Solar Retrofit Part 6: Roof Reinforcements

The solar collectors on my house will not be parallel to the roof but will stand up at an angle of approximately 40 degrees.  With some of the recent wind storms around Edmonton and other places in Alberta I've been quite concerned about my house if one of those storms hits again after the collectors are up.  read more... »

Natural Gas and Hard Limits

North American Natural Gas Production as of 2002


"It’s not that hard to predict what will happen in the future (I will die; Fifi, my son Fallon’s stuffed orca, will eventually need restuffing, etc.) but it is very hard to predict with any accuracy when things will happen."

Robert X. Cringely (in a recent blog post)


In 2003, the AUMA held a conference called the Alberta Municipal Energy Efficiency & Greenhouse Gas Conference. I always laughed at the title, because the real reason we were all there was high natural gas prices. "Expensive Natural Gas Conference" would have been more accurate, as prices exploded circa 2000, and suddenly we cared about greenhouse gases.

Conventional natural gas production (ie. the old, easy way to produce gas) in North America has been on the wane for some time now. It has most probably peaked and will continue its decline forever. This fact led many, including myself, to be alarmed at the prospects for natural gas going forward. I asked myself "how will the hundreds of thousands of energy-hungry houses and buildings stay warm in 2030?" I think that everyone should be concerned about the availability of finite resources instead of assuming that someone else will figure it out for us.

Unfortunately for the climate, a resource called shale gas has come into play over the past few years. Apparently there is a lot of it, and it is being brought on stream in large quantities. So the price of natural gas has dipped significantly, and the pundits are starting to talk about gas as a major player in North America for the next long while. While there are many unanswered questions about shale gas (such as how much energy is needed to get it out of the ground and the steep rate of well depletion), it seems that a continent-wide snooze button has been pressed on the subject of heating our homes and fuelling our industry with a depleting, finite resource.

We waste what is cheap, so cheap energy is bad news on many fronts. Interest in green building will decline, investments in renewable energy will be less than they would have been with pricier gas.

It’s frustrating that the apparent near-term abundance of natural gas will keep so many people apathetic about energy. Yet every day we approach the physical limits of growth. It’s not hard to predict that we will hit them. It’s not even hard to predict that we will hit them soon. What is hard is to get people to care when the price signal isn’t there, and when we have just bought ourselves another few years of complacency on the natural gas front.

Of course, peak oil is another story entirely.

Phantom Load (or, How Not To Live In Caves)

The new microwave in the Mill Creek NetZero Home tries to burn 35 Kg of coal every year to display the time.

When discussing the environment with non-converts, the debate often degenerates to someone commenting “you want us to go back to living in caves”. The sentiment reveals a shocking but widespread ignorance about the vast quantities of energy and materials that we squander. Energy is cheap and ubiquitous, and it seems that humans are doomed to waste whatever is abundant.

The answer to the living in caves comment is that we could reduce our materials and energy consumption by 50% in a heartbeat without touching our standard of living. In fact, we could reduce consumption by over 90% and still live better than kings and emperors did 300 years ago. (Yes, monster truck rallies would have to go. If by “living in caves” you mean “stop driving my Hummer around while Tweeting on my cell phone”, then I stand corrected.)

The microwave at the top of page is state-of-the-art; we purchased it this year from IKEA, a company that makes claims of environmental responsibility. The problem is, it draws four Watts of electricity, all the time, day or night. The useful work that it manages to produce out of the 100 grams of dirty coal that it needs every day is to display a digital clock.  Quick! Raise your hand if you need another clock in your house!  read more... »

MCNZH - Progress (part 7) - stucco, hardwood, moving in


The Mill Creek NetZero Home is substantially completed.

The stucco is finished on the outside. We went with a cement-based stucco because of its looks and durability.

Peter Amerongen built a brick wall behind the wood burner. We used the bricks from the foundation of the house that used to be standing on the property. This wall adds more thermal mass (to capture both solar and wood heat) to the house, as well as a bit of history.

IMG_1980  read more... »