Category Archives: education

Sub-metering in condos, apartment units can lead to big reductions in electricity consumption

My Clean Break column this week highlights a commissioned study by Navigant Consulting, which looked at the impact that sub-metering has on electricity consumption in apartment units and condos versus those units on a bulk metering/billing system. The reductions appear to be quite large, as you’ll read, but there’s one caveat before you read on: lower electricity use doesn’t necessarily translate into lower bills. Given the additional fees charged by sub-metering service providers, the financial benefits of sub-metering are more murky. At the same time, while it might not lead to dollar savings today, it can certainly empower residents to shield themselves from dollar increases tomorrow. Another caveat: the research, while conducted by Navigant, was commissioned by EnerCare, a sub-metering provider in Ontario.

—————————————————

Tyler Hamilton

There are nearly 410,000 apartment and condominium units in Ontario that could be—but aren’t—individually monitored for their electricity consumption.

Instead, the buildings in which they’re located engage in “bulk” billing, meaning a single bill is issued for an entire building. The amount on that bill is equally divided by the number of individual residential units in that building.

It’s a simple formula, sure, but it’s one that encourages waste. It means residents who make an effort to conserve and use relatively less electricity end up subsidizing those who always keep the lights on and load their homes with energy-hogging devices and appliances. There’s no incentive for them to conserve.

But what if 410,000 residential units in Ontario currently on bulk metering were suddenly put on individual sub-meters – i.e. smart meters for building units? What would be the impact on electricity conservation?

The short answer, according to a study this week from research firm Navigant Consulting, is that the average reduction in electricity use would be “significant.”

Navigant found that in buildings heated by electricity average consumption would fall by 27 per cent, or 106 kilowatt-hours a month, while those building units that don’t use electricity for heating would see average power use reduced by 34 per cent, or 112 kilowatt-hours a month.

“If sub-metering were deployed in all currently bulk-metered, multi-residential buildings the annual potential electricity savings following complete deployment over five years could be 3.3 terawatt-hours annually – more than all of the electricity produced from Ontario’s wind power facilities in 2010,” according to the study.

During peak times, it would equate to eliminating the need for 383 megawatts of generating capacity, equivalent taking a medium-sized gas-fired power plant out of the province’s fleet of generators.

It should be noted that Navigant didn’t do this study out of the kindness of heart. It was hired by EnerCare Connections (formerly Stratacon), one of the largest suppliers of sub-metering devices in Ontario. EnerCare’s interests are obvious. At the same time, Navigant is a respected international research and consulting firm not known to customize conclusions to satisfy its clients.

As for how Navigant came to such conclusions, it relied on data from Natural Resources Canada, Statistics Canada’s 2007 Census data, and hundreds of samples of monthly electricity consumption data from customers of EnerCare that had already switched from bulk billing to sub-metered billing.

So if the conservation benefits are so obvious, why isn’t there a mass rush to embrace sub-metering?

Sub-metering in buildings is for some a hot-button issue. Clearly, individuals in buildings who use relatively more electricity than their neighbours are going to end up paying a higher monthly bill. It’s hard to sympathize – either they should pay for what they use or use less.

It’s a bit trickier with renters. Switching to more efficient light bulbs can only go so far. Apartment tenants are often stuck using old and inefficient appliances that gobble electricity. They can reduce use of these appliances, but they’re still at the mercy of landlords not keen on upgrading to more efficient models.

Chris Jaglowitz, a “condo” lawyer at Gardiner Miller Arnold LLP and publisher of the Ontario Condo Law Blog, says a big sticking point with all building residents relates to the extra charges they must pay to get their bills separately.

“That’s what gets people’s ires up,” says Jaglowitz. “Even people using very little electricity are getting dinged with fairly significant charges. Anecdotally, I’m hearing people are paying more.”

Then again, they’re paying more because electricity prices have been going up – and will continue to go up. With sub-metering, at least condo owners and tenants can take some actions to shield themselves from the impacts of rising electricity rates.

“That’s the argument everybody forgets,” says Jaglowitz.

Tyler Hamilton, author of Mad Like Tesla, writes weekly about green energy and clean technologies.

 

Clean energy, environment-related nuggets from Ontario-commissioned Drummond Report

I’ve been reading through the recently released report from Commission on the Reform of Ontario’s Public Services, also called the “Drummond Report” after commission chair Don Drummond, former chief economist of TD Bank. Drummond was always a big fan of putting a price on carbon, so I was curious to see if he raised carbon pricing in his report.

He didn’t.

