Energy Efficiency

How changing the lightbulbs spurred local sports tourism in Olds

THIS STORY IS PART OF OUR SERIES ON MUNICIPALITIES IN TRANSITION. While provincial and federal governments often make wide-ranging policies on carbon pollution, energy efficiency and renewable energy, it is at the municipal level where these changes take hold and affect people’s day-to-day lives. These changes provide local jobs, save money for local businesses and improve the quality of local services. These are the stories of how the energy transition affects everyday Albertans.


How changing the lightbulbs spurred local sports tourism in Olds

How many lightbulbs does it take to change a town? In the case of Olds, Alta., the answer is 20.

“We’ve attracted a lot of attention, because the curling ice is so crisp and clear with the new lights,” said Larry Wright, strategy and technology officer of economic development for the Town of Olds. “We have curlers come from all over to use the space.”

Five years ago, Wright suggested swapping out the lights at the Olds Curling Club for energy-efficient LEDs. Before the retrofit, curlers complained about dark corners of the rink and shadows on the ice, making it difficult to accurately throw the rocks. An avid curler himself, Wright knew the rink needed upgrades before it would be considered to host any big curling events. And choosing an option that improved curling conditions while reducing energy consumption was a no brainer. 

“We really needed to think ahead on our energy consumption, because the operating costs are obviously going up,” said Wright. “And, people are becoming more aware of our environment.”

Funded in part by the Municipal Climate Change Action Centre’s (MCCAC) – an organization that provides funding and support to Alberta municipalities addressing climate change – through the Taking Action to Manage Energy program, the Olds Curling Rink Efficient Lighting retrofit reduces the rink’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 18 tonnes and saves over 27,000 kilowatt hours of energy per year.

This simple upgrade really kick-started some changes and got everyone thinking about things we can do to improve our energy consumption.
— Larry Wright, Economic Development, Town of Olds

It also saves the club $1,670 annually. But that is just a nice bonus. The real payoff? According to Wright, the LED upgrade has kickstarted the town’s sports tourism.

Olds will be hosting the 2020 Humpty’s Champions Cup next May – a world curling event which caps next season’s Grand Slam of Curling tour and bring the top-ranked curling men’s and women’s teams in the world to Olds for the first time.

In addition, last year, more than 2,000 people came to town to participate in Olds Sports Day, an event run in support of the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer, where people could learn about and experience the different sports showcased at the games – curling included.

And locally, there is now a waiting list for companies wanting to advertise inside the rink.

“The project has been a chain reaction, which is exactly what you want,” said Wright, adding the updates to the curling club were just the beginning.

In Olds, there is now a waiting list for companies wanting to advertise inside the rink, after lighting upgrades made it possible for the facility to host international events.

In Olds, there is now a waiting list for companies wanting to advertise inside the rink, after lighting upgrades made it possible for the facility to host international events.

Since the completion of the project in 2017, Wright said the renovation has not only spurred local sports tourism, but it has acted as a catalyst for other clean energy changes to the rink and around town.

After changing the rink lighting, the curling club executive, along with the Town of Olds, began looking at other improvements they could make to the facility. Soon after, the lights in the kitchen, lounge and changerooms were also upgraded to LEDs.

Further, after receiving a donation from local grain company Richardson Pioneer, the curling club upgraded the kitchen equipment, electrical wiring and PA system, as well as put in new carpet in the lounge area and purchased new chairs.

In 2017, town council approved a FortisAlberta proposal to replace the municipality’s street lights with LED lights, bringing additional cost and energy savings to the town.

“We’re a very progressive, innovative community, and we’re starting to think about the whole, big energy picture,” said Wright.

Wright said small changes are feasible for municipalities looking to cut back on energy consumption and save money.

In addition to Olds, MCCAC has partially funded two other curling club renovations in Alberta. 

The Vulcan Curling Club added energy efficient lighting and installed weather-stripping along exterior doors and windows – saving $3,180 a year.

At the Viking Multiplex & Curling Club, upgrades to the lighting and furnaces, plus the addition of three programmable thermostats, saves the club $1,690 a year.

“It’s about trying to get the public to understand what the change is, why we’re doing it, and what the benefits are,” said Wright. “This simple upgrade really kick-started some changes and got everyone thinking about things we can do to improve our energy consumption.”

The Courtyard Project: YWCA’s sustainable answer to affordable housing


The Courtyard Project: YWCA’s sustainable answer to affordable housing

Stephen Crotty believes affordable housing should be as safe and healthy as other homes.

“Even though you’re in a housing project, it doesn’t mean it can’t be held to a really high standard, and be efficient in the long run,” said Crotty, chief operating officer on the Courtyard Project, the YWCA’s latest sustainable response to Banff’s chronic housing shortage.

