Is this the future after peak oil grounds the airline industry? (or, just a wonky idea)

Okay, my headline was intentionally designed to bring some kind of energy angle to this post, but really I just wanted to bring attention to this really intriguing idea of turning old Jumbo Jets into on-site accommodations for air travellers. The picture to the left is a “Honeymoon Suite” inside a cockpit of a Jumbo Jet based at an airport in Sweden. The plane has been converted into a hostel/hotel. They call it the Jumbo Hostel. You can watch a CNN News report here on YouTube or check out pictures at the company’s website.

On the topic of the future of air travel, you might be interested in this presentation from the World Bank’s top air transport expert. There is information about peak oil and the role of efficiency and biofuels near the end. (Hat tip to Ontario Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller for the link).

Snow, cold and Canada: How does solar PV hold up in the Great White North?

My Clean Break column today in the Toronto Star (it’s only online at the moment) looks at research underway at St. Lawrence College and Queen’s University in Kingston that is looking at how snowfall impacts the performance of PV panels from a variety of suppliers (crystalline and thin film) and in a range of configurations. I’ll let you read the column, but the interesting part for me is that preliminary study has indicated an albedo effect that partly compensates for lost performance due to panel snowcover. Seems for the short period of time panels do have snow on them, the longer-lasting snow that surrounds these panels amplifies the sunlight and improves the output of the panels. The benefits vary depending on panel angle and design. The higher the angle, one would presume, the better the albedo effect, and I would also imagine that thin film — which better captures the energy in ambient light — would also benefit more from the albedo effect. Will be interesting to see the results of the second phase of their study, which is taking place at four test sites in southern Ontario. Many of the regions of the world offering generous solar incentives (such as feed-in-tariffs) and experiencing some of the most rapid growth also happen to be in snowfall zones. So this kind of study will be valuable in several solar PV markets, including Canada-U.S. borders states.

Ontario is more than smart meters: at the smart grid core, we thrive

My Clean Break column from Friday revisits RuggedCom, the Woodbridge, Ontario-based maker of ruggedized communications equipment for the smart grid. The company celebrates its 10th anniversary this week, and is at the top of its game. Sales of routers and switches designed to operate in the harsh environment of the grid are climbing steadily, profits are also growing, and the company is on track to breaking $100 million a year in revenues, about two thirds of it coming from utility customers. In the market it plays in, the company has a commanding lead over big names such as Cisco and General Electric, and while it doesn’t get much attention from media south of the border, utility purchase managers know the company well. Investors are starting to catch on — in the past four months the company’s share price has shot up 70 per cent.

Ontario has done well with its deployment of smart meters, but it’s often forgotten that the smart grid is much more than that. Smart meters are on one edge of the grid — that is, attached to the customer, no different than a cable modem’s placement in the larger cable infrastructure. But the smart grid is about adding automation, communications and digital technologies throughout the entire grid, from generation to delivery to consumption, with the idea that the information collected and acted on can make the electricity system more efficient, adaptable, reliable and safer, while allowing for the introduction of new services and business models that ultimately benefit consumers.

RuggedCom supplies the core communications technology for transmission and distribution infrastructure. And it’s not alone in Ontario. General Electric decided back in the mid-1990s to consolidate its global operations around T&D equipment and today its facility in Markham is considered the company’s global smart grid headquarters with respect to core grid products. The equipment GE and RuggedCom are designing and manufacturing in Ontario, and exporting to countries such as China, may not be as interesting as smart meters, in-home displays, energy-management portals, or smart appliances, but they’re arguably more important to realizing the true potential of the smart grid.

And Ontario, it seems, is a hotspot for this kind of innovation. RuggedCom’s CEO, in fact, believes the company can grow to more than a billion dollars in revenues over its next 10 years. Canada’s next RIM? Wouldn’t be as as high profile, but certainly the potential for that kind of success is there.

Is Canadian Wind Energy Association turning its back on offshore wind?

I find it surprising that just a week after the Ontario government flip-flopped on offshore wind the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) has the nerve to put out a flattering press release praising the government for a commitment to wind energy that “strengthens investor confidence.” Somebody is brown-nosing here.

Apparently the government issued a directive to the Ontario Power Authority regarding its long-term energy plan, which Robert Hornung, president of CanWEA, decided worthy of praise in a gushing press release. “Reaffirming the government’s target for new wind energy supply and proceeding quickly with new contracts for wind energy projects and necessary transmission system upgrades will strengthen investor confidence that Ontario is a good place to do business.”

