worn on the upper arm.

Though it was lightweight, the patch was rigid and uncomfortable to wear. That’s why researchers began working on a flexible device instead.

“We wanted to design a flexible thermoelectric harvester that does not compromise on the material quality of rigid devices yet provides similar or better efficiency,” said Mehmet Ozturk, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the university. “Using rigid devices is not the best option when you consider a number of different factors.”

The new design uses a non-toxic metal alloy called EGaln to connect the thermoelectric elements in the device. The allow has lower resistance and allows for greater power generation. It also makes the device “self-healing”, as Professor Ozturk explains.

“Using liquid metal also adds a self-healing function: If a connection is broken, the liquid metal will reconnect to make the device work efficiently again. Rigid devices are not able to heal themselves.”

As wearable devices grow in popularity, we will continue to consume more and more energy charging them. Having a built-in body heat generator could substantially reduce the carbon footprint of these devices.

Why Algae Could One Day Replace Fossil Fuels

algal biofuels

Companies and governments around the world are investing in algal biofuels as a renewable energy source.

It’s slimy. It’s green. And one day, it could eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels.

Since 2009, researchers from Synthetic Genomes, Inc. and ExxonMobile have collaborated in a quest to convert algae into a sustainable, commercially-viable biofuels. Now, the joint venture has announced a breakthrough that allows algae to produce two times as much lipid oil — the key ingredient that could one day replace fossil fuels.

It’s still a proof of concept, but researcher Imad Ajjawi calls it, “a significant milestone in establishing the foundation for a path that leads to eventual commercialization of algal biofuels.”

What Are Algal Biofuels?

Algae is a family of plant-like organisms that comes in all shapes, sizes, and colours. When you think of algae, you’re probably picturing the slippery stuff that collects on river rocks. But the algae family also includes funguses, mosses, and giant, leafy kelp. It comes in shades of red, green, brown, and even purple.

It doesn’t take much to take algae grow. Most species feed on carbon dioxide and release oxygen via photosynthesis. All it takes is water, sunlight, and carbon dioxide. Unlike the fuels we’re trying to replace, these resources are in all abundance here on planet earth.

About half of algae is imposed of something called lipid oil. Scientists have been working since the 1970s to use algae-produced lipid oil as a fuel alternative. Previously, it was difficult to get enough lipid oil out of the algae to make it a commercially viable venture.

That’s where this new breakthrough comes in. Together, Synthetic Genomes, Inc. and ExxonMobile have used gene editing technology to genetically modify strains of algae to produce twice as much lipid oil as they do in the wild. Most importantly, the change doesn’t impact the algae’s growth in any other way, giving it potential to become a wide-scale biofuel source.

The Advantages of Algal Biofuels

Today, more than 20 countries, including the United States and China, are investing in algal biofuel research. Leading airlines and aviation companies are also optimistic about its potential for a cleaner, greener fuel.

Science writer Julian Cribb predicts that algal biofuels could become a $50 billion industry in the future. “Fossil oil comes from algae that died millions of years ago. Today it makes far better sense to grow the oil fresh, using living water plants,” he writes.

The advantages of algae are numerous. To start, it grows naturally in just about every climate around the world. Sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide are abundant and (except for water in some cases) free. In the best conditions, algae can grow almost limitlessly.

With fossil fuels being depleted worldwide, we know we can’t rely on a petro-based fuel products forever. Algae-derived biofuel is a promising alternative green energy source.

Which Big Companies Set Clean Energy Targets?

clean energy targets

More companies are committing to fight climate change and set targets for clean energy.

Sustainability isn’t a fringe issue anymore.

Thanks to heightened awareness and public education efforts, more and more people recognize the importance of reducing carbon emissions and shifting to clean energy sources. Climate change deniers are in the minority.

Luckily, big companies are catching on when it comes to climate change.

According to Fast Company, Apple, Bank of America, Facebook, Google, and Walmart are among the major corporations that have committed to moving to 100% renewable power. Hundreds of others have adopted internationally-agreed clean energy targets to reducing greenhouse gasses. Half of the 2016 Fortune 500 companies have set targets to reduce greenhouse gases, increase energy efficiency, or make greater use of renewable energy sources.

In total, 72% of consumer-facing companies have set targets for clean energy. Other industries are also doing well, with 60% of real estate and 57% of IT companies setting at least one target.

Lance Pierce, president of CDP North America (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project), says public pressure is a factor in this change. “There is a lot of awareness among consumers and a lot of demand, and companies are responsive to that,” he told Fast Company.

For these companies, fighting climate change is becoming a vital part of their corporate responsibility.