Funded in part by the provincial government, as well as the federal government’s National Housing Strategy’s Housing Innovation Fund, the Courtyard Project will expand the Banff YWCA’s affordable rental housing inventory by creating a net-zero neighbourhood – where the amount of energy used on an annual basis is roughly equivalent to the amount of renewable energy generated on site – within its existing land footprint. 

A 2012 Banff Housing Study identified an estimated shortage of 440 to 730 units in the town, with the lack of available lands being a key challenge in overcoming the shortage. Since the Town of Banff is in a national park, there are construction limitations to building projects, including height and space restrictions. 

The Courtyard Project will piggyback off the YWCA’s current 80 affordable housing units in Banff, but with a common kitchen and only a handful of private bathrooms, Crotty said the existing units aren’t conducive to families, single parent homes and people with accessibility needs.

Once complete, the YWCA’s three-story project will add 33 self-contained units to the combined inventory.  

Floor plan of the Courtyard Project

Floor plan of the Courtyard Project

To achieve a net-zero energy footprint, the Courtyard Project spent years researching housing innovations to come up with a sustainable strategy that will work in Banff.

First, the build will focus on an active, modular design using shipping containers with high functionality and livability standards.

According to Crotty, not only do the shipping containers have a robust building envelope able to maintain a high thermal rating throughout the seasonal fluctuations, they’re also fire resistant and useful for longevity.

Further, they have a lower impact on the building site and a shorter construction period, meaning the units will get to market quicker than a standard build, which will help keep rental costs down.

In addition, the project will use energy-efficient windows, solar panels on the roof of the building and access the YWCA’s low-pressure steam system from the existing units to help power the project.

The Courtyard Project is also adhering to the  WELL Building Standard, a global rating system which focuses on implementing criteria  that enhance tenants’ quality of life.

According to Crotty, sustainable and high-quality construction elements are normally the first things cut when building an affordable housing complex, but the project is placing an importance on creating a safe and healthy community. 

Some of the WELL standard’s criteria that will make the projects more liveable include improved air and water quality, the amount of green space, efficient building materials and high-quality cleaning supplies. 

By adding a net-zero component to its project, Crotty said the YWCA will be able to build an energy-efficient building that will benefit future tenants.

We’re on the cusp of something innovative as a YWCA,” he said. “If we can accomplish this in Banff, there is no reason why you can’t replicate this in rural communities across the country.
— Stephen Crotty, COO of the Courtyard Project

During his time with the YWCA, rents have increased three times – each due to a significant spike in energy rates and consumption. By building a net-zero project, Crotty said rent rates will be more consistent and controllable.

“To us, net zero means we have a viable, sustainable project where we can have consistent, affordable rates for our users,” said Crotty.

Although the up-front capital costs are significantly higher when building a net-zero project, Crotty said there is long-term gain. In fact, the project should see a return on investment within ten years.

“We keep passing on the cost of operational energy consumption to our users,” said Crotty. “These people are vulnerable and the least able to afford the increase.”

“Yes, we are going to pay more up front, but we are not going to pass that on to our affordable hosing residents.”

The YWCA is hoping to accept residents by June of next year. While none of the sustainable elements that they’re incorporating are new, Crotty said they’re generally not part of an affordable housing model design.

“We’re on the cusp of something innovative as a YWCA,” he said. “If we can accomplish this in Banff, there is no reason why you can’t replicate this in rural communities across the country.”

World’s first 'passive house' car dealership coming to Red Deer


World’s first 'passive house' car dealership coming to Red Deer

Garrett Scott doesn’t believe in wasting energy.

So, when an opportunity came for the owner of Scott Subaru to build the world’s first passive-house compliant car dealership in Red Deer, he jumped at the chance.  

“I don’t believe in consuming energy just to consume it,” said Scott. “We’re building something more robust and really unique that’s never been done before.”

I don’t believe in consuming energy just to consume it.”
— Garrett Scott, Owner, Scott Subaru

Passive House is an international energy-based standard that aims to reduce a building’s ecological footprint by adhering to strict energy-efficient design elements and construction requirements.

Scott knew that building a passive dealership would be a long and expensive undertaking, but he’s confident the up-front costs will pay off down the line. Not only will the stronger building construction last longer than a traditional dealership, but the energy-efficient features are expected to eliminate 80 per cent of the building’s heating and cooling costs. 

Passive house elements

Prior to beginning construction in 2017, Scott and the building team spent two years studying aspects of traditional dealerships to learn how to incorporate design and construction elements that would adhere to the Passive House standards.

“Because we are a franchise car dealership, there were certain image requirement from the manufacturer we had to adhere to,” said Scott, who pointed out this was a huge factor during the construction process.

