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Energy Connections 2017 - The Day It All Happened (Part 2)

Marco Sanelli
Thursday, March 23, 2017

This is Part Two of a two-part summary of Energy Connections 2017. Click here to read Part One!

Session 2 – Renewable Energy Success Stories

imgp8171.jpg“Power to the people” is how Andrew Moore defines the essence of T’sou-ke Nation Solar Project, the vision being to make communities more autonomous and self-sufficient. The project incorporates a suite of solar options to produce electricity and hot water.

The installers were asked by the band to train at least 12 members and to then employ them to do the job. Ecotourism comprises a significant activity in the band with over 2000 people every year involved with workshops and conservation initiatives. Of the many opportunities that come with such a project there are reduced energy bills for the members, energy autonomy, training and jobs, sustainable development, and education and outreach.

imgp8177.jpgIan Gartshore, of Shore Energy Solutions, opened his speech with a success story in which Vancouver Island residents opposed and blocked the development of natural gas facilities on the island. “That is how Energy Solutions got started, I did not want to be always opposing things”. After visiting the T’sou-ke Nation Solar Project, Ian and Scot Merriam realized the potential in solar energy, specifically largest scale solar projects.

imgp8212.jpgScot Merriam of SRM Projects spoke next, explaining how businesses, financial experts, mechanical engineers and scientists came together to create a Co-op on Vancouver Island. The initial concept was to provide free assessment to interested community partners to demonstrate the value solar can bring to businesses. Now the Co-op has grown, with interest from across Southern Vancouver Island. Scot ended his presentation with some lessons learnt: the near shading obstructions need to be considered in analysis, structural aspects of solar racking, and the production of standards.

imgp8240.jpg“How many people think of themselves as a renewable source of energy?” Jeff Weston, President of Thermenex began his presentation with the concept that we are all sources of energy, and dove straight into the concept of exergy. Jeff realized that the quality of exergy is dependent on temperature: something that has high temperature has high exergy (i.e. electricity), therefore to preserve exergy one has to drop temperature. His discovery has been endorsed by UBC, with exergy technology in four of their buildings – to remarkable success! The City of Coquitlam are now seeking his help to reduce 40% of their emissions.

imgp8243.jpgThe discussion was kicked off with Betsy Agar’s question regarding BC’s rationale for solar when it is already powered by 98% renewable hydro. Andrew answered this question by mentioning that the key to renewables is conservation and changing habits. Scot brought up that distributed energy that is generating power wherever you use it, instead of remotely will be beneficial to BC and should be encouraged. Furthermore, political appetite is necessary to bring about changes in policies which would make the financial basis for solar energy more attractive.

Session 3 – Energy Efficiency and Conservation Success Stories

imgp8415.jpgFirst we heard from Amy Hennessy of Empower Me. She explained that Empower Me is an energy efficiency behaviour change program aimed at newcomers to Canada. The program aims to ensure that everybody has access to energy and conservation information regardless of language. An Empower Me visit starts with a conversation about energy use and comfort in the home, followed by a home energy tour from an energy perspective. The mentors show homeowners what they can do by themselves to reduce consumption in their homes by identifying concrete solutions and providing much needed context about the homeowner’s energy systems. In 2016, the program empowered almost 5000 people, therefore leading to powerful behavioural change for the better.

imgp8421.jpgIn her speech, Andrea Linsky, Program Head of BCIT's Sustainable Energy Management program, presented various project case studies in the Factor Four initiative, through which students receive first-hand experience in the field of energy and conservation. The work on the initiative can be organized into 3 components: energy, materials, and restoration. The project is aiming to reduce 25% of 2009 building energy levels through projects promoting energy efficiency and producing energy through renewable sources. The Factor Four building improvements also strive to improve the ecological health of the area, making the area into a “living lab of sustainability”. The initiative is half way through its objective and has done so mainly through energy conservation.

