full of energy

🕔Sep 07, 2005

Coal. Oil and gas. Hydro. Nuclear. The most familiar forms of energy production leave a large environmental footprint, but new powerful solutions are in the works for more sustainable options.

Developed and implemented around the world, some of them may come to British Columbia in the near future.

At an event sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund in Prince Rupert on March 15, attendees heard about a wide variety of energy options that could soon power this province.

Representatives from the British Columbia Sustainable Energy Association (BCSEA), Sieber Energy Inc., and Nai Kun Wind Development Inc. presented their visions for the future of renewable energy production.

Guy Dauncey, author of Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change, and president of the BCSEA, ran through a dazzling array of alternatives for individuals and municipalities looking for new, more efficient ways to power homes, businesses, and vehicles.

For example, grey-water heat recovery systems retrieve warmth from hot water otherwise lost down the drains. Ground-source heating takes the sun’s stored heat from the earth to warm a home, and can reduce heating costs by 50 per cent.

Both of these systems are generally very simple to install in pre-existing homes, and though initially quite expensive, many homes and institutions in B.C. have had them installed.

As for vehicles, fuel efficiency is key. The Mercedes Smart CDI is available in Canada with a combined city and highway efficiency score of 4.2 litres per 100 km.

The BCSEA website, bcsea.org, holds a wealth of information detailing a comprehensive list of different energy options from around the world as well as what is being done here.

Dauncey’s suggestions were all energy-efficient ideas, which interested and committed consumers can currently purchase and install in their own homes, if they wish. The other two speakers spoke on grander scales, looking towards the future of new energy in the province.

Nigel Protter of Sieber Energy Inc. presented his company’s concept of plucking ever-renewable energy from ocean swells, and stressed the vast range of possibilities in this area.

The ocean, according to Protter, is a massive, unexploited resource that would “more than satisfy global energy demands, considering the energy released by waves simply breaking on the shore is well in excess of 10,000 terawatt hours per year.

To put that in perspective, Canada has been converting the natural flow of water into electricity to light homes and power industries for more than 100 years. According to the Canadian Hydropower Association, Canada is now the world’s biggest producer of hydropower, generating 350 terrawatt hours per year, which represents nearly 62 per cent of the country’s total electricity production.

Sieber Energy Inc., of which Protter is president and CEO, is a young company in the process of developing an energy conversion system powered by ocean waves and swells.

Although this particular technology is still in its infancy, the potential for the north coast to participate in the future is there on every scale, said Protter. Isolated coastal communities and municipalities, which are both on or off the conventional electrical grid, could benefit from a type of wave or tidal turbine system. Significant industrial applications would also be possible near larger centres.

Currently, however, one cannot purchase a wave-energy generator to power the family’s coastal cottage or home, as no commercial technologies exist in the world. Sieber Energy, for instance, only hopes to ship its first product by 2008.

Despite this, Protter sees great potential for Canada and especially B.C. to blaze a trail in the wave energy sector, the way Europe has done with wind power.

“Ocean energy is a strategic opportunity in B.C.,” he said, but added that the industry needs government focus, investment, and support in order to flourish.

Sieber Energy is backed by the newly formed Ocean Renewable Energy Group—a collection of developers, engineers and scientist focused on making Canada a leading ocean energy source.

The association forecasts 25,000 megawatts of capacity, $25 billion in sales, and 10,000 new jobs by 2025. In the immediate future, the group’s target is to have five ocean energy projects operating on the B.C. coast by 2008.

In addition to the above-mentioned wave power, they also focus on extracting power from the tidal current, using propellers or turbines to harness tidal flows to drive compressors or generators to capture power.

Though on the cutting edge of ocean energy extraction research and development, Canada is playing catch-up in the wind energy sector.

At the moment, there are three potential wind farms being explored in B.C.

Michael Burns is president of Nai Kun Wind Development Inc., one company looking to place North America’s first offshore wind farm in the waters off the north-east coast of Haida Gwaii.

According to Burns, Hecate Strait has some of the best wind in the world, being consistent and strong, as well as possessing a shallow, gravel seabed and easy access to transmission lines. These qualities make the area a prime location for B.C.’s first wind farm.

Burns was positive about the benefits of wind power generation. The energy is cheap, powerful, reliable, and the turbines themselves are durable, lasting as long as 25 years. Unlike wave energy extraction, wind power technologies have already been developed, tested, and refined.

Companies like Burns’s can move relatively easily into production of this quintessential “green” energy. “We’re looking towards a construction date of September 2007,” said Burns, noting that his company is currently in consultation with First Nation groups in the area and going through “lots of environmental hoops.”

The Nai Kun wind power project hopes to tie energy production in with B.C. Hydro’s existing infrastructure of transmission wires and hydroelectric dams. Most of B.C.’s energy comes from hydro, and Burns’s company proposes to maximize that resource’s capability by using dams as a type of battery for wind power.

Water could be held behind the dams when the wind is generating power through the huge blades of the proposed 350 turbines. During calm spells, hydropower would be used to supply electricity to B.C. homes and businesses. Nai Kun could potentially supply 700 MW of electricity, enough to power 240,000 homes.

In addition, Burns suggested a significant amount of employment could result from blade manufacturing and some steel fabrication, as well as maintenance work once construction is complete. Nai Kun is liaising with colleges and trade school to ensure there is a skill base available when the project goes ahead.

Despite strong objections raised on the part of concerned seabird advocates, who worry that the turbines will have a negative impact on migrating populations, Burns’s tone was positive that B.C. energy consumers will soon have the option of this renewable resource.

Indeed, the sense given by each speaker was that British Columbia could and should be on the cutting edge of sustainable energy resource development and utilization.

“The debate is over everywhere else except for North America,” said Dauncey, referring to the global warming trend, which scientists say is only just beginning to ravage the world.

Continued use of fossil fuels will only compound the damage, and all the speakers agreed on one main point—that the global price of oil will play a major part in the adoption of any sustainable energy options on a major scale.

“The time will come sooner than people imagine,” said Protter.