To compy with Ontario’s local content rules, Recurrent Energy has signed a multi-year supply agreement with contract manufacturer Celestica Inc. to produce 180 megawatts of crystalline PV modules. San Francisco-based Recurrent, which was acquired by consumer electronics giant Sharp last November, has been approved under Ontario’s feed-in-tariff program to develop more than 170 megawatts of solar in the province. At least 60 per cent of the content of those projects must come from Ontario.
This is just the latest deal for Celestica in the solar space. Last November it struck a deal with SolarBridge to manufacture solar microinverters. One of its biggest rivals, Flextronics, is also actively engaged in the solar space and “cleantech” market generally. The use of contract manufacturers is a fast and effective way for companies to set up shop in markets with local content requirements. Unfortunately, they can shutter operations just as quickly as they open them.
Making the news today is a town council in Worcestershire, U.K., that wants to heat a local leisure centre and swimming pool using heat from the neighbourhood crematorium. This isn’t a new idea. Towns in Denmark and Sweden have been taking this approach for years, but the idea seems to be spreading. Humans are, after all, just another form of renewable power — and with the planet heading toward 9 billion, it makes sense to throw humanity into the biomass feedstock, particularly now that — in Canada, at least — more than half of the population choose the cremation route. Consider it our last contribution to the world we leave behind.
The council argues that it’s better to put the heat to good use rather than release it directly to the atmosphere. There are other approaches, of course, including turning corpses into a chemical soup through an environmentally friendly process called resomation — or biocremation. I wrote about a Toronto-based company called Transition Sciences back in 2009 that is trying to push the resomation concept, which uses one-tenth of the natural gas and one-third of the electricity used in conventional crematoria. Both approaches have merit — one inefficient but funneling some energy back to local system, the other dramatically reducing the amount of energy used (and emissions emitted) from the start.
My Clean Break column today explains why rare-earth metals, while important for the development of wind turbines, electric cars and energy-efficient lighting, aren’t as critical to the market as many believe. Most wind turbines today don’t rely on rare-earth metals, lithium-ion batteries and LEDs don’t need them either, while electric cars — such as the Tesla Roadster — can run on induction motors that don’t require these exotic materials. Sure, the stranglehold China is putting on the market will create some temporary discomfort for some companies, but a combination of new non-Chinese supply, recycling efforts and innovation around the problem will ease the pain. The Canadian, U.S., and Australian rare-earth stocks that have enjoyed quick gains over the past few months are way overvalued and destined to fall.
You may recall my post from last October criticizing Albertan power generator Capital Power for trying to back out of an obligation to offset emissions from its 495 Genesee 3 coal-fired generating station by 50 per cent, giving it an emissions profile roughly equivalent to a natural gas plant. It agreed to this offset back in 2001 so it could get permission from the regulator to build the plant. When the plant was approved, it was made a condition of the project, and a similar condition was imposed on TransAlta’s Keephills 3 coal plant that followed, which is rated 450 MW. TransAlta is half owner of Genesee 3. Capital Power says the condition is unfair and that it should be let off the hook.
Today, the Alberta Utilities Commission rejected Capital Power’s application to have the condition removed, as the Edmonton Journal explains here. This is good news in a province far too dependent on coal-fired electricity.
It kills me that something as unexciting as the Pan Am Games is going to dictate how much and how fast we move to electrify commuter trains around the Toronto area. I mean, it’s great that the board of Metrolinx, the agency that runs the province’s GO Train system, said today it backs the idea of electrification. It’s also great that the first phase of this plan is to create an electric train link between downtown Toronto (Union Station) and Pearson International Airport. What’s bothersome is that Metrolinx is going to build the airport-downtown link first to accommodate low-sulfur diesel trains in time for the Pan Am Games in 2015, an event that will last for two weeks. Then they’ll transition to electric rail by 2020, starting with the airport link and expanding to other routes from there.
By rushing to establish an airport link in time for the Pan Am Games, taxpayers will have to foot an additional $400 million. This, for a sporting event that lacks the profile and prestige of an Olympics and to which few Ontarians really pay much attention. I can understand why there’s some protest of this decision, even though the decision to eventually go electric is still good news. You can get a sense of the controversy in this Toronto Star article.
Reading the Metrolinx staff report on electrification, I’m also appalled at how much they downplay the emission-reduction benefits of embracing electric trains. The report stays away from direct comparisons, which if done honestly (i.e. an electric locomotive versus a low-sulfur diesel locomotive of similar design and purpose) would show that in a province like Ontario with relatively clean electricity an electric train would have dramatically lower emissions than a low-sulfur diesel train. Instead, they focus on impact on overall emissions in the region — i.e. that going electric would only reduce emissions by .32 per cent compared to the diesel option.
This is disingenuous and deliberately aimed at skewing reports in the media, as we can see from this Toronto Sun editorial, which regurgitates the misleading claim that there are “marginal” health benefits that come from electrification. If we measured all emission-reduction strategies this way it would be meaningless to take any action. It’s no different than saying: Why should we care about the oil sands when it represents less than .1 per cent of global emissions? Why should Canada take action against climate change when we only represent 2 per cent of global emissions? Why should I butt out my cigarette when I’m the only one smoking in the daycare?
So Metrolinx, while it should be applauded for approving the move to electrification, should be criticized for taking an ass-backwards approach to it.