But not all industries are on board. Energy companies are notably lagging when it comes to setting targets. In fact, the number of companies with one or more energy target has fallen from 25% three years ago to a dismal 11% today.

Pierce says many energy companies claim there needs to be a “level playing field”, such as a national or international climate agreement, that holds all energy companies to the same standard. In other words, they’re waiting for the government to step in and force their hand before they change how they do business.

Unfortunately, with the current administration, fighting climate change is not a priority.

Still, this report is a bright spot over overall. While the Trump Administration is working to undo much of its predecessor’s clean energy and climate regulations, American corporations are moving in the opposite direction.

Can You Guess the Top 5 Countries for Solar Energy?

Japan is one of the top countries for solar energy.

Solar power is on the rise, and countries around the world are catching on.

More governments are investing in the production of solar energy than ever before. Solar tech has advanced in recent years, causing a massive decline in the price of solar energy. Now, solar power is cost-competitive and reliable. There is promising data suggesting that solar can someday match or even outperform traditional sources like coal and gas.

Of course, some countries are ahead of the game. Can you guess which five countries produced the most solar energy in 2016? The answer may surprise you — especially number one.

Let’s look at the top 5 countries for solar energy.

5. Germany

When it came to solar energy, Germany used to be on top. It once produced more gigawatts (GW) of solar power than any other country in the world — until 2015. Now, other nations have caught up and pushed Germany back to the number five position.

Regardless, Germany is still a world leader in renewables and one of the top countries for solar energy. The country’s Energiewende strategy has it aiming obtain at least 60% of its energy from renewable sources by 2050. Last year, Germany broke its own records for the production of solar energy.

4. India

India is at the cusp of a solar energy boom. Since 2011, India has made massive strides in is renewable energy production thanks in part to investment from the World Bank.  India’s total solar energy capacity is expected to grow from 5 GW in 2015 to a whopping 57 GW by 2020. The nation is on target to produce 100 GW of solar energy by 2022.

3. Japan

Japan was an early adopter of solar generation, and it continues to be an innovator in this sector. It is home to the Solar Ark, one of the world’s largest solar buildings, which boasts over 5,000 solar panels. The country aims to meet at least 10% of its energy demands with solar by 2050.

2. United States

Yes, it’s true — the USA misses the top spot on this list. Surprised? After all, the country has an abundance of tech, talent, and just the right environmental conditions for wide-scale adoption of solar energy. Why shouldn’t it be number one?

Unfortunately, there has always been a sharp political divide when it comes to renewable energy in the USA. And with the Trump administration threatening to withdraw from the global action plan on climate change, solar faces an uncertain future in America.

Still, the United States produces the second-most solar energy of any country in the world. It is home to some of the world’s largest solar installations, and many states have set high renewable energy goals. Whatever happens in the political realm, the United States is likely to remain one of the top countries for solar energy and has the potential to claim that number one spot someday.

1. China

Given China’s notorious environmental record, you may be surprised to learn that China produces the most solar energy in the world. In fact, it leaves the other countries on the list in the dust! China produces a massive 130.5 GW to the USA’s 85.3 GW.

China bumped Germany from the top spot on the list in 2015, when it expanded its solar capacity by 81%. Now, it has set the ambitious goal of generating 20% of its power using renewable sources by 2030.

 

 

The End of the Energy Star Program

How do you find eco-friendly appliances?  Easy: just look for the blue and white Energy Star sticker.

But look fast, because the Energy Star program could come to an end in President Trump’s upcoming budget.

If you’ve ever shopped for a new appliance, you’re probably familiar with Energy Star. But you may not have realized that Energy Star is actually a program under the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Energy Star started back in the year 1992. It was originally launched to rate the efficiency of computer monitors (if you’re using one now, take glance at the bottom-right corner — you’ll probably find a sticker). Since then, the program has expanded to cover everything from dishwashers to electronics and even entire homes.

The EPA’s Energy Star standards are completely voluntary. So why do manufacturers choose to comply with the standards? It’s because they want to use the Energy Star label and market the product as Energy Star-approved. Energy Star products catch the eyes of eco-friendly consumers, leading to higher sales and bigger earnings. In short, Energy Star makes sustainability good for business.

This is an example of what’s called voluntary regulation — encouraging businesses to adopt sustainable practices beyond the regulatory requirements.

Now, Energy Star is one of 50 EPA programs that would be cut under President Trump’s budget.

Energy Star costs the United States government $50 million each year. In turn, it saves American consumers and businesses $34 billion and prevents more than $300 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

Some commentators speculate that the latter benefit is exactly the reason Trump wants Energy Star gone. They point to other proposed budget cuts, like the Clean Power Plan and fuel economy standards on cars, which are also meant to reduce emissions and combat climate change. The President expressed skepticism of climate change during the 2016 campaign.