“There were obviously some challenges during construction,” said Scott. “There were people we hired who’ve build passive houses before, but never car dealerships with specific design requirements.”

The exterior walls are one of the most important features of the 14,000 square-feet passive dealership. Three-feet thick, they’re built with three layers of insulation, which create an impenetrable seal around the building to help control the temperature inside and minimize air loss.

The floor-to ceiling windows – a design element synonymous with car dealerships – are triple-paned, energy-efficient glass equipped with automated blinds that control the amount of sunlight entering the building.

Further, a moss bed underneath the porous concrete parking lot will collect and control the water and help eliminate mold and mildew.


Inside the building, energy-efficient air circulation systems eliminate the need for central air, furnaces or air conditioning units.

“Because we’ve built the building so robustly with a thick exterior shell, heating isn’t really a challenge,” said Scott.

A heat recovery ventilation system pulls wasted heat from appliances, lighting and body heat to help circulate the air inside the building and regulate the temperature. The exterior seal around the building also helps regulate the indoor temperature since it greatly reduces the amount of air escaping the building, which means it’s easier to keep a constant temperature, even during the hot summers and old winters.

However, Scott said one of their biggest challenges was figuring out how account for the large service doors that open and close many times throughout the day.

During the two-year planning stage of the project, they ran simulations for an entire year to determine how many times a day the bay doors opened or closed, and how many people entered and left the building.

“There was a lot of planning with building something that is a first,” said Scott. “We learned a lot about how much we could save if we took the time to get it right.”

As well as building a space that is more environmentally sustainable and energy-efficient, Scott said he’s also looking forward to the extra-benefits of a passive house construction.

The air is fresher and cleaner, which will improve employee productivity and decrease the likelihood of headaches and air-borne illnesses, like the common cold.

Scott also said the extra-thick exterior walls not only keep it quiet on the inside, but they will also eliminate noise-pollution escaping from the car shops.

“I live my life off a waste-not-want-not kind of philosophy,” said Scott, who hopes this project will set the standard for future dealership builds.

“If we don’t have to consume all of the energy we do now, why should we?”

Red Deer College leading the way in alternative energy learning opportunities

Red Deer College has installed 4,195 solar panels across the main campus, making it the largest institutional solar array in Canada. (Red Deer College)

Red Deer College has installed 4,195 solar panels across the main campus, making it the largest institutional solar array in Canada. (Red Deer College)

Red Deer College leading the way in alternative energy learning opportunities

Model it. Showcase it. Train in it.

This is the philosophy behind Red Deer College’s Alternative Energy Lab, the college’s latest investment in the alternative energy space.

“Students are very much interested and invested in climate change and clean energy systems,” said Joel Ward, president and CEO of RDC. “They want post-secondary institutions that will be able to support and model clean energy and clean energy technologies.”

The Alternative Energy Lab is a 5,274 square foot virtual and physical space where students can learn about alternative energy systems by experimenting with and researching different technologies, and conducting simulations of working energy systems. Approximately 1,000 students from programs like engineering and instrumentation technology, carpentry and electrician will benefit from the new lab space each year.

“It is a teaching and learning space where students have hands-on learning experience to build familiarity and confidence with alternative energy systems that they will likely to encounter in their careers,” said Ward.

In 2017, Red Deer College received – and later matched – a $5 million grant from the federal government’s Post-Secondary Strategic Investment Fund, which allowed them to begin construction on the building.

The lab has been designed to simulate systems associated with alternative energy production – such as small-scale solar or combined heat and power units – giving students a chance to install, operate and maintain various systems in a real-world setting.

For example, solar panels installed on the roof of the lab allow students to collect data, compare panel technologies and determine the most efficient, clean energy solutions for communities.

“Students are very much interested and invested in climate change and clean energy systems. They want post-secondary institutions that will be able to support and model clean energy and clean energy technologies.”
— Joel Ward, president and CEO of RDC

According to Ward, the research gathered in the lab will have far-reaching benefits. It will function as an impartial resource for alternative energy information in central Alberta and increase awareness around some of the latest technologies, while using findings to educate and support communities and businesses interested in investing in alternative energy solutions.

“Many of the businesses are looking for alternative energy [technologies] in their own industry, but they aren’t quite sure what it is and what the return on their investment will be,” said Ward, who added they are currently doing a study on the angles of solar panels to optimize for the sun in central Alberta.

Ward said the college has also designed the lab as a flexible space, because technology in the alternative energy space is constantly evolving. Much of the equipment in the lab is on wheels, which gives them the ability to adapt to new systems as they emerge, and ensures any teaching and learning within the lab stays current.

Further, RDC partners with experts in the field to facilitate public forums, as well as education for businesses and members of the community around some of the more sustainable energy options available.

