Renewable Energy Road Trip to Canada
Feb 28, 2014
by EmPower Solar
While solar power will continue to dominate in the New York market due to high electricity bills and our abundance of sun, regional solutions are the best options when considering renewable resource utilization. This was brought to light even more so when an EmPower employee took a road trip to visit friends living north and witnessed the diverse power solutions adopted in different areas.
By: Ryan Quinn, EmPower Solar Designer
After working day in and day out to provide customers with the best designed and engineered solar energy systems, I sometimes forget about the plethora of sustainable energy technologies making sizable contributions to our nation’s energy mix. On a recent trip to visit friends in Montreal, Quebec, I had the opportunity to see this broad spectrum of renewable energy technologies deployed outside of the New York metro area.
On my drive through the mountains of Massachusetts and Vermont, I saw several sustainable biomass heating projects advertised at rest stops. While many people associate biomass heating with smoky chimneys and greenhouse gases, truth is that biomass heating continues to be responsible for displacing a sizable amount of fossil fuel consumption and a reduction in greenhouse gases. After seeing a few in operation, I was reminded that biomass heaters can be just as quiet and clean as traditional fossil fuel heaters, which makes them hard to notice.
But don’t be fooled – businesses, homes, and schools that were heated by oil and gas throughout the 20th century have been making the switch to wood-based heating technologies for many years. This switch across the Northeastern U.S. has been attributed to its economic advantage as a locally harvested and processed fuel source, providing jobs and sustainable energy to local economies. It’s continued rise has also helped it become a less expensive fuel source than its fossil fuel competition.
Crossing over the Canadian border into Quebec’s prairie-like landscape, both residential and commercial-scale wind turbines peppered the landscape. Strong winds cross these flat lands almost year-round allowing homes and businesses to generate electrical energy and feed excess to the grid, just as Long Island residents do with solar energy.
Watching these turbines rotate in the distance made me wonder why Long Island has not made a push to deploy this technology en masse. It would not only provide local jobs, but it’s carbon-free electricity could provide affordable energy for thousands of homes and businesses. While many debate the aesthetics of large wind turbines, I certainly think they are more attractive than fossil fuel plants like the Barrett Power Substation in Island Park, N.Y.
The Montreal Biodome
After arriving in Quebec’s capital, I toured Montreal’s Biodome, an indoor conglomeration of five different environments including tropical rainforest, Laurentian maple forest, Gulf of St. Lawrence, Labrador Coast, and sub-Antarctic islands with each environment’s native plant and animal life to view. The display served as a reminders of the millions of different plants and animals that share the environment with us.
In this spirit, the Biodome showcased its recent upgrades in energy efficient lighting, heating, and cooling, and was able to reduce its carbon emissions by 30% with geothermal heat pumps. The Biodome’s geothermal energy system also provides carbon-free heating and cooling with a system of pipes, pumps, and fans. It does this by pumping water down over 500 feet into the ground where it either heats up (in the winter) or cools down (in the summer). As it returns to ground level, a system of fans and vents takes the warmer or cooler energy and delivers it to the building.
The last few days I spent in Montreal, I observed many advertisements for Quebec’s major utility — Hydro Quebec. After talking to locals, and taking a quick look at the company’s website, I learned that the utility generates close to 100% of its electricity using carbon-free hydro power.
The utility takes advantage of the natural movement of water in rivers, capturing that energy using turbines, and delivering it to its customers for their everyday energy demands. The rest is supplemented by large wind farms installed across the province. Asking a few of my younger friends how they felt about living in a city that is so well supplied with clean energy, I wasn’t surprised to hear how important it was to them.
Climate change and dependence on environmentally-degrading fossil fuel technologies is an issue that resonates with today’s younger generations. We see entire provinces like Quebec, and a major city like Montreal (larger than cities like Philadelphia, Phoenix, and San Diego) being supplied almost entirely with clean electricity, and wonder why we can’t do the same where we live.
While there has been a very strong effort by the New York electrical utilities, and various levels of government to deploy solar energy technologies across the area, this trip reminded me of the many other clean energy technologies we need to deploy.
Wind, biomass, and hydro and geothermal energy are all available options to use in our area, and we at EmPower Solar will continue to advocate for these energy technologies. In the meantime, we encourage everyone to see how they can invest in clean energy by looking to solar and beyond.