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Just Powers: Making the energy transition better for everyone

Image courtesy of JustPowers.ca

Image courtesy of JustPowers.ca

THIS STORY IS PART OF OUR SERIES ON WOMEN AND THE ENERGY TRANSITION. Women are key to increasing the momentum towards a lower carbon future and making sure no one is left behind. Across Alberta they are leading the charge in a shift to a lower-carbon world, as business and community leaders, educators, communicators and innovators. From industry professionals and leading researchers, to those running community workshops, organizing campaigns and changing their homes, these are their stories.

Just Powers: Making the energy transition better for everyone

Every year, Sheena Wilson gives her university students an assignment: choose a favourite subject or hobby and figure out how it relates to energy and the current transition away from a fossil fuel-based energy system.

The students must analyze how their interests could look different under a different energy system and how those changes might impact their community – and their day-to-day lives.

“At the beginning, most students don’t believe that their interests are linked to the energy industry,” said Wilson, associate professor at the University of Alberta’s Campus Saint-Jean and principle investigator of the Just Powers research initiative.

Launched in 2018, Just Powers is an inter-disciplinary and community-based project looking at climate justice issues ­– that is, framing climate change through an ethical and political lens, rather than one that is purely scientific – and examining social and cultural power in the energy transition.

Viewing the energy transition solely as a capitalist problem – where new technologies provide a new market and therefore potential for profit – does nothing to create a more liveable future for everyone, said Wilson.

“We need to think seriously about what we want to keep from the age of oil,” she said. “What’s important to us and what we’re willing to let go of and how an energy transition actually might be better for us all.”

We need to think seriously about what we want to keep from the age of oil: what’s important to us and what we’re willing to let go of and how an energy transition actually might be better for us all.”
— Sheena Wilson

Voices and knowledge

In an attempt to shift the discourse, the Just Powers project is tapping into a range of voices historically underrepresented in the energy transition conversation, like minority groups, indigenous communities, youth and women. The goal is to get people thinking about who owns energy systems, who benefits from them, and how they can be both affordable and accessible to everyone. 

“Bodies that held certain knowledges – feminized voices, voices of colour – they’ve been undervalued, or intentionally silenced and overwritten,” said Wilson, adding that climate issues are not separate from other social issues, like gender discrimination, poverty and racism, for example.

A feminist approach to energy transition is not restricted to women, said Wilson, but is a way of thinking holistically about energy systems, people and relationships.

 “Leaders who do this value reintroducing a broad range of perspectives and knowledges not usually consulted about energy,” said Wilson, “which is often seen as merely a technical issue, when really we all need to take energy seriously as a social issue.”

Designing new energy systems is a big part of designing the shape of our future lives and communities. If that isn’t something relevant to everyone, I don’t know what is.
— Sheena Wilson
Photo by Kenneth Tam

Photo by Kenneth Tam

Different mediums

To reach the most people, Just Powers – which is funded primarily by the Canada First Research Excellence Fund, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and the University of Alberta’s Future Energy Systems and Kule Institute for Advanced Study – is taking a non-traditional approach to documenting and sharing knowledge and resources.

“We’ve known since the 50s and 60s that climate change is an issue,” said Wilson. “I don’t think another chart or graph is going to make that much of a difference anymore,”

Through mediums like creative non-fiction, visual storytelling, podcasts, games and art, Just Powers is designing projects that give scholars and experts with different perspectives the opportunity to share their knowledge.

For example, Perfect Storm: Feminist Energy Transition is a role-playing game that demonstrates class and cultural politics in Canada’s energy transition. Bigstone Cree: A Vision for the Future is a documentary project that explores the impact of the energy transition on Indigenous communities. The Speculative Energy Futures project is empowering scientists, activists and artists to collaborate with each other.