These forums will help answer common questions, such as what happens when snow accumulates on solar panels and the return-on-investment if businesses decide to move away from fossil fuels and into clean energy.

Instructor and student in RDC's Alternative Energy Lab. (Red Deer College)

Instructor and student in RDC's Alternative Energy Lab. (Red Deer College)

Red Deer College’s Alternative Energy Initiative

The Alternative Energy Lab is just one component of Red Deer College’s greater Alternative Energy Initiative, which supports a five-year goal to become a net-zero campus powered by sustainable resources.

“We want to be the go-to organization in central Alberta and beyond, not just for demonstrating these new technologies, but incorporating it into our own plan to be net-zero in the next five years,” said Ward.

To reach that goal, the college is tapping into three key technologies.

First, RDC has installed a natural-gas powered combined heat and power unit that produces hot water to generate electricity. The extra heat produced is then tied into the existing hot water distribution system to heat various locations on campus.

Second, the college has installed 4,195 solar panels across the main campus, making it the largest institutional solar array in Canada, according to Ward.

Third, RDC has replaced its low efficiency lighting with high efficiency LED lighting, reducing its electricity consumption.

We want to be the go-to organization in central Alberta and beyond,
not just for demonstrating these new technologies,
but incorporating it into our own plan to be net-zero in the next five years.
— Joel Ward, Red Deer College president and CEO

Through these programs, according to Ward, the college is already offsetting almost 2/3 of its electricity demands, creating its own 9,200-megawatt hours per year in electricity savings, and decreasing its heat and power costs by almost $1 million.

Because RDC often produces more energy than it can use, the college is also looking to incorporate battery storage technology in order to store the energy until it’s needed.

Additionally, the college has begun working with Calgary-based Eco-Growth Environmental to enable them to convert organic waste into biomass fuel, which will assist in powering the campus’s gasification boiler systems.

“We believe it is a moral imperative to support the diversification initiative of our province and the world we are leaving our kids,” said Ward.

“This ongoing conservation strategy not only saves money, but it demonstrates that we are serious about alternative energy and supporting strategies to mitigate climate change.”

Submit your new energy story here.

Edmonton developing world’s largest carbon-neutral neighbourhood

Photo courtesy of Blatchford

Photo courtesy of Blatchford

Edmonton Developing World’s largest carbon-Neutral neighbourhood

One of the world’s largest planned sustainable communities is now selling homes for its first phase of development.

Located 10 minutes from downtown Edmonton, Blatchford is designed as a carbon-neutral neighbourhood powered entirely by renewable resources.

“There will be 30,000 people in Blatchford living and working in a sustainable way,” said Tom Lumdsen, development manager for Blatchford.

The vision for the Blatchford community was approved by Edmonton city council in 2010 while the area redevelopment plan was approved two years later. Construction officially began in summer 2015.

Formerly Edmonton’s Municipal Airport, Lumsden said the 536 acres of land will be both socially and financially green by creating a community enhanced for pedestrian traffic and energy-efficient living.

It’s a very forward-thinking opportunity to show that Edmonton is more than just an oil and gas town.
— Tom Lumsden, Development Manager

The first phase of the neighbourhood – Blatchford West – will include a park with a plaza, playground, community garden and orchard. The completed neighbourhood – including Blatchford East, Blatchford Park and Blatchford Market – will be built with a town square, a civic plaza and two LRT stations.

Environmental sustainability is slated as a key motivator for the community. As such, Blatchford is working hand-in-hand with home builders to create an entire neighbourhood that is both energy-efficient from the start and sustainable on many levels, including walkability, transit-use and local food production.

The community will also support city council’s greenhouse gas targets detailed in Edmonton’s Energy Transition Strategy, as well as the city’s goals for climate resilience, healthy city and urban places, each outlined in ConnectEdmonton: Edmonton’s Strategic Plan 2019-2028.

Photo courtesy of Blatchford

Photo courtesy of Blatchford

Blatchford’s Energy Strategy

According to Christian Felske, director of renewable energy systems with the city of Edmonton, Blatchford has devised a three-pronged energy strategy – including energy conservation, energy efficiency and renewable energy resources – in order to reduce overall energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

First, Felske said project builders must meet certain green criteria to conserve the energy used, both during construction, and within the homes and buildings once construction is complete.

“The builders have to adhere to green building codes, which from the onset use less energy than a business-as-usual building in Edmonton, Alberta,” said Felske.

The buildings will all be high-performance buildings and have features such as energy-efficient windows, low-flow fixtures, increased insulation, smart room thermostats, and a tighter building envelope to reduce heat loss. Further, builders will be required to stick to a recycling program during construction to reduce the amount of materials going to the landfill.

Second, after construction is complete, the community’s thermal energy needs for heating, cooling and domestic hot water will be delivered through an energy-efficient system called a District Energy Sharing System (DESS.)

