There’s an interesting little company in Vancouver called Sempa Power that’s been sharing a little secret with governments, business and industry: sometimes it’s okay to use electricity for heating. A shocking statement, eh? I mean, with the exception of heat pump technology, electricity has generally been vilified as a source of heating.
Sempa sees it a different way. It has developed software that does an up-to-the-minute analysis of natural gas, propane, oil and electricity rates and can switch a customer between electricity and fossil fuels whenever the rate is lowest. This requires putting in electric boilers at a customer’s site, but Sempa argues that the savings from its “hybrid heating” system offer a payback of just three years. This is because natural gas tends to be cheaper than electricity during the day but more expensive at night, particularly as jurisdictions move to time-of-use electricity rates that offer off-peak discounts. It also turns out that nighttime electricity is cleaner than using natural gas in jurisdictions that rely on nuclear and hydroelectric generation for baseload power, and which have a lot of nighttime wind generation. So Sempa customers, in addition to saving, can also lower their environmental footprint. Hotels like it. Sempa has installed its system in several hotels already, including in Whistler — the site of the 2010 winter Olympics. The system is also in a hockey arena in Manitoba.
What Sempa is doing is not rocket science, but it does highlight the benefit of thinking more holistically about how we use energy. Too often we pit grid power versus natural gas, without thinking that one is better some times and the other is better other times. Not only does a hybrid system get you savings and, in most cases, reduced emissions, but it also gives you a backup in case one of the two fails.