Sustainable Energy and Efficiency

This information was published in Interior Wellness Magazine, Winter 2013. I am re-posting here as its still relevant as an overview for people wanting to better understand sustainable energy systems and how efficiency fits into the picture. Its the first part of a four-part series.

Sustainable energy is defined as “the sustainable provision of energy that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”. (Wikipedia. Accessed 2013.12.11).

Technologies that are typically considered to provide sustainable energy include those designed to improve energy efficiency as well as renewable energy technologies like solar energy, wind energy, tidal energy, wave power and hydroelectricity.

Residential scale and small commercial scale renewable energy technologies include things like solar electric panels (also called photovoltaics or PV), wind generators and micro or very small hydro electricity power sources. There is also solar hot water production, sometimes called solar thermal (not to be confused with concentrated solar thermal, a commercial‐scale hybrid form of solar electricity production).

Sustainable building technologies also form an important part of a sustainable energy future, as buildings use a significant amount of the energy we consume for heat, power and maintenance and in their construction and materials. Often unnoticed are water and waste processing technologies. It takes significant amounts of energy to clean, process and move the water that we use and “wastes” that we produce.

Why is Efficiency so important?
It costs money and energy to produce power, whether the power source is your BC Hydro or Fortis utility or your personal Solar, Wind or Water generator(s). It generally costs significantly more to produce power (to buy or build the equipment to do so) than it does to employ efficiency or reduction measures. This is an important concept.

Most North Americans and especially British Columbians, enjoy some of the most affordable power in the world and as such, we turn on, plug‐in and fire up our devices, lights, generators and vehicles, and leave them on, in the past, without a second thought.

Most utilities have helpful web pages with good efficiency information on them that are a great starting place and guide to participating more in practicing efficiency in your home or business. For utility‐connected customers, BC Hydro and Fortis BC also now offer online display of your account, so you can track your power usage in more detail very easily.

Natural Resources Canada also provides lots of great information on efficiency, as well as building science and other sustainability issues.