Posts filed under ‘Renewable energy’

So what’s wrong with burning coal?

Coal mining in the Rocky Mountains

Coal mining in the Rocky Mountains

As a followup to my recent post about Ontario’s new Green Energy Act, I thought I’d note a few of the reasons I think it makes sense to move to renewable energy from burning coal.

What is coal? It’s a type of rock made of carbonized plants that holds a lot of C02 and, when burned, releases harmul toxins, including lead, mercury, and even radioactive components such as uranium and thorium. And we’ve found a way to mine this energy-rich, abundant material relatively cheaply.

To mine the coal, we clear-cut the trees, then scrape away the topsoil exposing the rock below so we can carve out the mountain sides to expose the carbon-rich black material. Naturally this process destroys habitat, creates blights on the landscape and causes long-standing health issues in humans, not just wildlife.

The journal of the American Public Health association says of study subjects who live near a coal mine: “high levels of coal production were associated with worse adjusted health status and with higher rates of cardiopulmonary disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, lung disease, and kidney disease.” OK, that sounds pretty bad. A York University study on a mining area near Nanaimo, B.C. cites research showing that water leaching from coal mines builds up a lot of sulphuric acid, which in turn releases heavy metals, such as lead, zinc, copper and mercury. Delicious!

Not long ago, we ran this story on the surprising range of health effects of air pollution in Homemakers.

Having enjoyed an afternoon picnic under a massive wind turbine, chatting about the future of power, it’s hard to imagine that coal could somehow be better. I try to be open minded, but I just don’t see the logic.

October 5, 2009 at 3:42 PM 1 comment

Green home heating option: High-efficiency heat pump

How else to heat the house?

How else to heat the house?

Now that the nights are cooling down here in Toronto, home heating is back on the radar. My 1940s home has radiators powered by gas, which makes for a nice warm feel, but I’d like to move to a greener option.

If we had forced air ductwork, I’d look at a high-efficiency heat pump. There is an air-source option now available from Mitsubishi. The Zuba-Central both heats and cools, and unlike most air-source heat pumps sold in Canada, it’s able to run efficiently when it’s as cold as -30 degrees C outside. (It will work in lower temperatures, just not at the same efficiency level.) The Zuba-Central connects to your existing forced air infrastructure using an internal unit that replaces your furnace and an external unit that collects or sheds heat energy (depending on the season) via a coolant loop. I think it’s a great option – but for my home, I have to wait for a ductless version, since we only have radiators.

Of course, for those of you with suitable property, there are geothermal options. While these are typically $30,000 plus to install, they are very efficient.

To make geothermal or air-source heat pumps even greener, you could change your household electricity provider to Bullfrog Power (or another renewable energy provider). Then you’d be running a super-efficient furnace without burning any fossil fuels at all, effectively heating your home without a carbon impact. Wow!

To address our situation, my partner and I are evaluating on-demand hot-water systems that will power my household hot water and the radiators as well, perhaps fed by a solar hot water heater mounted on the roof. Or perhaps we could have ductwork installed in our attic. It’s not easy to retrofit an older home!

Are you trying to move to a greener home heating option?

September 16, 2009 at 11:01 AM 1 comment

Delicious local corn

corn_iStockphotoIt’s messy. It gets all over my fingers and in my teeth. It comes with a lot of waste material built in. It’s incredibly delicious.
Yes, it’s corn season again, and in spite of the cool weather, Ontario farmers have come up with some incredibly sweet cobs. (And, unlike in the grocery store, they don’t shrink wrap their cobs onto foam trays.)

While in the Frontenac Arch region of Eastern Ontario this weekend, I stopped by a roadside stand to pick up some fresh corn from the Kemptville area. I’d enjoyed some of this delish corn at my parents’ place the night before, so I knew it was great. Driving home to Toronto in my little hatchback, among heavy traffic, staring at tailpipes, I got to thinking about biofuels.

I can understand the controversy around using corn as fuel. After all, it’s fuel for our bodies, and it’s delicious. But what if we can use the husks and the spent cobs? Here’s an article showing that the U.S. Air Force is trying to develop such a fuel.

