Clean energy comes to the coffee table

Is green, renewable energy a sexy enough topic to be the centrepiece of a coffee table book? Tom Rand, who leads cleantech development at Toronto’s MaRS Centre, believes so. In fact, he figures that it’s just such a book that will expose a broader section of the population to the issues, technologies and opportunities around renewable energy. Rand has written a soon-to-be-released book called Kick The Fossil Fuel Habit: 10 Clean Technologies To Save Their World. The “their” being our children and their children and so on. The technologies or subjects under the spotlight are solar, wind, geothermal, biofuels, hydropower, ocean (tidal and wave), smart buildings, conservation, transportation and the energy Internet.

Now, there’s no shortage of books out there about green energy, but there’s little that explains it so simply and with the graphics and beautiful pictures that show how it’s done and how it can help change our world for the better. This is an accessible package, cleverly assembled and pleasant to look at, while at the same time making it enjoyable to learn about the technologies that, while seemingly “alternative” or “new” today, are destined to become a dominant and permanent way of energizing future generations and the economies that support them.

I’ve written about Rand before. He’s one of a handful of ambitious business leaders who is trying to convince our federal and provincial governments to create “green bonds” that can be sold to the public and used to finance renewable-energy projects across the country. Sadly, our political leaders have been slow to embrace the idea. Rand describes his upcoming book as “advocacy, pure and simple.” The plan is to distribute it through mainstream outlets such as Starbucks to coincide with the big climate-change conference coming up in December in Copenhagen. It will be released in October.

I’m not usually a fan of these kinds of book, but when the format embraces a serious subject — as opposed to movie stars and dogshow pooches — the larger mainstream awareness that can result is too rare in a society overloaded with information. For this reason, Rand’s book should be on every coffee table, out in open view for family and guests to see.

An interview: With me!

In case anyone is interested, there is a fairly lengthy interview with me posted at Canadian Interviews Publishing, which was founded by a nice fella named Andrew Gunn. A farmer in southwestern Ontario, Gunn is also the nephew of CBC news anchor Peter Mansbridge.  No doubt encouraged by his uncle, Gunn decided to start a Web site that explores the many perspectives of public life in Canada “through interviews with academics, businesspeople, politicians, professionals, artists, athletes and activists.” For some reason he found me interesting enough to interview, so if you’re inclined to hear me rant about a number of green-energy and cleantech issues, check it out. I also encourage you to return to Gunn’s site to read other interviews as they’re posted.

Co-op to sell, install solar PV systems for Ontario farmers, greenhouses

Guelph, Ont.-based Ag Energy Co-operative announced yesterday that it is launching a solar PV installation program for its member farmers and greenhouse operators throughout the province. The idea is that Ag Energy can act as a central point of contact, allowing the co-op to make bulk purchases of PV systems and get the best value for members. It has partnered with a company called Essex Energy Corp., which will design, acquire and install the system on behalf of the co-op.

Ag Energy was founded in 1988 as an organization that could make bulk purchases of electricity and natural gas and sell it back to members at a fixed priced. The goal is to reduce price volatility that might expose agricultural operations to spikes in energy prices. The co-op hopes to take the same approach with solar PV by aggregating demand and getting lowest cost PV systems that are designed to the meet the needs of greenhouses and other agricultural operations. Ag Energy also says it is prepared to lease land from farmers so it can own and install its own systems.

Of course, the interest is directly related to the new feed-in-tariff program being introduced, likely this fall, to the Ontario market. Continue reading Co-op to sell, install solar PV systems for Ontario farmers, greenhouses

Honeywell Wind Turbine to be manufactured in Windsor: Source

I’ve got a story this morning in the Toronto Star about Michigan-based EarthTronics (WindTronics) and its plans to establish a 5,000-unit a month manufacturing plant in Windsor, an Ontario city hit hard by the decline in the auto sector. The Windsor plant will employ about 200 people and should be up and running by the end of the year, a source close to the company told me. Reg Adams, president of EarthTronics, confirmed that he’s in advanced negotiations with the Ontario government but wouldn’t say if the destination will be Windsor. Word is that EarthTronics, which has licensed the Honeywell brand for its product, will take over an old Magna International autoparts plant. Adams said to expect an announcement by mid-September.

This certainly won’t save Windsor, which has the highest jobless rate in Canada, but it will inject a bit of optimism in the City of Roses, which neighbours Detroit. The Honeywell turbine, it should be explained, is a small-wind turbine designed to go on residential and commercial building rooftops. It measures about six feet in diameter and weights about 95 pounds. It has a nameplate capacity of 2 kilowatts and, under Class 4 wind conditions, can generate about 2,000 kilowatt-hours a year, according to the company’s Web site. It’s more likely, however, the unit would produce about 1,200 kilowatt-hours a year in average Ontario wind conditions. The turbine has a unique design — i.e. it has no gearbox or generator at the core; rather, it generates power from the magnets lined along a wheel that connects its blade tips. This, the company claims, allows it to start generating power at wind speeds as low as 1.6 miles per hour, compared to conventional turbine designs that typically require 8 miles per hour. The reason is low resistance because a gearbox is no longer required.

Adams said there is considerable international interest in the turbine and that EarthTronics has plans to build six manufacturing plants around the globe, including China. This could bring some much-needed profile to the small-wind market, though it remains to be seen if the Honeywell turbine works as quietly and efficiently promised.

Wind forecasting to go central in Ontario

Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator says it will launch a centralized wind forecasting service in 2010, relieving individual wind-farm operators of the administrative burden and improving the accuracy of wind forecasting in the province. (See draft paper on centralized forecasting released in February). As jurisdictions like Ontario increase their penetration of wind, centralized forecasting is becoming a must. System operators in Germany, New York, California, Texas, the Midwest and Alberta are considering or have already launched centralized wind forecasting services, which are proven to reduce forecasting errors by as much as 5 per cent or more. Unclear is how exactly wind operators will be charged for this service and whether it will be mandatory or voluntary. As part of the Ontario launch, the system operator will be making available a Web-based “Wind Tracker” app that graphically displays hourly wind output from the province’s large-scale wind farms.