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Energy in the North: A Canadian translation of "Energy & Sustainability"

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Human activity generates six gigatonnes of carbon dioxide per year. Our atmosphere is capable of reabsorbing and recycling half of that amount. The rest accumulates, year after year. The greenhouse effect is increasing at a very dramatic rate, and our climate is changing.

Most of the carbon dioxide emissions in the air are the result of our need for energy. Producing energy is necessary in North American, given our current infrastructure. As the population of the world increases and economies develop, the need for energy will only increase.

Author / translator L. Benford

Human activity generates six gigatonnes of carbon dioxide per year. Our atmosphere is capable of reabsorbing and recycling half of that amount. The rest accumulates, year after year. The greenhouse effect is increasing at a very dramatic rate, and our climate is changing. Most of the carbon dioxide emissions in the air are the result of our need for energy. Producing energy is necessary in North American, given our current infrastructure. As the population of the world increases and economies develop, the need for energy will only increase. Renewable energy -where energy is created from renewable sources without the impact of carbon dioxide emissions- seems to be the answer. How would our infrastructure have to be changed to accommodate renewable energy sources? Does the technology exist to make this type of production viable? Are government policies like Ontario’s Green Energy Act the right way to invest in renewable energy production?

Created 16 April 2012
Last edited 8 June 2018
Topics Energy, Sustainability

Policy positions

Policy position 1

The focus should be placed on reducing emissions. We can reduce emissions by changing personal lifestyles, developing incentive programs, developing stricter regulations and enforcement, and changes in infrastructure including transportation, energy production, energy delivery, and industrial usage.

Policy position 2

Investment in new technologies, engineering, architecture, and energy production is most important. Current renewable energy technology falls short of our needs, and investment is needed to find better energy solutions. We need to maintain the current system, using existing resources until these new technologies become available.

Policy position 3

There are promising renewable energy sources that already exist that could work with the proper investment. Like all other technologies, renewable energy has to be economically competitive. Constantly investing in new forms technology is a waste of time and resources. It makes more sense economically to invest everything in one or two of the most successful types of renewable energy, and maximize efficiency and profit.

Policy position 4

The harm we have caused our planet is irreversible, and our planet has surpassed the tipping point. Many climate models predict that climate change will continue to occur, regardless of how much we reduce emissions. The time for action was decades ago, not today. Our focus now needs to be on how we can adapt to changes in our climate.

Story cards


My name is Christopher, and I work in macroeconomics. Many believe that new technology will provide the solution to man-made climate change. Though technology plays a vital role in solving the problem, it isn't the only solution. Think of the car. New, fuel efficient engines consume less, but the money that we save will likely be spent elsewhere; driving further, buying a bigger home, filling our lives with electronics. Even though we save money with a fuel efficient vehicle, we will consume more in another way. We cannot escape the logic of consumption. We must ask ourselves: Is the idea of consuming less compatible with the Western model of economic growth? Are we willing to find a balance between quality of life and environmental impact? Can we commit to a cultural change, not just a technical one?

Culture Before Technology

My name is Anna, and I am a young architect. When I started studying architecture, I dreamt of creating beautiful spaces that were functional and affordable. In addition to design and aesthetics, I have studied energy efficiency, and how to build homes that consume minimal resources while producing minimal waste. These solutions are real and available, but at a price that deters most contractors. With the price also comes the fear that the house will not sell at a higher than average price, even though it is of higher quality. I often find myself having to justify the costs of building a healthy, sustainable energy efficient home. Even though I work in the field, I will need to save and plan to be able to afford such a home in the future. We are entering a new era of engineering and architecture, and all contractors should be investing in new "green" ideas.

The Cost of a "Green" Home

I am Robert, and I research technology related to renewable energy. Specifically, I study the organic and nanomaterials that will serve the next generation of solar cells. My goal is to increase the yield of solar panels, which, in my opinion, are unsatisfactory. The most modern monocrystaline silicon panels achieve yields of 14%; much too low considering production costs. Solar panels are most efficient in the first 4-5 years, but gradually decrease in efficiency over time. 25 years after installation, no energy is produced at all! At first, we wanted to learn how to make solar cells more efficient, but we quickly realized we need an entirely new solar panel. We need something less expensive, and truly sustainable. The other question people rarely ask, is where are we going to dispose of the old panels after they stop producing?

Not Ready to Use the Sun

I'm Zachary. Our planet has reached a critical tipping point, and I think that being aware of this fact is the first step toward global change. I realize that change will be slow, but there needs to be effort on everyone's part. We need to target society, especially the younger generation. We have to talk to people, communicate face to face until there is wide spread understanding. In addition to educating, we must act. We need clean energy! Wind, water and solar energy, better waste disposal and intelligent resource management. This must be the absolute priority. If it's at the expense of the comfort of some, so be it. Let's face it, our consumption rates are out of control. We have no choice. This is the future, and we have to decide what we want to leave for our children.

