Monday, January 23, 2012

Greenpeace Comes a-Knockin', part I

The other evening, a couple of Greenpeace folks came to my door. I thought we were having an interesting discussion when, behind my back, the phone rang and I overheard one of my sons tell his father, "Mom's lecturing Greenpeace"...

OK. Maybe I was a little overbearing...

Seriously though, I have a hard time with Greenpeace. Yeah, they're sincere, young and naive, really. I have never joined this group because I have some serious reservations about some of their positions. Most importantly, I disagree strongly with their staunch anti-nuclear-power campaigns, even in places like India - a poor country where the lack of clean energy causes a lot of suffering in the form of serious respiratory disease.

They handed me a leaflet detailing Greenpeace's energy plan for Canada, and the young man told me that, really, the way forward was solar photovoltaics and geothermal (by this he meant ground-based heat pumps, not boring 2km down to tap mantle heat).


For starters, most of our fossil fuel use is for transportation. I can't drive a car on either technology above. So how this energy plan would alleviate our dependence on oil is not clear to me. And it wouldn't help with the battle over the tarsands and natural gas extraction, most of which we sell to foreign markets, either. But anyways...let's have a look at the suggestion that solar PV can work in BC. Some later post will cover the geothermal part.

For those who don't want to read the full post:

Solar PV is completely uneconomic in Canada. It doesn't cut it in Germany and won't do it here either.

Let me cost it out:

You blanket your entire roof (25m2) with 15 solar panels at a cost of about $15,000, plus installation (let's say, another $5k). This is a 3kW system, tied into the grid (a standalone system with batteries is much more expensive). Such a system will provide about 3000kWh in a year, in Vancouver (that's assuming no shading). Over the 25 year life, you'll therefore be paying (very roughly - I'm not including financing or anything here) $800 per year for those 3000kWh. That is a cost of $0.25 per kWh for the electrons. This is three times what BC Hydro charges me today for water-generated electrons. The 3000kWh, by the way, won't run your entire house. It will cover your lighting and hot water needs only. It won't refrigerate your food, or cool your house, or run your computer. You'd need to cover your back and front yards with solar panels to get those powered as well.  If you're heating with baseboards, then you'll need your neighbour's roof and both yards too.

So I guess the message here is, yes, we could (maybe*) stop Site C if we instead started blanketing suburbia with solar panels. But doing so would increase electricity rates considerably; if we installed enough solar panels to cover 30% of our electricty needs, it'd result in a 60% increase on everyone's bill. And while panel prices have decreased (about 45% over the last 10 years) it will be a long while before solar PV is competitive with hydro here in BC. And the kicker: installing solar PV here in BC won't stop our natural gas and coal exports, and won't stop the tar sands either. It just makes our electricity more expensive. So why should I support this?

I support renewable energy, as long as it demonstrably displaces fossil fuel use. But putting solar panels on every roof in BC would not. In fact it would likely do the opposite, because solar panels require fossil fuels for their manufacture and installation.

We live in an energy-hungry world. Because we have a source of transportable fossil fuels (coal, bitumen-laden sand, and natural gas), we can make a lot of money selling these to overseas customers. The problem is, the profit from these sales doesn't go into creating any forward-looking infrastructure. It just goes into building highways and further entrenching a doomed auto-culture.

*stopping site C is hard, because it's likely that most of the electricity generated by this dam will be used by natural-gas-compression plants in Kitimat. In other words, residential demand is not what is driving site C, and any residential reductions would be sold to industrial users.

1 comment:

  1. That's why Founder Patrick Moore left. Sigh. As urban Planners these days have come to accept that 'Climate Change' is indeed caused by humans, It leaves me in the minority wondering just what will happen when 'Global Warming' is proven wrong, and It is called something like the 'Global Warning' or 'Global Joke'.