Achieving Kyoto – One Bite at a Time

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

This was an expression often used by Heinz Melle, when he was director of management information services at EMJ, a firm I worked for. He was engaging in a massive system re-write, which to many would be simply too daunting. But not to Heinz. He just kept plugging away, and in the end, built a platform that allowed our firm to compete with the best in the business. Of course, before you eat an elephant, you must decide to have dinner first.

With all of the criticism circulating about Rona Ambrose, our Minister of Environment, chairing a Kyoto meeting, my thoughts have turned to how Kyoto can be achieved.

You can’t achieve it if you don’t try. The Liberals had an ineffective plan, riddled with problems, such as “intensity factors”, slow moving decision making, and pandering to industry. But at least they planned on having dinner.

The Conservatives have no plan yet, except to blame the Liberals for signing on to Kyoto, and ineffectiveness. Ms. Ambrose acknowleged that Canada faces problems right now with climate change in the Arctic, and then goes on to say that we can’t achieve our targets. How would we know? We haven’t tried.

The electricity sector is the one I know best. And wind is the technology I know best. Wind alone can reduce the emissions from the electricity sector by 35%. Further reductions are possible by adding in conservation, new hydraulic facilities, biomass and solar.

Canada’s electricity mix is 58% water, 19% coal, 12% nuclear, 6% natural gas, and 3% oil (2003). So fossil fuel accounts for only 22% of our electricity. If we can replace 8% of Canada’s total supply with wind, our fossil emissions for electricity generation drop by 35%. This would require the installation of 17000 MW of wind energy, or about 10,000 wind turbines. This is 17 times the amount installed in Canada today. But it is less than Germany has – and Canada has a lot more space, and a lot more wind. Denmark obtains 20% of their power from wind. And both Germany and Spain obtain 6-8% of their electricity from wind. So there is no question it can be done. In fact, Canada has installed more than 250 MW so far this year.

Prince Edward Island obtains 5% of their electricity from wind, and will obtain 15% by the end of the year because of planned projects. Their goal is 50% by 2015, a goal that is easily achievable.

Such a project would generate $34 billion in investment, primarily in rural areas. It would create jobs, lease income for hard pressed farmers, and tax base for rural municipalities.

For this to happen, however, we need a constructive policy environment. The Federal government has had a Wind Power Production Incentive, to encourage wind development. The program has run out of funds. The previous Liberal budget approved funding to build an additional 3000 MW of wind, but the funding is currently frozen, pending review. The industry is optimistic that approval will be forthcoming. Energy security, clean air, and rural economic development are potent arguments, even without Kyoto. And of course the provinces have a crucial role to play in choosing wind energy to play a key part of future electricity supply.

So achieving Kyoto in the electricity sector is easy. What about transportation? Canada has not raised fuel standard for automobiles in 25 years. The technologies exist, with hybrids, and with fuel efficient diesel engines, to increase fuel efficiency by 20-30%. Add in some expansions to mass transit, revisions to urban planning to make cities more foot and bicycle friendly, and transportation can achieve its target.

Heating and cooling homes and businesses is also achievable. Ground source heat pumps (also called earth energy, or geothermal) obtain 3-4 units of heat for every unit of electricity required to run the compressor. So that reduces energy use by 75% for heating. The gain for air conditioning is even greater, using about 5 -6 times less electricity than conventional air to air coolers. The technology works, and is widely used in rural areas, and in new schools. But we have no policy support to encourage widespread use of ground source heat. Add in some solar thermal hot water, and aggressive building codes and insulation, and a dramatic reduction in energy used in homes and businesses is achievable.

The opportunity for emission reductions from conservation and efficiency are huge. But our current price regimes reward profligate energy use, and penalize conservation. For example, in Ontario, if you invest in a compact fluorescent light bulb to reduce your electricity consumption, you pay provincial sales tax. But when you buy electricity, you don’t. We need price reform of our energy markets, so that the true cost, including environmental impact, is included in the price. And we need incentives for conservation and efficiency.

The technologies exist to achieve Kyoto targets. The policy framework doesn’t. You can’t eat an elephant until you first decide it is time for dinner. And it is.

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