In addition, the iDoc project has collected over a hundred interviews with Canadians working on climate change, from engineers to community organizers. The complete interviews, along with easy-to-share video clips, will be hosted on an open access archive within the next few months. Meanwhile the Just Powers podcast, now in Season 3, is giving a literal voice to many who have been historically overlooked in the energy transition.

We’ve known since the 50s and 60s that climate change is an issue. I don’t think another chart or graph is going to make that much of a difference anymore.
— Sheena Wilson

Getting involved

An Abacus Data poll this summer reported 64 per cent of Canadians are worried about the impacts of climate change and half of Albertans say climate change is currently an emergency, or will become one in the next few years.

However, Wilson said, many people are hesitant to get involved for fear of appearing either too political or too uninformed on the subject.

But Wilson says showing up is what counts most.

“The information is out there,” said Wilson. “The truth is we have to start adapting to a different climate, and we can begin to do that by getting involved.”

To that end, Just Powers is organizing a year-long project with La Cité Francophone to look at retrofitting its popular cultural centre, running literacy programs for people wanting to increase their energy transition understanding, and mobilizing high school students to share their own research. And for those searching for initiatives within their own communities, Wilson recommends visiting their municipality websites, like Edmonton’s Community Energy Transition Strategy.

“We need to start talking about these things, learning from each other and figuring it out together as a community,” said Wilson.

“After all, who is energy for? Energy systems shape our lives. They heat and power our built environment, our homes, paving the way for our transportation and communication systems.

“Designing new energy systems is a big part of designing the shape of our future lives and communities. If that isn’t something relevant to everyone, I don’t know what is.”

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

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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.”

Beyond landfills: Alberta association looking for waste management alternatives

Beyond landfills: Alberta association looking for waste management alternatives

It happens all the time: we forget our reusable bags in the car, so instead we resort to using the plastic grocery varieties at the till.

When the plastic bag inevitably rips or we have no other use for it, we throw it out. Eventually it’s sent to a landfill, where it remains unchanged, for decades.

But a not-for-profit association in southern Alberta is trying to change that.

We’re not after the stuff that can be recycled, we’re after the stuff that can’t be recycled, that would only go into landfills.
— Paul Ryan, Vice Chair, Southern Alberta Energy from Waste Association

“If we wanted to build a landfill, we could build a landfill,” said Paul Ryan, vice chair of the Southern Alberta Energy from Waste Association (SAEWA). “But we don’t want to build a landfill. We want to find another way of managing waste.”

Incorporated in 2012, SAEWA is a member-based coalition of municipal entities and waste management jurisdictions – extending from the Red Deer County line to the United Sates border – that is researching sustainable waste management technologies that will reduce long-term reliance on landfills.

SAEWA doesn’t compete or interfere with existing recycling operations. Rather, its focus is on post-recyclables – end-of-life materials like plastic straws, supermarket bags or dirty cardboard that can no longer be recycled.

“We’re not after the stuff that can be recycled,” said Ryan. “We’re after the stuff that can’t be recycled, that would only go into landfills.”

According to Ryan, 30 per cent of the waste generated in Canada cannot be recycled.

As a sustainable alternative to landfills, SAEWA is in the final planning stages of building an energy-from-waste (EFW) treatment facility in Alberta, a technologically advanced way to dispose of waste, while also generating clean, alternative energy.

Prominent in Europe, EFW technology is well understood, said Ryan, so by looking at current practices, SAEWA has been able to measure its emissions and operating costs, and pick the technology that will best address the waste stream in southern Alberta.

The idea is to build a facility where, once recyclables have been removed from the waste stream, the remaining materials are incinerated.

The heat recovered can then be used to generate electricity or provide district heating. In some cases, it can be used to process the plastics that were initially removed from the waste stream.

While an EFW facility does produce greenhouse gas emissions, Ryan said in comparing the lifecycle to that of a landfill, SAEWA found the amount of emissions to be considerably less.

“For 300,000 tonnes of waste per year, we discovered if we didn’t landfill it, we would reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions by about 260,000 tonnes per year, or 7 million tonnes over the life of the project,” said Ryan.

