Response to Local Energy Research Questions

Email from Niall Parker (in response to Energy Research Questions from Zorah Staar):

Question 1: If a Pender homeowner with average Pender sun and wind had about $5,000 to spend on energy projects, what should they spend it on?  My tentative answer [from Zorah Staar]: ½ on energy conservation (e.g. better insulation), and ½ on a do-it-yourself solar water heating system, like the ones described at sites like this: Build it Solar: Solar Water Heating (Basics/Do-It-Yourself).

Response from Niall: Those are good ideas, if it hasn’t already been done I’d recommend a home energy assessment (~$300) before anything else, as well as power meters and a review of hydro bills. Solar thermal gives good bang for buck but many houses on Pender aren’t very well suited (then again even a simple boost can drop the electricity requirements a lot, electric hot water is probably our biggest power draw). Also an emergency lighting system (LEDs, battery and moderate (80-100W) PV panel) would make a big difference if power cuts are common (not quite the ambience of candles but safer and no fossil fuels)

Question 2: If a Pender homeowner with average Pender sun and wind had about $25,000 to spend on energy projects, what should they spend it on?  My tentative answer: 1/2 on energy conservation (multiple projects, after an assessment); 1/4 or less on a solar hot water heating system; and the remainder ¼ or more on a solar photovoltaic system to power a DC freezer, some lights, and/or a new DC well pump?  Or should they forget photovoltaic-driven pumps or freezers, and instead install rainwater catchment and a gravity-feed cistern (plus learn to can and dry food), and/or buy an electric scooter or some hybrid electric/pedal bicycles with any money left?

Some form of alternative transportation fits here (or above, depends on whether a (e)bike is suitable. How much conservation can be achieved should be evaluated before spending a lot more on it. As above, metering is a useful diagnostic and educational tool, behaviours about shower lengths, using lights, computers,  TV’s etc can have a big impact for some households, while others may find they are already at a pretty low baseline. PV powered fridges are a good idea and help maintain our current lifestyle, though as you point out, greater economies can be found by ditching fridges/freezers completely. Canning by itself can chew up electrical power, likewise for food drying (if electrical driers are used). Metering a batch is educational (our dryer takes ~$1 per load) but timing the process can make use of waste heat.

Local power generation projects in general should maximize the efficiencies of combined heat and power, waste heat from electrical generation (solar thermal or bio-fuel) can heat houses and domestic hot water.

Question 3:  If our Pender community could get a $500,000 infrastructure grant for an energy project, what should we do:A.  Refit (and possibly expand) an existing *Pender community or reception centre (like the Community Hall or Anglican Parish Hall or elsewhere), to include useful renewable energy features like solar hot water heating; solar photovoltaics for water pumping, refrigeration, emergency lighting? plus other energy and community-supporting features, that would help us now, during times of energy constraint, and during full-blown community emergencies? (including potential extended power failures)

Probably A.  Great utility to be had by a community site with independent power.

B.  Install a system at a community site to *ferment organic waste material to make ethyl alcohol/ethanol to run Pender cars (see “BioGas link at (bottom of page)?

Not familiar with this, sounds plausible but its real utility needs further study … how much fuel do we use now, how much to we need for emergency services, how much can we save if we moved to a communal delivery model for big stuff (letting people move by foot/bike/???).  I suspect only a tiny fraction of our existing fuel consumption could be
covered, and the energy for the production needs to come from local sources, what do we do with waste streams etc.

C.  Install one big wind turbine or some smaller turbines (e.g. vertical  axis?) at the windiest community site or sites where it would be useful to do this?

Really need a site survey, locally we have very gusty winds and I suspect big system would be more likely to break. Smaller turbines at various points in the community could be very useful in the winter period.

D.  Install a bunch of community solar photovoltaic panels at the sunniest community site or sites where it would be useful to do this?  (Note: These last two projects could be by forming a community energy coop).

Site survey again.

E.  None of the above? What else instead?  You can tell from this that I don’t think micro-hydro/run of the river, tidal, or geothermal have any real application here.  However, many of you are more the experts than me. I am just trying to gather useful information into the centre. 

I think it would be useful to estimate the energy currently lost in bonfires/land clearing/etc. and whether a local thermal plant could derive some electricity from it (keeping in mind transportation and processing costs), probably in conjunction with waste heat recovery for district heating.  Zoning issues come into this, a contentious point for some. Our island produces some tonnage of plant matter every year (think of it as natural solar collectors) and long term balancing used to involve forest fires … too crowded for that now but we could certainly keep ourselves warm. Estimate how much pollution we could expect from a central facility burning wood/brush (with emission controls etc., maybe short term CO2 sequestration for greenhouses), compare with the current open burning.

It would be useful to catalog what streams we have, what their peak, average, min flows would be. There will always be some runoff and during a time that solar output is low. Even just quantifying and shelving the data is important without any exploitation.  Tidal, I agree it is minimal with probably too much habitat interference for anything significant.
Geothermal, not likely though ground (or ocean) source heat pumps could complement any of the existing heating systems.

My apologies for my limited input and thanks for keeping the project moving !

Niall Parker

April 1, 2011