He did, however, make several commonsense suggestions and raise some interesting points in the areas of electricity infrastructure, transportation, green energy and the environment. I highlight some of them below:

First, I was pleased to see that Drummond took issue with the unfair distribution of federal support for (green) energy projects across the country. He made his opinion of the federal government’s approach clear on p. 469 of his report, pointing out the disproportionate flow of federal dollars to two unnamed provinces — read: Alberta and Saskatchewan — and the oil and gas sectors, which continue to rake in billions in direct and indirect subsidies.

The federal government has provided little support for Ontario’s move towards green energy. Yet it provides direct and indirect subsidies to Canada’s oil and gas sectors worth $1.4 billion annually, in addition to $2.0 billion in total spending for carbon capture and storage, the Clean Energy Fund and the ecoEnergy Technology program — all of which are primarily spent in two provinces. Even where the federal government has promised support for clean energy, most has been directed to fossil fuels and projects that do not build on Ontario’s strengths. Ontario needs fair and equitable support for its clean energy initiatives.

He makes the following recommendation to the Ontario government: “Advocate for federal greenhouse gas mitigation programs to provide fair and equitable support for Ontario’s clean energy initiatives.”

I’ll second that.

On renewal of infrastructure, with specific mention of water infrastructure (p. 45):

More should be done to keep infrastructure in good condition. The equivalent of about half of the $72 billion of municipally owned water and wastewater infrastructure needs renewal. Full-cost pricing would encourage both stable investment — which is more efficient and fairer on an intergenerational basis — and conservation.

On funding public transit and encouraging its use (p. 46):

The province should pursue a national transit strategy with the federal government, other provinces and municipalities. General tax revenues will surely be part of any revenue solution — whether federal or provincial — but there are alternatives such as congestion charges, comprehensive road tolls, high-occupancy/toll (HOT) lanes, regional gas taxes and parking surcharges.

On the Ontario Clean Energy Benefit, which gives people a 10 per cent rebate on their electricity bills (p. 47):

This program distorts the true cost of electricity and discourages conservation… because the Commission strongly believes the OCEB’s $1.1 billion could be used more effectively, the OCEB should be eliminated as quickly as possible.

On better managing the impact of rising electricity prices (p. 47):

The government should produce a detailed, 20-year blueprint for the energy sector. It should also consolidate Ontario’s 80 Local Distribution Companies (LDCs) along regional lines to create economies of scale; this would result in direct savings on the delivery portion of the electricity bill. Further, the government should mitigate the impact of the FIT program on electricity prices, first by reducing the initial prices offered in FIT contracts and reducing the tariff over time, and second by making better use of “off-ramps” built into existing contracts. Among other measures, the government should seek administrative efficiencies in various electricity sector agencies and restructure the wholesale electricity market so consumers located closer to generation stations can benefit from lower electricity prices.

On moving to full-cost recovery for environmental programs (p. 48):

Full cost recovery is not in effect for all of the government’s environmental programs, and existing fees do not keep pace with the rising costs of program delivery; where possible, the costs of those services should be shifted to the beneficiary. The Water Charges initiative should be expanded beyond high users to medium- and low-consumption industries and put on a full user-pay basis. The Renewable Energy Approval, which consolidates the range of approvals needed for renewable energy projects while recovering about 90 per cent of its direct operating costs, is a good example of a modern approval. The Drive Clean program fully recovers its costs.

On province-funded university campus expansion (p. 256):

Any campus expansions funded by the province should be viewed through a return-on investment lens. Factors such as the increase in productivity for the institution through a better learning experience for students, energy cost reductions through the use of renewable energy sources and energy-efficient building design should be considered. Currently, the principal driver for expansion may be increases in enrolment, and while energy conservation aspects may be part of the building design, they are not integral to the productivity outcomes expected from the expansion.

On new approaches to business support programs (p. 310):

A refocused mandate for business support programs would shift from an emphasis on job creation towards encouraging firms to enhance productivity through innovation; technology adoption and training; improved business practices; and energy conservation and efficiency.

On time-of-use pricing (p. 332):

Make regulated prices more reflective of wholesale prices by increasing the on-peak to off-peak price ratio of time-of-use pricing and by making critical peak pricing available on an opt-in basis.

These are all the nuggets I found interesting in the Drummond Report. There may be more, but the ones I’ve pasted above are commonsense and certainly worthy of serious discussion. Will be interesting to see which ones the province acts on…

Celebrate clean energy innovation: spread the word about Mad Like Tesla

It’s shameless self promotion, I know, but this is how you create awareness of books, and the point of writing Mad Like Tesla was to create awareness of the innovation going on around clean energy and the immense barriers inventors and entrepreneurs face. I also wanted to celebrate those much-needed risk takers in society, without whom we will never have the kind of breakthroughs necessary to tackle our energy demons. It’s part of the reason I write and have maintained this Clean Break blog for the past six years, without financial gain. It’s a labour of love, as time consuming as it often can be.