Pull-eassse! Investor confidence took a serious blow last week with the decision on offshore wind, because it sent a signal to investors that the Ontario government can change its mind on a dime. CanWEA is showing its true stripes in this press release — that is, it doesn’t care about developing offshore wind in Ontario — because its members, who are mostly onshore developers, want to keep all the opportunities to themselves. This press release is clearly an attempt to kiss up to the government in the wake of the offshore controversy, which CanWEA should be speaking out again, not sweeping under the rug. 

Now that offshore wind has been voted off the island, the onshore guys are in survivor mode.

Offshore wind decision not about health concerns, despite anti-wind noise

It’s about politics. It’s about votes. It may be about a lack of need for the power, or a true concern about lakebed impacts. But one thing for certain is that the Ontario government’s misguided decision to halt all offshore wind development until further study is not about unfounded concerns over the health impacts on people, as much as anti-wind folks want to spin it that way as part of a venom-filled effort to extend the moratorium to onshore facilities.

Energy Minister Brad Duguid made this clear to me in an interview this week. “To be clear, it’s really the environmental concerns that would be leading to the need to do more work on the science. It’s not so much the health, unless you want to relate it to the quality of drinking water.”

Duguid outlined some of the main concerns the government has: the impact on the lakebed, it’s potential impact on drinking water, and issues related to the freezing of freshwater lakes and the impact on wind-turbine platforms. “The projects were still going to have to go through the renewable energy application process. Earlier this year we began work on a standard, which is the 5 kilometre setback from the shore. We asked, at the same time, that the Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Natural Resources take a look at where these projects should and shouldn’t be located. The conclusion they reached is they just don’t have a level of comfort with the science.”

What gets me is that they only now realize they’re not comfortable with the science, three years after lifting the previous moratorium and more than a year after having a FIT rate established for offshore projects. I don’t buy this explanation. I can understand the need to establish no-build zones in the Great Lakes, a move they should have done long ago. I can also understand a desire to have these turbines located far from shore. What I don’t understand is why those projects that were far enough offshore and in good locations couldn’t proceed and go through the necessary environmental approvals? Under the five-kilometre rule, the Toronto Hydro project off the Scarborough Bluffs was dead anyway. Unfortunately, this moratorium kills other projects that are in more ideal locations, such as several kilometres offshore on rockbed where disruption to the lake bottom would be minimal. How, really, can these projects affect drinking water when you consider all of the crap we already dump — legally — into the lake, and considering all the shoreline development already taking place? These excuses are bogus.

As damaging as this moratorium is, this has absolutely nothing to do with the claimed health effects of wind turbines based in the lake or even noise issues, despite the deceptive rantings of anti-wind groups.

NOTE: It seems, upon further reflection, that this isn’t just a moratorium — this, in the words of one developer, is a “Valentine’s Day massacre” to the offshore wind market in Ontario. The government is wiping the slate clean: any developers who have registered a site through the site-release program, or achieved applicant of record status, which gives very specific rights, are being told they’re going to have to start from scratch if, and when, the government decides to move forward again on offshore wind.

According to the policy decision posted Feb. 11 on the Environmental Bill of Rights Registery, “the MNR will be cancelling all existing Crown land applications for offshore wind development that do not have a Feed-In-Tariff contract, including those with Applicant of Record status. MNR will not be accepting any new Crown land applications for offshore wind development. When there is greater scientific certainty, consideration of offshore wind development will resume.”

The government conveniently excluded this information from their press release, which they hoped would be buried amid all the news out of Egypt.

There have been hundreds of crown land applications, and some developers have spent many years — up to 15 years, in at least one case — to develop a business case and do the necessary studies and data collection required to raise capital for their projects. Many millions of dollars have been spent based on the idea that applications, and those given Applicant of Record status, would be honoured. To start from a clean slate makes all of that site-specific research worthless, and represents a major assuault to investor confidence in Ontario. Who, in their right mind, would want to invest in Ontario after hearing of this decision? The McGuinty government has lost its marbles on this one, and as I said before, this will have lasting repercussions that go far beyond the short-term election cycle.

It’s an embarrasing moment for a jurisdiction that, while heading generally in the right direction with respect to green energy policy, appears to be driving while intoxicated.