The Province of British Columbia has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40% from 2007 levels by 2030. Most of that reduction has to come from improving the “built environment” the houses and buildings in which we live and work. New houses are being challenged to higher standards by the BC Energy Step Code, ensuring that as BC population and economy grows, the new buildings won’t hog energy. What does that leave us with? A large stock of buildings constructed under the old codes which still chug along, guzzling electricity and fuel. How are we going to bring these buildings into the twenty-first century? Deep energy retrofits.
It’s not as visible as a solar panel, it’s not as elegant as a wind turbine but it’s ten times as powerful. It’s energy efficiency
There are many ways you can define “deep” rather than “shallow”, but I like the 50% rule: a deep energy retrofit is designed to cut your energy bill by half. Rather than choosing a few tasks that are easy and cheap, you begin by measuring how your house actually uses energy. An energy audit provides evidence, not that you tried to save money on energy, but you actually are saving money on energy.
One of the advantages of deep energy retrofits is that they make a house more comfortable. Rather than sneaky drafts, cold floors and drafty corners, after a deep retrofit, you will find the house is a uniform, comfortable, temperature. If you’ve suffered from having a spouse turn down the heat at night, you’ll find a deep retrofit uses less money to maintain a more comfortable living temperature.
The trouble with deep retrofits is that unlike LEDs and weatherstripping, they require larger investments of $5000-$15,000 to replace exterior doors, insulate basements or replace electric baseboards with heat pumps. Is this a good investment? Absolutely. If you are looking for a great rate of return on your money in these COVID recession days, look no further than the walls of your house. But what if you don’t have savings, or you have reasons to hang onto cash? Are you out of luck?
In a previous column I talked about various ways of paying for energy efficiency including rebates, commercial and noncommercial loans. My favorite method of financing is called “on bill financing”. Each time you pay your electric bill, you face the consequence of heat leaking out of your house. Wouldn’t it be great if you could borrow money, buy energy efficient doors and shrink your bill? It would be even better if you could pay back the money with the same check that pays the utility bill. This type of financing is called “on bill financing”.
Here is where Penticton outshines the rest of the Okanagan, even the the rest of British Columbia. Penticton has an outstanding “on bill financing” program called HELP — the Home Energy Loan Program. In addition to billing simplicity, it is an great program in three ways. First the price is right: the interest rate is prime + 0.5% (even the Vancity credit union charges prime + 0.75%). Second, the amount is right — you can borrow up to $10,000. Finally, it includes a long amortization — you pay the loan off over ten years. You can read the full details at https://tinyurl.com/penhelp
Summerland may be ahead in the solar race, but Penticton has a more powerful tool to fight climate change: low-interest, on-bill financing.
A few articles have popped up in the solar energy field, suggesting that rather than go to the trouble or expense of making a house energy efficient you should just add an extra row of solar panels.
Canada, that does not apply to you.
Three things are going to make energy efficiency the foundation block for meeting our climate goals. Number one, Canada is mostly north of the 49 parallel so while Arizona or Florida are producing electricity year round, most of Canada’s solar energy production is during the summer. That doesn’t make solar worthless: Germany, also mostly north of the 49th parallel, has a system set up to reward solar installation. Recently solar has been producing as much as 40% of Germany’s electricity needs. Number two, Canada has much higher heating loads during the winter, also a function of geography. Finally, large swaths of Canada have in the past required heat, but not air conditioning. That is going to change, not so much because of warming temperatures, but because we are going to experience extreme weather events, in this case more days during the summer over 38 C. As summer air conditioning becomes common, we need to make spaces more air-tight. Otherwise we will be wiping out all our gains.
Missed last week’s column?
Kristy Dyer has a background in art and physics and consulted for Silicon Valley clean energy firms before moving (happily!) to sunny Penticton. Comments to Kristy.Dyer+BP@gmail.com
Kristy’s articles are archived at teaspoonenergy.blogspot.com