Andrea gave three examples of projects the initiative has been successful with. The welding ventilation project included a booth by booth demand control system where ventilation times were reduced to save energy, specifically 6500 GJ of natural gas and 80,000 kW hours of electricity per year. The second project involved an agreement between the energy management and facilities to have free building controls and automation software for energy analytics to be developed and for both groups to benefit from. The third project is the biomass initiative that uses local wood waste to heat buildings.

The message Andrea conveyed to the audience was the importance of creating a story; a story that you can take to the community and different stakeholders to get the buy-in that you need.

imgp8411.jpgPresident and CEO of Community Power, Areef Abraham, took to the stand next, with a presentation on Community Power. Community Power has been working with 60 First Nations within the past 10 years, mostly focusing on remote community energy and efficiency enhancements. Areef emphasized the importance of community energy stewardship in establishing energy security, which is where Community Power plays a pivotal role. “Energy efficiency is not an individual event, it’s a process”. The work involves various activities such as housing assessments, retrofits, upgrades, energy stewardship training as well as monitoring and reporting. Areef stressed the importance of quantifiable results in demonstrating the benefits of energy and efficiency, and for that to happen baselines need to be established and ongoing monitoring is crucial.

Areef described a success story in the Kwadacha Nation, a nation that had been displaced in the 1960s by the development of a reservoir. The community is faced by high food prices,  expensive electrical bills, and has relied on diesel for a long time. “We cannot tackle energy efficiency issues, particularly in First Nations communities, without tackling the housing issues”. After assessments were completed, the average savings were 5000$ per house per year; the key to their success was in diagnosing the issues, picking priorities, and making the necessary enhancements. The organization is working with several communities to significantly reduce energy demands to ultimately eliminate the need for diesel, and gradually reduce the diesel deficit in these communities.

“Our role is to bring the pieces together; every component is living in their own silo: the funding, technology, various levels of governments and BC Hydro. We need to bring the pieces together, pull all the resources together to make some big differences”. “The trick is to develop accurate and incredible forecasting, to be able to deliver results with the aim of helping communities achieve energy security”.

imgp8364.jpgMichael Pullinger, Principal of Energy Revolution Services, the moderator for this session, started off the discussion by pointing out that the major roadblock to the energy conservation isn’t the technology or the business case; instead the roadblock lies in encouraging people to justify the upfront costs for the longer term savings. Andrea brought up the importance of speaking the language of the people you are working with. Areef pointed out how we are not very good at communicating the business case to people, especially in the residential sector. The issue of split incentives came up in which “individuals who want to take action are not the ones paying for the utility”.

Areef brought up the story of a young Iranian woman with a background in chemical engineering. She had worked for the environmental protection agency in Iran, promoting energy efficiency to industry members. Moving to Vancouver, she resorted to working in a shoe store, unable to apply the skills she had been trained in. Through the Empower Me program she became a mentor and eventually became the energy modeller for Community Power.

A question from the audience brought up the lack of skilled labour and the issue of getting unbiased and independent assessments from the utilities. Andrea answered this question by mentioning the online BCIT programs that are currently available for commercial building upgrades, and the current high performance construction training curriculum to be able to retrain the existing trades to adjust to net zero building construction. Areef brought up that independent advice is not being nurtured in our province and nationally and is currently discouraged by utilities. The final remarks of Session Three included very optimistic outlooks into the future of energy conservation. “We have to incorporate energy efficiency into everyday living,” concluded Areef.

Session 4 – Building Your Community of Action

imgp8587.jpgThe moderator for our final session, Regional Director of the Pembina Institute Josha MacNab gave an enlightening opening speech on the importance of communication in the transition to clean energy. “We don’t paint a very good picture of where we are going, in a lot of ways we are asking people to jump off a cliff with us, because we know this is the right thing to do and we are very convicted and passionate about that”. Josha highlighted the importance of working on solutions and what we want to see happen as a critical component to a clean economy. While we have a solid grasp on technical solutions, we need to work on gathering all stakeholders towards forging those solutions.