For many municipalities, EFW facilities are also a more cost-efficient method of managing waste.

Since landfills can give off methane gas for up to 50 years after they cease to operate, municipalities are saddled with maintaining and monitoring the site long after it ceases to generate revenue from dumping fees. Alternatively, said Ryan, an EFW facility’s revenue is more certain.

In addition, an EFW can generate many high-paying technological jobs for the community, he said.

From an individual perspective, since an EFW facility would streamline the waste and recycling process, it would not only save time and effort sorting waste into multiple bins, but also help keep waste management costs at a reasonable level.

Plus, with a simplified recycling process, Ryan said people will be more in tune with where their waste goes, and recycling will increase.

While there isn’t a facility in place yet, SAEWA is assessing the availability of multiple sites. After finding a site, the association will determine how it will be funded – either as a regional utility, or through the private sector.

Either way, Ryan said it’s important that waste management businesses stop working in silos and embrace alternative technologies that will simultaneously generate clean energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stimulate the economy.

“I think we’ve all become a little bit more attuned to the waste problem we have in North America,” said Ryan.

“We need to look at energy from waste as just one tool in a box of tools for managing the waste we produce as a society.”

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

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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.

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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.”

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Calgary company uses solar solutions to heat homes

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Calgary company uses solar SOLUTIONS to heat homes

We normally hear about solar panels powering up our lights or recharging batteries, but a company in Calgary is using solar energy to heat homes and businesses, providing clean solutions, while helping them save money long-term.

“There is an amazing return of investment on thermal,” said Brad Sargeant, head of sales and marketing at Off Grid Heating, which started designing and installing solar systems in Calgary nearly a decade ago. “It pays for itself quickly because of its efficiency.”

According to Sargeant, while Off Grid Heating does a variety of solar electric installations, it’s their solar thermal systems that set them apart – they are just one of a handful of solar thermal companies in Alberta.

Homeowners or businesses that install a solar thermal system will typically see a return on their investment within five to seven years, compared to the seven to ten of a solar electrical system.

Solar thermal systems are a cost-effective and energy-efficient heating solution that can be used to heat household water systems or integrated with in-floor heating. Off Grid Heating’s solar thermal systems function by heating water that is circulated through the system, which in turn heats a home’s hot water tank or in-floor heating system.

Sargeant said their system is optimized for Canadian winters because of the high-performance solar tubes, which are insulated to ensure the outside temperature does not transfer to the inside of the tubes and affect the solar heating process.

About 30 per cent of Off Grid Heating’s clients opt for a solar thermal system installation. Often, Sargeant said they will install hybrid systems – both solar thermal and electrical systems.

“We are finding that with the cost of power and energy increasing, people would rather be independent and self-sufficient,” said Sargeant, adding that it is especially true in remote areas where it may cost significantly more to for heating and electricity.

Off Grid Heating’s biggest client base comes from farmers, and those involved in the agricultural space, because they are high users of power and energy who are in search of more efficient and cost-effective solutions.

But the company also installs many residential solar systems, for individuals looking to cut costs with a more sustainable energy and heating solution.

“It’s about helping people have that peace of mind.”
— Brad Sargeant, Head of Sales and Marketing

Even though the up-front installation price for a solar system – electrical or thermal – has seen a significant decrease in the last decade or so, Sargeant said that cost is still the number one barrier to installing a solar system.

“An average solar electrical system [for a residential installation] is 5,000 watts,” said Sargeant. “At three dollars a watt, it’s going to cost around $15,000.” 

But currently, he said, residents who install a solar electrical system of that size should get about one-third of that amount back in government rebates.

By contrast, a simple thermal system, which would supplement an average home’s domestic hot water requirements, would cost $8,000. Installing a thermal system that would supplement an entire home’s heat through an in-floor heating system or a hydronic baseboard system would run about $12,000.