Energy Star is widely regarded as a success. It has been a win-win for businesses, consumers, and of course the environment for 25 years. For now, we can only hope this energy efficiency program survives the upcoming budget.

Is Canada’s Clean Energy Industry Falling Behind?

When it comes to renewable energy, Canada should be on top of the world.

Canadians are gifted with substantial natural resources that can be used to produce clean energy, from rivers to wind, biomass to solar, geothermal to ocean energy. Several Canadian cities have become a hotbed of innovation technology start-ups. And Canada is mostly free from the skepticism surrounding climate change and greenhouse gases that pervades American politics. Simply put, Canada is in a perfect position to harness these resources and be a world leader in renewable energy.

However, renewable energy sources only provide about 18.9% of Canada’s total energy supply. And according to a new report, Canada is falling behind in the world of clean energy tech.

Why?

Christopher Barrington-Leigh, an assistant professor at the School of Environment at McGill University, says Canada is in a renewable energy paradox.

Though the land is rife with valuable resources, most of it lies in distant territories that are not connected to the electrical grid or near population centres. Keep in mind that 90% of Canadians live within one hour of the United States/Canada border. In other words, much of Canada’s potential renewable energy sources are out of sight and, for many, out of mind.

At the same time, Canada is what the assistant professor describes as an “energy hog.” We consume the most energy heating our homes throughout the winter months. This is an inevitable fact of living in Canada, and it puts a great deal of pressure on our electrical grid. The argument for shifting away from powerful-but-polluting energy sources to lighter renewable resources is difficult in this context.

That’s the world within which Canada’s clean tech sector operators. On top of that, this sector is having its own problems right now.

The heart of the problem is this: researching and developing innovative green technology is expensive.

According to Analytica Advisors, most Canadian green energy firms are stuck in unprofitable markets without access to financing that would enable them to meet demand. This industry pays comparatively high interest rates. Debt markets, including Canada’s big banks, are not open to most clean-tech firms.

While the government committed to investing in clean energy tech in the 2017 federal budget, the money won’t start flowing until 2019. This cleans Canadian clean energy firms in a tough spot.

The report concludes with the suggestion that the government focus not only on attracting centure capital to Canada’s clean energy sector, but to ensure that the government sets the stage for a successful clean energy market and supports infrastructure that takes full advantage of these innovations.

 

World’s First Floating Wind Farm

Statoil’s floating wind farm should be up and running by the end of 2017

 

What has three blades and floats?

A Norweigian company called Statoil is set to build the first floating wind warm in the world.  If the construction goes according to schedule, the revolutionary Hywind Pilot Park should be up and running off the coast of Scotland by the end of 2017.

How Will Floating Wind Turbines Work?

Statoil has been working on floating turbine technology for years. It built its first prototype in Norway in 2009. Following successful tests, it made plans to grow the tech into a full-scale commercial wind farm. Scotland leased the ocean land to Statoil in 2016.

The Scotland project will consist of five six-megawatt wind turbines. The turbines will be tethered together, sharing infrastructure like power cables and transmission facilities. Once its up and running, the project should power about 56,000 Scottish homes each year.

Why Offshore Wind is the Way of the Future

Offshore wind energy is one of the fastest growing areas of renewable energy. It is particularly big in the UK, where shallow shorelines and powerful coastal winds make for perfect conditions for offshore turbines. Recently, New York State also announced plans to auction 33,000 hectares of ocean land for an offshore wind project.

The benefits of offshore wind turbines are many. Offshore turbines are more than double the size of their landlocked cousins. With nothing around to slow them down, sea winds are far stronger and more consistent than on-shore winds, so harnessing their power can generate even more energy. Offshore turbines also solve the NIMBY problem that plagues wind advocates.

However, putting up a wind turbine in the ocean is no simple task. The turbines are huge, and bolting one to the seafloor is no easy task. It’s costly and time-consuming. Since seafloor mounted wind turbines can only go as deep as 260 feet, they aren’t suitable everywhere.

Floating wind farms would solve many of the challenges that come with traditional offshore wind farms.

The floating wind turbines can be installed in waters up to 1,000 feet deep – more than double that of regular offshore turbines. This means they can be used in areas surrounded by deeper ocean waters, like much of Japan and the eastern United States. This could help countries meet their renewable energy goals.

Rather than anchoring the turbines to the ocean floor, Statoil will tether them together to an anchor and stabilize them with floating steel tubes. Since the eliminates the need to build a large foundation, floating wind turbines will likely be easier and more economical to install.