A low-carbon energy system, Blatchford’s DESS replaces the need for traditional furnaces, air conditioners and boilers in homes and buildings.

“With every building in Blatchford connected to the DESS, it allows us to provide a very efficient sharing system,” said Felske.

Blatchford’s final energy strategy focuses on renewable energy sources, like geoexchange fields. By harnessing geothermal energy below the earth’s surface, a geoexchange system draws heat from the ground for heating during winter months, and uses the ground to reject excess heat and provide cooling during summer months.

According to Felske, all the energy for heating, cooling and domestic hot water used by Blatchford homes and buildings will come solely from renewable systems.

To make up Blatchford’s geoexchange field, 570 geothermal wells have been drilled under a stormwater pond. This field will service the first stage of Blatchford’s DESS.  Down the road, solar installations will be used to offset additional electricity needed to power the DESS.


While the focus is on Blatchford’s energy strategy, Felske said the community will have other integrated sustainable features, mainly around water retention and recycling. These include low impact development design features like bioswales (a landscape design that helps remove pollution and debris from surface runoff water) as well as rain gardens, urban agriculture, and naturalized, drought-resistant landscapes.

Lumsden said while the entire project will take 20-25 years to complete, the City of Edmonton, as the developer, is constantly looking at emerging and future technologies for community-scale energy systems so Blatchford can meet its goals of being 100 per cent renewable and a carbon-neutral community.

Given that the infrastructure in the community is new, there are no legacy systems in place if Blatchford does not achieve net-zero. However, since Blatchford will be developed in stages, it will give developers the opportunity to adapt to changing renewable energy technologies.

Lumsden added while Blatchford had only recently announced its list of builders, there have been lots of people interested in putting money into the community. The first homebuilders are anticipated to start construction on townhomes this year, with residents moving in upon completion.

“The council of the day made the decision that this is what they wanted to do with this special piece of land,” he said. “[It’s a] very forward-thinking opportunity to show that Edmonton is more than just an oil and gas town.”

Rural Routes to Climate Solutions facilitating education for Alberta producers


Rural Routes to Climate Solutions facilitating education for Alberta producers

A Central Alberta based project is giving local farmers and agricultural producers the opportunity to further their education – all without needing to leave their communities.  

The project’s main topic of conversation? Climate solutions that can benefit Alberta farms and ranches. 

We find that there’s not really a space for agricultural
producers to talk about climate issues as it relates to agriculture,
so we are trying to hold that space for them
— Derek Leahy, director of Rural Routes.

Rural Routes to Climate Solutions– a project with the Stettler Learning Centre– is using a hands-on approach to provide opportunities for agricultural producers to explore about the benefits of implementing climate solutions in their day-to-day business activities.

Now a year into the project, Rural Routes facilitates workshops and field days, bringing in different experts and presenters in the climate solutions and agricultural space. Attendees also have the chance to talk one-on-one with presenters after the conclusion of the events. 

In addition, Leahy has found their podcast series is one of the best ways to disseminate information to producers across the province. 

“Podcasts are a great way to provide access to the resources,” said Leahy. “They give the project some longevity, because people can listen to them whenever they want to.” 

Adopting climate solutions

Agriculture may be one of the sectors most impacted by a changing climate, affecting growing season length and harvest timing, pollinators and pests. On the other hand, agriculture could be a significant lever for reducing emissions, since it is a natural way to store carbon.

According to Leahy, one of the most effective climate solution methods for Alberta farms is soil carbon sequestration – a process through which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and absorbed into the soil, decreasing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. 

Agricultural producers can activate and maintain the process by minimizing soil disturbance through reduced tillage methods and not overgrazing pasture land.  

While there is an environmental payoff to implementing this method, soil carbon sequestration could also have economic benefits for Alberta producers. 

“Carbon is a key element in soil health and fertility,” said Leahy. “The more you have in the ground, the better your land is doing. In theory, that should result in more productive farms and better yields.” 

Another popular discussion topic at Rural Routes is on-farm solar and energy efficiency – adopting energy-efficient technologies that could have a long-term impact on the climate. 

Leahy said because both solar and wind are prevalent in Alberta, agricultural producers could harness those elements to minimize their environmental impact and streamline some of the costs associated with operating a ranch or farm. 

For example, large-scale dairy operations could install solar energy systems, which would make them less reliant on fluctuations in the energy market and result in a more efficient and cost-effective farm, said Leahy. 


Changing the narrative around climate solutions  

For Leahy, providing producers with educational resources is one of the ways to empower rural communities, and begin to change the narrative surrounding farmers and the climate. 

“Producers are so used to hearing people say that agriculture is bad and is destroying our planet, but in reality, the land is everything in agriculture,” said Leahy. “There is a connection to the climate.”