“The reality is that it’s too risky for us to not move forward and economically speaking we need to be leading the clean energy economy”. Josha mentioned that in her decade of experience she has seen so much innovation and solutions being forged at the local level. How do we continue to empower innovation at the local level, and how do we create engaged communities passionate about the renewable energy transition? Answering these questions will be the focus of the fourth and final session.

imgp8687.jpgBen West then presented his inspiring path to organizing the first Great Climate Race. “I’ve worked most of my adult life as a climate campaigner for different environmental NGOs, for a long time I’ve had a set of slides at the end of my presentations about renewable energy and the solutions; I’ve always wanted to go beyond those few set of slides and contribute to making those solutions a reality”. The motivation behind the fundraiser was to raise money for solar projects and non-profits. “We wanted to create allies in other sectors who might not see themselves as being connected to the environmental movement; we wanted to make solutions to climate change more concrete, more specific, and more local”.

imgp8643.jpgNext, Christine Carter gave some background information on her company, Bullfrog Power and her position as Director of BC Sales and Marketing. She explained that Bullfrog Power is one of Canada’s major green energy providers, working with homes and businesses to provide them a way to support renewable energy projects; the company matches the consumption of electricity, natural gas, or fuel with renewable energy that is injected back into the respective system on their behalf. The participants will pay a Bullfrog bill which is collected on a month to month basis and pooled to support community based renewable projects. She then explained the different projects they are involved in throughout BC.

imgp8669.jpgKai Nagata, Communications Director with the Dogwood Initiative was the day’s final speaker. Kai’s invigorating speech addressed the current barriers to clean energy as well as the political climate we find ourselves in. In 2016, Dogwood launched its campaign called “Ban Big Money” that targets corporate, union, and foreign donations in politics at the municipal and provincial level in BC. Kai’s speech centered on the importance of political will in order to promote a clean energy economy. He gave the audience a rundown of the major donors to the current governing body in BC including real estate dealers, oil and gas companies and automobile companies. Kai mentioned that BC has no limit on foreign municipal or provincial corporate donations. The solution proposed by Kai lies in the organization of “people power”, especially during the current window of opportunity to shake up the system in the upcoming two months before election day.

Josha kicked off the discussion with a question; “what needs to change in the BC government to be more supportive in advancing the green economy?” Ben West suggested we make renewable energy technology and opportunities more tangible and and specific. “I for one would love to see the parties demonstrating who can promote renewable energy better, instead of fighting over whether it should be happening at all”. Kai pointed out that citizens of BC are feeling a sense of precariousness and economic insecurity; “these feeling are being created by the political class and entrenched corporate interests. Politicians response has been to promote jobs and growth, therefore targeting that sense of insecurity”. Kai suggests there is a need to draw the connection between the sense of insecurity they feel and the current policy environment, and a need to motivate citizens to look beyond that insecurity.

imgp8728.jpgQuestions from the audience were raised regarding the type of projects that are eligible for funding by Bullfrog Power. Members of the audience pointed out relevant election initiatives such as the BCSEA Victoria Chapter live debates on energy issues, and the BCSEA Vancouver Chapter questionnaires to local party candidates and party platform grading schemes which will be both available online soon.

Later on in the discussion, Ben brought up that people’s sense of hope can be beneficial to clean energy, because clean energy provides that hope. Emphasis was put on finding low hanging fruit in engaging citizens in the renewable energy discourse.

Another great question from the audience regarded what kind of stories we should be telling our neighbours and friends when trying to engage them in the clean energy revolution. Ben’s answer: “listening is an important part, figuring out what really matters to people and finding that common ground”. Another connection was drawn by Christie regarding current and future generations and the threats of climate change; “everyone can relate to the people that they love”. Josha weighed into the discussion “decoupling renewable energy and climate change may be our best bet, we need to talk to people in a language they understand and need harness instincts like the insecurities Kai was talking about, provide answers to the problems people face and not the problems that we see. It is hard to decouple those things because that’s a lot of what motivates a lot of us in this room, but it’s not always the right frame because the issue has become so politically polarized”.

So concluded the day, in which hundreds of progressive thinkers, renewable energy enthusiasts and business owners united to discuss the future of BC's renewable energy industry, sustainable action and climate change. We hope you'll join us next year for Energy Connections 2018!