Homeowners and businesses must also consider space restrictions and potential tree shading on the property before installing a solar system, but since Off Grid Heating also designs the system being installed, they are able to adapt to the size and space available – by increasing the wattage of each panel for a smaller home, for example – to create a suitable system for each property.  

“We help people get set up with solar systems from start to finish,” he said.

Sargeant said they are looking at working with battery back-up systems in the future, but for now, Off Grid Heating is glad to help people find a green and cost-effective way to heat and power their homes.

“We know that there is going to be a demand on gas, and the price is going to go up, so it’s going to cost a lot for people to heat their homes in the future,” said Sargeant. “It’s about helping people have that peace of mind.”


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.

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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.”


Theatre company brings climate science to the stage

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Theatre company brings climate science to the stage

An Alberta-based theatre company is empowering youth to make conscious environmental decisions by combining science and art.

“Our aim is to explore pertinent social and environmental topics through the arts, leaving our participants and audience feeling connected, inspired and empowered with science and the natural world,” said Christina Chase-Warrier, director of programming at Evergreen Theatre.

Established in 1991, Evergreen Theatre is an educational, science-focused touring company that promotes a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) approach to learning.

The company engages with audiences by putting a scientific spin on stories and topics from popular culture, building on environmental concepts like energy-efficient living, sustainable housing and renewable resources.

According to Chase-Warrier, an arts-integrated approach to learning science can engage a greater number of students in the subject matter, because it facilitates a safe space for collaboration, self-esteem, creativity and risk-taking.

“It is precisely these types of skills that are critical for future scientific and environmentally-minded innovation and economic diversification,” said Chase-Warrier.

It is precisely these types of skills that are critical for future scientific and environmentally-minded innovation and economic diversification.
— Christina Chase-Warrier, Director, Evergreen Theatre

Out-of-the-box learning

Evergreen Theatre’s curriculum-based content is primarily presented through touring shows and artist-in-residency programs.

To reach audiences across the province, the company travels to elementary schools to perform a 50-minute show that includes music, writing, sets, props and costumes.

Unlike traditional theatre shows, students have opportunities to engage with the actors and perform in the show, which can help the audience connect with the concepts presented, said Chase-Warrier.

The topics presented during the performance are also reinforced after the show during a question period led by Evergreen educators.

Recently, Evergreen launched an “Eco-Tales” series, shows that put an environmental spin on traditional fairy-tales.

The first production in the series is The Three Little Pigs and B.B. Wolfe, an adaptation where B.B. Wolfe is a climate scientist who tries to teach the little pigs about energy efficient building practices to withstand the ‘huffing and puffing’ of a changing climate.

“These musical theatre shows are aimed at increasing awareness and action around issues such as climate change, conservation and energy efficiency, while promoting simple actions students can take to care for our earth,” said Chase-Warrier.

For a more hands-on approach, schools can sign up for Evergreen Theatre’s artist-in-residency program. In this case, students have one week to learn how to build their own show – through a series of playwriting and performance workshops – on topics related to what they are studying in school.

Some of those topics include how animals in urban communities are affected by pollution, extreme weather caused by climate change, and the impact of habitat loss on ecosystems.

Learning through theatre

Chase-Warrier said by using visual, auditory and movement-based learning methods throughout their performances, not only are their shows more entertaining, but students are better able to absorb the environmental and scientific concepts woven into the storyline.

For example, students can remember the eco-inspired song lyrics in the shows, because they are adapted to tunes by artists – like Taylor Swift – who are popular with the younger audiences. In the Three Little Pigs, the audience can engage and learn with the pigs as they work to improve their environmental practices and build a sustainable home.

“Approaching energy and climate literacy through the vehicle of music and drama facilitates authentic student awareness and learning around efficiency concepts,” said Chase-Warrier. “This increases the probability of students making tangible attitudinal shifts and behavioural changes in their own daily lives to reduce their carbon footprint.”