To help you enjoy the season’s bounty, here are some corn recipes from our Homemakers Test Kitchen at to get you beyond butter, salt and pepper. If you need to.

Black Bean and Corn Salsa
Corn and Canadian Cheddar Souffle
Spicy Grilled Corn on the Cob
Chipotle Corn, Green Beans and Sweet Peppers

What’s your favourite way to eat corn?

September 8, 2009 at 10:52 AM Leave a comment

Renewable energy: considerate energy?

We call solar and wind energy renewable energy, and sometimes clean energy. I’ve been out sailing for the past week, and it’s become clear to me that clean energy is a good name for it, and I’d go for considerate energy too.

While out moored in the beautiful Thousand Islands, I noted that boats of a size meant for sleeping in are equipped in one of two ways. They either have a mix of solar panels, high-efficiency solar lights, small wind generators and coolers with ice and dinghies with oars OR they have dinghies with outboard motors and they charge their batteries that power the lights, the fridge (and sometimes the stereo system) by running the boat’s engine. Some even have an extra generator on board for even more power. A few people have a mix of these accoutrements, but most seem to be of one school of thought or another.

Let me tell you, nothing shatters the peace of early morning in a beautifully natural island bay like someone’s outboard-powered dingy trip so rover can do his business on the island. Followed closely by the guttural sounds of a diesel engine kicking in, ready to power the coffee maker.       

I just hope that the next generation of boats are made with considerate power in mind. After all, hulls with built–in solar arrays would look neat, LED lighting is plenty bright for the cabin, and then there’s the freedom from the gas dock. For now, we outfit our boats ourselves. My partner has a relatively small but well-made solar panel that provides enough energy to power our phones and recharge our solar light. (We love the Sunnan lamp from IKEA – you take out the solar panel and leave it outdoors. At night its flexible arm provided all the light we needed inside the boat.) At night, conventional solar lights meant for the yard serve as mooring lights, emitting a soft glow from mid-mast and at the stern to ensure we’re visible – without blotting out the stars.

Have you seen clean energy replace an old way of powering things?

August 24, 2009 at 11:59 AM Leave a comment

Putting it all on the line. The clothesline that is!

ClotheslineI’m trying to imagine how clotheslines became so unsavory that, decades ago, municipal counsellors in many Canadian cities and towns decided to ban them. It seems odd that garments so acceptable when worn could be called an eyesore when hung outdoors. Perhaps it was glimpses of sexy lingerie that proved too hot for some to handle.

Last April, the Province of Ontario vetoed bans on clotheslines. Finally, some sanity! And although some subdivision developers complained for a day or two, likely dissidents figured it’s pretty hard to argue against something that saves a lot of energy (apparently five to six percent of domestic energy is consumed by dryers), thereby saving us a lot of greenhouse gas emissions and a good chunk of change to boot. And clotheslines work very well in getting clothes not only dry, but, if hung when they’re still fully damp, fairly wrinkle-free. The bonus: the sun’s UV light will destroy any micro-organisms in the fabric (particularly helpful with tea towels and cloth diapers).

For some, perhaps a clothesline sounds too simple. After all, we have high-tech machinery for this job. My dad calls his clothesline a “solar-powered clothes dryer.” Sound high-tech enough?

When I bought my first home last fall, one of my first home purchases was clothes pins, even though I didn’t intend to put clothes on the line in December. I was just excited to have a clothesline. I have a very efficient laundry machine (a washer-dryer in one) that spins most of the water right out of the clothes, so they dry very quickly. I often hang damp clothes around the house to dry, but I’ve enjoyed hanging some laundry on the line on warm, sunny days.

If you don’t want the classic reels and plastic-coated wire running across your yard, there are options. For the outdoors, there are extendable clotheslines you can mount on a fence or wall. Concerned about hanging your “unmentionables” within neighbours’ view? Consider a drying rack you can mount inside, like those from Laundry Lift.

Do you hang your clothes on the line? Is there anything you still like to put in your dryer?

May 6, 2009 at 12:12 PM 3 comments

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