Our Low Carbon Future

The announcement of Ontario’s Climate Change Action Plan is something of a turning point for this province. The announcement was met with a mix of hopefulness and skepticism. So far it is not much more than words on paper but it indicates a real shift in public policy that may or may not be successful in effecting meaningful change.

Let’s keep in mind that no government can ‘solve’ the problem of climate change and there is no one magic cure. The solution lies in the changes each of us can make in our homes, jobs and businesses. Government policy only aims to encourage positive changes and discourage harmful choices, something that would be unnecessary if we were already collectively moving in that direction. Progress will only be measured by how many people take up the challenge.

It’s pretty obvious that the petroleum age is coming to an end, like the coal age before it. Fundamental changes are coming one way or another. It’s disappointing, then, to hear shrill and, frankly, ignorant comments coming from some Opposition members.

It’s been said that the devil is in the details but I’m impressed that a move is being made to mandate net zero home construction. I’ve been writing about innovative ‘passive’ and ‘net zero’ energy technologies since 2011, so I’m glad to see it has finally caught the attention of policy-makers. Some of the biggest obstacles are regulatory and building code specifications.

According to CMHC, “A net-zero energy (NZE) house is designed and built to reduce household energy needs to a minimum and includes on-site renewable energy systems, so that the house may produce as much energy as it consumes on a yearly basis.” A net zero house would have insulation levels of R60+ in the attic, R40+ in above-grade walls and R10+ in a basement slab to substantially reduce heating and cooling costs. After all, why would you want to use more energy than you absolutely have to, if you’re already vexed about the current cost of electricity and a carbon tax?

There’s no doubt that effective technologies exist. CMHC sponsored the development of net zero building plans and technologies in 12 demonstration projects across Canada starting in 2006. (Equilibrium Sustainable Housing) It’s not necessarily all high-tech. Some things like building orientation, maximum use of natural light, ventilation, and passive solar gain are just as important.

I already started the first step of cranking up insulation levels in my home a few years ago without government incentives. The pay-off was more comfort and lower utility bills. Now I’d like to see how much closer I can take this toward a ‘net zero’ energy status with the help of whatever incentives, and possibly new technologies, that will be made more readily available.