And while Evergreen Theatre often addresses global environmental issues, Chase-Warrier said through early exposure to these issues, students can learn to make earth-friendly lifestyle choices and affect positive change in their communities.

“We are optimistic that early exposure to environmental issues in a fun, creative and non-threatening manner will plant a positive and pro-active seed in students’ minds that will further blossom as they mature,” said Chase-Warrier.

Rural Routes to Climate Solutions facilitating education for Alberta producers

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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. 

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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.

Summit Nanotech using miniscule technology to effect big change

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Summit Nanotech using miniscule technology to effect big change

Many people talk about making the world a better place; Amanda Hall is doing it.

Hall is the co-founder and CEO of Summit Nanotech, a company in Alberta using advances in nanotechnology to create and implement clean solutions for industrial processes. 

“Our mission is to green up the energy industry by using nanoscience,” said Hall. “When you look at processes through the scope of quantum physics — small-scale physics — it can solve a lot of the problems we see in industry today.”

“I needed to stop waiting for people to make the changes I wanted to see,” she said. “I decided I wanted to take on that role myself.”
— Amanda Hall, CEO of Summit Nanotech

Hall is a geophysicist by trade, with eight years of experience in the oil and gas industry, four in the mining industry and an additional four spent in an industrial laboratory at a sugar refinery.

Those experiences, coupled with her 12 years of post-secondary education, put her in a prime position to launch Summit Nanotech with co-founder Jason Hendrick 10 months ago.

“I needed to stop waiting for people to make the changes I wanted to see,” she said. “I decided I wanted to take on that role myself.”

Summit Nanotech uses nanotechnology — quantum mechanical technology that deals with materials at the atomic level — to address some of the world’s most pressing energy and environmental concerns. Currently, their focus is on developing the greenest lithium-ion resource extraction method in the world.

Sustainable lithium extraction

According to Hall, the demand for lithium is about to skyrocket. Their new extraction method can be used to create an inexpensive and sustainable source of lithium for batteries used in portable devices, mobile gadgets and electric vehicles — the driving force behind the demand.

“Battery storage will play a huge part in having a renewable energy future,” said Hall.

Traditionally, extracting lithium from brine water requires high energy and chemically intensive processes. Hall said they want to use nanoscience to perform the extraction process more gently and efficiently, to reduce environmental contaminants and greenhouse gases.

“At the end of the day, our process is different from traditional extraction methods, because we use less energy, fewer chemicals, no fresh water and we have higher yield at the end, so our operation costs per tonne are better,” said Hall.

Hall said while this project is still in the development phase, many companies are interested in their technology, which will mainly be provided as a clean extraction solution to mines who are already processing lithium.

This technology can also be beneficial to oil and gas companies, said Hall, who is currently working with a few other companies in Alberta to map lithium resources in the province.

Since brine water is often a by-product of pumped oil, lithium extraction can also function as a secondary revenue stream for oil and gas. In turn, these oil and gas companies can provide a resource for battery technology that supports renewable energy storage.

The future of nanotechnology

Although less than a year old, Summit Nanotech is recognized as a leader in the space.

Hall, identified as a top female innovator in Canada, was named a finalist in the Women in Cleantech Challenge in September 2018. Summit Nanotech was awarded $800,000 and the opportunity to work closely with advisors and researchers from Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) and MaRS, a Toronto-based business incubator.

“Being chosen as a finalist in the Women in Cleantech Challenge early on really helped put wheels to the company, opened doors and exposed us to great opportunities,” said Hall. “I hope this doesn’t sound bold, but it just feels like we are unstoppable right now.”

Once Summit Nanotech achieves sustainable lithium extraction, they plan to use the technology to go after other metal ions and work closely with water purification companies.

“This is a platform technology so we can pivot and employ it in many different fields,” said Hall. “We are just getting started.”


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

Submit your new energy story here.