Category Archives: conservation

Losing the water we have is unacceptable in a time of water scarcity

You’re at home cooking yourself some dinner. You fill your plate but before you sit down to eat you walk over to the garbage can and dump a quarter of your meal.

Insane? Well, that’s exactly what we’re doing with our drinking water.

In Ontario, some new numbers were released today and they’re staggering. A study by professors in the University of Toronto’s civil engineering department found that municipal water systems across Ontario have leakage rates of treated water ranging from 10 to 50 per cent, with the average conservatively estimated at 25 per cent. This, they estimate, translates into $700 million annually that taxpayers are paying for water that never reaches their taps.

“That’s some 327 million cubic meters of water lost each year — enough to fill about 131,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools,” according to the study, which was done in partnership with the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario. Then there’s all the energy that’s used to treat and pump that lost water and the environmental consequences of having it leak into the ground, where sinkholes can form and basement can flood.

This isn’t the kind of thing consumers like to hear when they’re being asked to conserve water, install low-flush toilets, use rain barrels, and let their lawns and flowers go brown. Continue reading Losing the water we have is unacceptable in a time of water scarcity

Toronto Hydro first Canadian utility to test-drive Google PowerMeter

About 10,000 Toronto Hydro customers already on smart meters will soon be moving to time-of-use pricing and the rest will be moving by the end of this year, so it makes sense that the utility give folks a way to actually see their electricity use. The company just announced this morning it will be testing out Google’s PowerMeter on select customers, making it the first Canadian utility to do so. If the trial is successful, Toronto Hydro said it may make the software available to all of its customer. Keep in mind the information provided through the Google PowerMeter won’t be granular — i.e., it won’t provide energy usage of individual appliances; just overall residential energy use.

NOTE: My story in the Toronto Star.

Lixar SRS: the future of residential energy management is here

My column today was a snapshot of some energy management projects going on in Ontario, a sign that local utilities are getting energized about the possibilities of energy conservation, given the right technologies in the hands of homeowners and businesses.

I mentioned Milton Hydro’s 200-plus household project in Ontario, but I’d like to provide some context because the results only tell half the story. Here’s what I wrote in the column:

The pilot project, conducted between July 2007 and Sept. 2008, was a collaboration between Milton Hydro, Direct Energy and Bell Canada. Households were given the ability to monitor their energy use through the Internet, as well as through BlackBerry-like devices, and to remotely control the lighting and operation of appliances in their homes.

An easy-to-use Web interface, designed by Toronto-based Lixar SRS, gave them a detailed view of how much electricity individual appliances were using at any point in time. The results showed that one in 10 participating households, when handed this control, used 16 per cent less electricity over 12 months and 18 per cent less during peak periods.

I say only half the story because the Milton project was a bit of a mish-mash of different technologies, some of which worked and some that didn’t work so well. The fact that only 10 per cent achieved savings above 15 per cent per cent is a bit misleading because, as I understand it, different homes were tested with different technologies and protocols. The only common thread was the Lixar SRS energy management software, which Direct Energy hailed as the best part of the project. I’d like to emphasize this because Toronto-based Lixar is another Ontario cleantech company making waves beyond provincial borders. “The most impressive was the Lixar interface,” said David Dollihite, vice-president of product development at Direct Energy. “Lixar has got a leading edge customer user interface for the presentment of energy usage information, and the ability to turn that information into something that’s actionable.”

An example? Some participants in the project were given the capability of participating in provincial demand-response programs. During DR periods, participants saw savings of 44 per cent. Pretty damn good. I’ve taken the Lixar software for a spin, and have to say it lives up to expectations and is super user-friendly. Continue reading Lixar SRS: the future of residential energy management is here

REGEN and Fat Spaniel connect on energy management

There’s a buzz around Toronto-based REGEN Energy these days, the company that uses “swarm logic” to manage the energy use of large appliances in buildings that cycle on and off. REGEN’s EnviroGrid devices, when several are attached to appliances scattered throughout a building, communicate with each other wirelessly and figure out amongst themselves — without any central control — which ones should turn on and which should turn off to minimize a large electricity consumer’s overall peak load. There’s little, if any, human intervention. That said, humans can intervene by taking control of the devices in a demand-response scenario to turn down load. For this reason, REGEN’s technology is both a load management and a demand response tool.

Anyway, at the GreenNet ’09 conference REGEN announced this evening it has partnered up with Fat Spaniel, which has a renewable-energy monitoring application, called the Insight Platform, that is gaining industry momentum. Continue reading REGEN and Fat Spaniel connect on energy management

As power consumption falls, it’s time for sober second thoughts

Here’s an interesting article from the Wall Street Journal (via the Indianapolis Star) that talks about an “unexpected drop” in electricity consumption across the United States that can’t be explained by the housing crisis or general economic conditions alone. It’s a strange article, in a way, because it doesn’t even mention the word “conservation” and reads like there’s some kind of X-Files mystery to investigate.  There is passing reference to customers maybe using less energy because they’re being told to, but it’s hardly held up as the biggest explanation. “Something fundamental is going on,” says Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers. He just doesn’t know why… weird.

Anyway, the same strange phenomenon is happening in Ontario. The difference is that our electricity planners are blaming it on the downturn and not giving much credit to conservation efforts. But with a $26 billion spending program to build more nuclear, at some point the province’s government will have to justify such spending if electricity use continues to decline.