He said while there are many agricultural organizations that talk about ecology, diversity and soil health, there are few that create conversations explicitly around climate solutions. Rural Routes provides that space. 

Currently, their primary audience is smaller-scale farmers, but Leahy said Rural Routes plans to engage more with the industry, talking with commodity groups and developing partnerships with some of the large-scale agricultural operations in Alberta. 

“We are all pushing for the same thing,” said Leahy. “We want what’s best for the land, we’re just coming at it from a different direction.” 

For more information on how to undertake your own energy efficiency project, check out the resources page.

Submit your new energy story here.

Elementary Students Conduct Their Own Lighting Audit

Hazeldean Elementary Grade 5 students Sawyer and classmates Mosaic of Voices (1).jpeg

Elementary Students Conduct Their Own Lighting Audit

At Hazeldean Elementary School in Edmonton, Grade 5 students created an energy efficiency program through the Innovative Elementary Program. The students were able reduce the energy consumption and cost of lighting at their school and teach other students and teachers about energy efficiency.

“Elementary kids are often overlooked about their ability to make changes and advocate to the things that they care about,” said Grade 5 teacher James Stuart, who manages the Innovate Elementary Program at Hazeldean. This project is one of many ways students have demonstrated the impact they can have in their school community.

They were able to go out into the school and make a measurable difference. [There were] real reductions and it was really rewarding for the kids.
— James Stuart

The first step was to learn about electricity, energy efficiency and light bulbs. Stuart along with some energy experts taught the students about different kinds of light bulbs and how much energy is used for each. They also learned about electricity, how it is produced in Alberta and the environmental impacts of the different types of production.

Next, students used their new knowledge to calculate their school’s electricity consumption by determining the types and consumption of light bulbs, and the number of each type of bulb throughout the building. From there, they monitored how many lights were on in each classroom, checking in at various times of the day to determine when classes were in session, when they were empty, and at the end of the day.

After collecting data, the students had to decide how they would present it. To make their information accessible to everyone, including the youngest students, they used made posters with photos and simple info boxes to teach their peers about the energy consumption of objects in their classroom. They included images of smart boards, desktop computers and lights with the amount of energy each consumed. The posters were distributed throughout the school.

The students also decided to create a contest for the classroom who was able to reduce their lighting energy consumption by the greatest amount. Using the information they had about each room’s energy consumption, they created a poster for each classroom showing its energy consumption. They continued to monitor the energy consumption of each classroom at random times until the end of the contest, with the winners earning hot chocolate made from the students’ self-made solar oven.

At the end of the lighting audit the Grade 5 group presented their findings during the school’s morning announcements. Over that time, they saw a reduction of 40 kWh. That is the equivalent of a 43-inch’ plasma TV running 32 hours a week for a month.

Through this project the students in Stuart’s Grade 5 classroom educated themselves, creatively engaged their school on the topic of energy efficiency, and were able to make changes in their school’s lighting electricity consumption.

“They were able to go out into the school and make a measurable difference,” said Stuart. “[There were] real reductions and it was really rewarding for the kids.”

For more information on education projects and opportunities in Alberta, see our resources page.

Submit your own new energy story here.

Calgary passive house has no furnace, good to -30


Calgary passive house has no furnace, good to -30

When you step into the Brookfield Symons Gate Passive House in Calgary, Alta., the front door closes with a sound that makes you feel like you have just entered an airtight vault. And then you are greeted by the sounds of silence.

The sounds of the outside world vanish within the heavily insulated walls of this gorgeous, 2,400 square home. You don’t even hear the hum of a fan, because there’s no furnace.

The walls are solid cross-laminated wood, the basement floor feels like it’s heated, and the windows are triple-glazed energy-efficient Austrian models that tilt and swing open.

This is the Tesla of passive homes

“Passive house takes advantage of one of the most abundant resources that Alberta has, which is the sun,” says Doug Owens, senior director of strategic development and regulatory affairs with Brookfield Residential, North America’s sixth largest developer.

This ultra-efficient house uses 90 per cent less energy than a conventional home. An eight-kilowatt solar system on the roof provides nearly all of the energy required to power and heat the home. It has no gas connection.

“And the giant window in the middle is actually the furnace for the house,” says Owens, pointing to the massive, south-facing window that lets the passive solar heat stream in. The window’s R7-rated triple glazing helps trap the warmth inside.

“Air tightness is critical,” says Owens, but even though this home is rated as super airtight–just 0.5 air exchanges per hour–it gets plenty of fresh, clean, filtered air.

Instead of a furnace, the home has a heat recovery ventilator—a fancy name for an air exchange system that recovers 86 per cent of the heat from the outgoing air. Built into the ventilation system is a 3,000-watt electric heater—but it only kicks in on the coldest, darkest days of winter.

