The term ‘negawatts’ was coined by the chief scientist at the Rocky Mountain Institute Amory Lovins in 1989, and is little more than a simple concept with a catchy name. It is a play off ‘megawatts’ the standard unit of description when talking about energy generation and is meant to remind us that not needing energy in the first place is far more important than how we produce energy. It stuck despite seeming extremely obvious, because the idea was a long ignored facet of energy policy discussions. This is no longer the case however, in Ontario the name of the game has become conservation with millions of dollars in public campaigns and millions more for incentive and trade in programs to talk to the public about reducing the need for producing more energy.
This can’t entirely be said to be the product of ‘green hearts’ in government however, in Ontario we have a huge backlog of ageing infrastructure which has increasingly become a concern for public policy. Since 1991 there has been at least four major power outages in Ontario affecting at least a million customers, not the least of which was due to a major ice storm this past winter. Reducing power demand, as the government has discovered is far cheaper than increasing production, even without the environmental issues surrounding coal and gas.
Recent publications by the Ontario Ministry of Energy spend much of their time promoting the cost savings of conservation. The report Conservation First: A Renewed Vision for Energy Conservation in Ontario goes over this in great detail, and if by no other measure can be assessed by the fact that they somehow manage to use the word ‘conservation’ 135 times in 17 pages. Additionally they point out that a dollar spent on conservation saves two in production costs, it’s pretty hard to argue with that regardless of your ideological or political preferences.
Much of this is not new information to home owners and renters alike who are reminded of the cost of they’re energy habits in a quantifiable dollar value on often a bi-monthly basis. Many Ontarians have participated with trade-in programs for electronics, participated in the retrofit programs or even directly participated in the micro-FIT program to produce their own power directly. These are good policies that help the environment as well as reduce costs to consumers and should be applauded by environmentalists and policy-makers alike. The key factor that has been missing from this discussion so far, and relies on citizens at least as much if not more so than on government is what should this teach us about moving forward with energy policy in Ontario as well as the rest of the world?
Despite all the green energy and conservation programs in Ontario, nuclear energy is still the ‘backbone’ of Ontario’s energy generation (56% as of November 2013). Quite honestly this is the only reason the government is able to follow through on its promise to eliminate coal in Ontario by the end of this year. More than likely, Ontario’s nuclear backbone is the only reason it even made that promise in the first place. Nuclear has many of its own problems from an environmental perspective even with its ‘low carbon footprint’, but whether we like it or not from a pure logistical perspective it would seem that we are stuck with it. At least the time being (more in a future article).
We will still need to use ‘base-load’ power sources like nuclear in Ontario for the foreseeable future, even if we succeed in convincing the general public that it should ultimately be moved away from as fast as possible. We should start planning now for the future we want to build, to avoid the mistakes of the past. Distributed energy systems are the future of the energy production system because of the stability that distributed systems, the resiliency that comes from a wide range of input sources, as well as for security reasons.
We need only to look at Fukushima or the twin towers in New York to imagine what could go wrong if we ever make a mistake much less someone actively seeking to harm us, and we only need to be wrong once. Scarier still, a report by the Wall St. Journal earlier this month showed how only 9 of the USA’s 55,000 power substations were knocked out (by accident or intentionally) that the entire continental USA would be without power… for months. (Read the article here, or check out a short TYT video report here)
For now, we should simply be thinking about what the benefits and costs of centralized energy systems are in general as a concept as we continue to reinvest massive resources into our energy systems both at home and at a provincial level. With small scale distributed alternative energy coming on-line all across the province we are being presented with an opportunity to completely reshape the way we think about power. Here are some of the best reasons we should not just reduce consumption, but overhaul how we even think about generating and using power in the first place.
- Building designs are now available that can produce much, if not most of their own energy
- Distributed generation offers more overall resiliency and redundancy in the event of an emergency
- Citizen owned power reduces cost and helps to educate by putting the power and responsibility in the hands of the users.
- Democratizes the power system and the way we use it.
- Earn money for investing in energy rather than just trying to reduce cost
- Clean energy looks sexier than power plants
- Encourages neighborhood and community cohesion (co-operative power sharing and resources)
- Keeps money invested in communities
The revolution still starts at home, and the first step is to do what we can where we live and then talk to others about how we can make the best way forward. For this reason we recommend that you come to this workshop in Toronto, hosted by Transition Toronto at the amazing Toronto Tool Library on April 5th from 1pm-3pm. There you can learn how you can save yourself some money now and down the road, as well as meet some other awesome people to talk to about what future we want to build together. Literally.
Learn about energy efficiency in your home on April 5th. Visit Transition Toronto’s event page.
Hope to see you there!
To learn more about Transition Toronto (the presenters): http://transitiontoronto.ning.com/
To learn more about the Toronto Tool Library (the event hosts): http://torontotoollibrary.com/
Daryn Caister – Host and Green Majority Media Principal