Mad Like Tesla: Underdog Inventors and Their Relentless Pursuit of Clean Energy was launched this month and has been well-received. The reviews so far have been positive, and awareness of the book is slowly building. But not fast enough. I want to take this moment to ask my readers, many of whom have already purchased the book (thank you!), to help spread the word. Share this link or the Mad Like Tesla website (www.madliketesla.com) on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Refer to it when commenting on the various blogs you might follow. And for my media friends out there — whether in the mainstream press or the blogosphere — please consider a review, or alternatively, I’m happy to chat about the many odd and inspiring stories in this book. Please see press release here.

Thank you all for your ongoing interest and support. BTW: Many have asked, so I’m happy to report that the e-book version of Mad Like Tesla is now available at Amazon.com.

Library Journal review of Mad Like Tesla: “This book’s strong appeal should transcend all borders”

Hi all, I’m delighted to report that the first review of my upcoming book, Mad Like Tesla: Underdog Inventors and Their Relentless Pursuit of Clean Energy, is in and it’s, well, pretty encouraging. Here’s what Library Journal, an important industry trade magazine used as a purchasing guide by library buyer and book wholesalers, had to say:

Hamilton, energy and technology writer for the Toronto Star, examines some of the latest, most far-out green energy innovations and the people behind them. How far-out? Take, for example, a retired engineer’s idea to produce electricity via an artificial tornado, or a plan for a space-based power station that would harvest the sun’s energy, using microwaves to beam it down to earth. Other gizmos and processes seem more amenable to commercial success and social acceptance: Hamilton tells of a secretive company called EEStor that claims to have made a breakthrough in energy storage, and of a team building a low-cost nuclear fusion reactor. He strikes a fine balance between hope and hard realism when considering barriers to energy transition. As the “tornado guy” says, upon considering financial and regulatory obstacles: “Holy crap, that’s a lot to get through.” VERDICT: Mad Like Tesla is easy to get through, even for readers with only a basic knowledge of energy issues. Hamilton makes complex technologies comprehensible, and he clearly enjoys the remarkable human stories behind the science. Many of the risk takers and visionaries portrayed are Canadian (rocker Neil Young makes a cameo appearance!), but this book’s strong appeal should transcend all borders.

Can’t complain with that. The book is scheduled for public release on Sept. 1 and is already available for pre-order on a number of sites, including Amazon.com/Amazon.ca and Indigo.ca. The book won’t break the bank, either. We decided to do paperback release on first run to make the book more accessible to a larger audience. You can likely pick it up for $13 or so. I built a Web site I’m not entirely happy with, so plan to have a newly designed site finished by the end of August. Stay tuned!

LoyaltyOne tries to influence positive “green” choices by dangling Air Miles in front of consumers — and it works

My Clean Break column this week takes a closer look at Air Miles for Social Change, a new division within LoyaltyOne, which runs the popular billion-dollar Air Miles rewards program. This new business division has spent the past 18 months partnering with government agencies, utilities and environmental groups on programs that get consumers to buy greener products, take transit, consume less energy, reduce their waste and embrace healthier diets and lifestyles. Normally I’m skeptical of anything having to do with loyalty programs, but here’s the thing: it seems to work, and work really well.

For some reason, a large percentage of the population really dig getting Air Miles. There’s trophy value to them, and while they’re worth much less than cash itself, members of the Air Miles program seem to treasure these rewards more than cash. An odd phenomenon, but a good one. That’s because for government agencies and utilities and transit authorities, handing out Air Miles in exchange for good behaviour is much cheaper than handing out cash in the form of discounts and rebates. And because they’re partnered up with LoyaltyGroup, which has direct access to and detailed information on nearly three-quarters of Canadian households (i.e. about 10 million), it gives them a less expensive yet highly more targeted way to reach out to consumers — at least when compared to that relatively ineffective and expensive medium called advertising. The Ontario Power Authority, the first agency to work with Air Miles on such a program to encourage energy conservation, found that it spent two-thirds less but got seven times the results compared to its advertising- and rebates-based approach a year earlier. You’ll get more details on that if you read the column.

Since working with the OPA, Air Miles for Social Change has run with the concept and now has about 25 similar programs on the go across Canada. It’s catching on.

It’s not that issuing rewards for good behaviour is an entirely new thing. It’s what Toronto’s Lowfoot.com is doing, as well as New York City-based Efficiency 2.0 — both focused on energy management for consumers. But what Air Miles brings to the equation, at least in Canada, is unmatched reach into households. And with that comes the power to influence positive change with carrots instead of sticks — not that we don’t need both.