This Zender ventilator is actually called an energy recovery ventilator because it also has an active bypass system that stops scavenging warm air on hot summer days, helping cool the home.

When you head downstairs, most people ask if the floor is heated—it has eight inches of insulation beneath it and it feels quite warm. The mechanical room is nearly empty, with just the air exchange system and a super energy efficient electric water heater.

Sixteen-inch walls – No furnace!

This minimalistic system is made possible thanks to out-of-this-world levels of insulation in the home.

“It’s incredibly well insulated,” explains Owens. “The windows are R7 and typical windows are about R2; the wall systems are R45 compared to an effective R18 that is required, and the roof system is R55 compared to a cathedral ceiling which we’re required to have R10.”

Add the thickly insulated basement floor, and you have an unbroken envelope of insulation blanketing the home.

Brookfield viewed the Symons Passive House as a chance to innovate. You could use thick double-stud walls for the insulation, but Dean Guidolin (design manager at Brookfield) says they opted to use solid cross-laminated timber (CLT). The custom walls were built in a special panelization factory in Germany.

Matt Arsenault of Sawback Builders shows the super-insulated 16-inch wall system. Photo David Dodge,

Solid wood walls

Brookfield designer Dean Guidolin says CLT is environmentally friendly. Behind him is the large window that is a key part of the passive house design. Photo David Dodge,

CLT is a great, sustainable resource, says Guidolin. “The wood fiberboard on the outside is a byproduct of the manufacturing process for the CLT. Ultimately you get another good environmental story out of that.”

Matt Arsenault, president of Sawbuck Builders (the company that assembled this unique home) describes the CLT system in detail. “It is four inches thick timber that’s been glued and laminated together and it creates the structure of the wall,” says Arsenault. Then add 9.5 inches of solid wood fiber insulation and another 1.5-inch layer of wood-based insulation and you have 16-inch thick walls that lose almost no heat.

Arsenault says the pre-built walls, floors, and ceilings came in a sea container along with some IKEA-like instructions in German to put it all together.

“I learned a lot about how the energy loss happens in a typical house, through air leakage and things like that. And this method of construction really eliminates a lot of the opportunity for outside cold air to come in and cool down the house,” says Arsenault.

Beautiful research – into an energy efficient future

Master bedroom in the Symonds Passive House. Photo David Dodge,

Owens says Brookfield didn’t aim for an inexpensive passive home, but rather chose to explore new systems and build a truly great home. “I was just thrilled to see people walk in, and when they open it open the door their jaw drops at how beautiful the home is,” says Owens.

Before tackling the project, Owens himself took a course in passive house building. He believes code changes are coming, and homes may have to be net-zero-ready as early as 2030. He wants to keep Brookfield ahead of the trend.

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s Alberta, Canada or North America,” says Owens. “Globally, there’s a conversation around energy efficiency, resiliency, and conservation. There’s a tremendous amount of momentum behind it.”

Push for quality and performance

The components of this solid CLT home were built in a panelization factory. Photo Brookfield Residential

Owens says public attitudes are also pushing the shift. “I think people are starting to think about the environment more.” Where yesterday’s customers may have been fixated on granite counters and hardwood floors, many home buyers today have questions about energy efficiency.

Brookfield’s first passive home was not cheap to build, but Owens says they learned a lot. He believes the move toward prefabrication will help ease labour shortages, increase quality, and meet higher efficiency standards.

“I think that’s really going to drive down prices and then they will become commonplace,” says Owens.

If you think this home would be a sight to see, we have good news: you can see it. “It’s going to open through 2019 for booked tours,” says Owens. “We’re going to try to have it open the first Friday of every month. We want to get as many professionals, industry partners, and government folks through.”

Brookfield clearly aims to be an active force in passive technology.


This story was originally published on Green Energy Futures.

Learn more about Brookfield’s passive house, here.

For more information on energy efficiency in Alberta, see our resources page.

Submit your own new energy story here.

Energy Made Visible

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Energy Made Visible

Have you ever wished you could see where heat was escaping from your house?

This was the quest that spurred the work of Geoffrey Hay, a geography professor at the University of Calgary. After seven years of research, he founded MyHEAT, a Calgary company that helps homeowners visualize the location and amount of heat loss from their homes.

To accomplish this, a high-precision thermal sensor is attached to an airplane, which flies overhead. MyHEAT’s resulting map of rooftop heat loss is created by combining raw data from the sensor with other mapping data sets and some machine learning.

There are only a few other companies in the world attempting similar heat mapping. Some of its competitors use a 360-degree sensor attached to a car (similar to Google Street View cameras), but MyHEAT’s advantage is the speed at which heat loss data can be collected. By attaching the sensor to an airplane, the entire city of Calgary could be mapped in two nights.

MyHEAT is more than just a heat mapping technology. The company’s vision is to help homeowners understand how their home’s heat loss compares to others in their community. By creating heat loss ratings, MyHEAT builds on the power of thermal imaging as a behavioural nudge tool. This thinking is getting some major recognition; with MyHEAT, Hay beat out 400 other contestants to win the grand prize at MIT’s 2013 Climate CoLab Conference.  

“Homeowners are fives times more likely to take action after seeing their heat map.”

MyHEAT CEO Darren Jones said these heat maps can be a quick and inexpensive first step for engaging homeowners.

“Homeowners are fives times more likely to take action after seeing their heat map,” said Jones.

The heat loss maps and ratings are an indicator, he said, and should be used in conjunction with knowledge of the home. Insufficient insulation and poor sealing are two common culprits of heat loss that MyHEAT can often pinpoint. These findings can be the starting point for an energy audit.

So far, there has been a lot of interest from homeowners; 150,000 Albertans have viewed their home’s rooftop map, and 300,000 homes in Alberta have been clicked on. MyHEAT has mapped several cities in Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia, but the goal is to eventually map all of Canada. The company just finalized its first deal with a customer in the U.S. and is excited to continue building its global customer base.

The company also wants to continue building the product and offer tools that is invaluable in helping Canadians find resources to improve the energy efficiency of their home. Daygan Fowler, MyHEAT’s program manager of energy efficiency, said many incentive programs are available to help homeowners. Her goal is to use MyHEAT to bring more awareness to these, and develop tools and resources to help answer homeowner questions.

Although often invisible, MyHEAT is improving energy efficiency one rooftop at a time.

You can learn more about MyHEAT here.

Check out the Resources page for more information on how to undertake your own clean tech and energy efficiency projects.

Submit your new energy story here.

Christina Found Her Fit at Ecofitt

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Christina Found Her Fit at Ecofitt

Christina Pidlaski was determined to carve out a career in energy sustainability. After working in California for 10 years, she returned to Alberta to be part of the clean energy transition.

“I never really knew how I could play my part,” said Pidlaski.

She decided to pursue an MBA specializing in Energy Management and Sustainability at the University of Calgary. One of her courses involved a consulting project and she chose to work with the Canadian Coalition for Green Finance, which exposed her to green investment and research. A big part of her work was to communicate her research and make them accessible to investors and industry.

Nearing graduation, she found a job posting at Ecofitt, a Canadian energy efficiency company which began with a small staff of 15 in Calgary. Working closely with consumers on energy efficiency seemed too good to be true to her, but within a week she was working as the company’s Program Coordinator.

Ecofitt runs energy conservation programs across Canada and works with provincial and municipal governments to develop regional programs. They also manufacture water and electricity-saving products, including light bulbs, which they use for direct install and kit programs.

“Our workforce has been a crucial part of delivering this program, and will be indispensable in successfully completing the next”

Ecofitt’s first Alberta program working with Energy Efficiency Alberta’s Residential No Charge Energy Savings Program (RNCESP), involved efficient upgrades for both rural and urban houses, apartments, and condos, where teams installed LED bulbs, faucet aerators, low-flow showerheads, power bars and smart thermostats.

As Ecofitt expanded, Pidlaski was promoted to Regional Program Coordinator, then again to Operations Manager.  At the peak of the RNCESP, she had 16 field coordinators and nearly 400 technicians working on her team, some who originally worked in oil and gas, but whose skills were easily transferable to energy efficiency. As the program nears completion, the team size has become more manageable, but the logistical challenges still keep her busy. 

Pidlaski said the response to the program has been extremely positive.

“I can’t tell you the number of people who have made the effort to call in or write in thanking us for not only the products we installed, but the interaction with our technicians and information about energy usage,” she said. “I feel like it’s been a huge success.”

When Energy Efficiency Alberta (EEA) launched the RNCESP, which is administered by Ecofitt, Albertans registered 153,000 homes. As this one-time program nears completion, Ecofitt has delivered energy efficient upgrades to 118,000 of these homes and installed 28,000 smart thermostats.

Ecofitt has now been awarded the EEA contract for the Affordable Housing Energy Solutions Program, which will launch in September. This will reach 25,000 Albertans in vulnerable sectors using the same core team that carried Ecofitt through the RNCESP.

“Our workforce has been a crucial part of delivering this program, and will be indispensable in successfully completing the next,” said Pidlaski. “I’m very proud of my team. We lucked out in getting fantastic people that care about the work we’re doing.  Being able to mobilize such a great team is really what makes me love my job.”

For more information on how to undertake your own energy efficiency project, check out the resources page.

Submit your new energy story here.