No More Choices

My name is Lori, and I'm a real estate agent. My clients value lifestyle, but more and more are telling me that it is important to live in a home that is ecologically sustainable. The government has put emphasis on "green" homes, even offering rebates to anyone that wishes to upgrade (or build) homes to be environmentally friendly. One of the most common energy certifications in North America is LEED (Leaders in Energy and Environmental Design), where homes and business can be certified according to predetermined benchmarks. In the current real estate market, homes that have been built (or renovated) to be more environmentally efficient sell at prices 10-15% higher than "normal" homes. For the first time I'm seeing that buyers are willing to pay the upfront cost, with the understanding that it will be offset by savings in energy costs down the road. Buying an energy efficient home is like an investment. As energy costs rise, the demand for "eco-homes" will too.

The Market Controls

My name is Adam, and I'm an engineer. I see renewable energy as an opportunity to protect the environment, and also an opportunity to create jobs for those living in traditional Aboriginal areas. Unemployment is a problem in Canada, especially amoung First Nations. I recently worked on a project to establish a wind farm in a remote area of Northern Ontario. The project was well supported by the government and the local Aboriginal community. If approved, the area would see the construction of 112 wind turbines, and the employment of 25 First Nation members. These people would not only earn income, but would gain valuable trade skills, and certain employment on future projects. Unfortunately after an environmental assessment, it was discovered that the areas of high wind were also habitat to a Species at Risk. The project was denied funding, and the employment experience of an entire Aboriginal community was eliminated. How can the value of an animal be placed above the value of these people? What ranks one environmental initiative above another?

Species at Risk

I’m Alison, a single mother of three. I barely get by on social assistance. Despite my economic status, I value the environment, and teach my children as much as I can about it. We live in an apartment in a downtown area, and do our best to conserve energy. I use energy efficient light bulbs, use a clothesline on our balcony to avoid using the dryer, and walk to a local market to buy food from local farmers. We spend our weekends at the park exploring; learning about trees and animals. I have pressured my landlord to put better windows in our apartment building to raise energy efficiency, as well as replace the old appliances with newer, greener models. I have encouraged other tenants to make green choices when they can. Even though I've tried endlessly, I feel like my words are falling on deaf ears. My landlord could care less about the sustainability of the building. My neighbours are too concerned making ends meet to worry about what time they are doing their laundry. Environmental ignorance is not just a problem for those that can afford to consume more.

Low Income, Low Concern

My name is Marc. I'm an accountant. I agree that we should be doing some things to help the environment, but we can't do it at the expense of local business. Many people focus on having a "walkable" downtown area, blocked to traffic. This is great for the very small percentage of people that don't own vehicles. The rest of them will drive to the larger stores with large parking lots. Why would I have any reason to shop locally in a "walkable" downtown if I can just save the hassle and drive somewhere else? If I can't drive my vehicle to a store, then I want the products there to be higher quality and less expensive. Likewise, if we're parking our trucks and SUVs at a mall, in a giant parking lot, we should be paying for it with a meter at every space.

Limiting Traffic Limits Business

My name is Laura, and I've been practicing environmental law for two years. Canada is always evolving new legislation that supports and promotes renewable energy and technology. Unfortunately, we are severely outdated when it comes to pressing legislation on the industries that are creating the mess in the first place. There is so much money tied in "dirty" energy and industry, we have to be very cautious when environmental violations are discovered. Most get away with a slap on the wrist. Very difficult to understand, considering the average working Canadian can be heavily fined for committing an environmental offence that is much less severe.

Legislative Problem


Setting an Example

If local governments took on the responsibility of reducing CO2 emissions, even by a small amount, it would set an example for all citizens.

Can we afford it?

In this time of economic uncertainty, most companies cannot afford the costs associated with reducing emissions. We should think of economic recovery first before more costs are introduced.

Tax Breaks

We should give tax breaks to companies that make effort toward reducing green house gases. This saves energy, and adds incentive.

The Solar Solution

The energy supplied annually by the sun is 10,000 times more than what we could ever consume. Why can't we take advantage of the 0.01% and meet our needs?

Cost Problem

Pre-production costs are much higher for renewable energy systems than traditional energy systems. Often, a renewable source does not "pay for itself" for 7-15 years. How do we encourage private investors to take a risk on this opportunity?

Harming Business

Preventing vehicle access to certain areas may harm local businesses.

Information is Fundamental

Citizens should be informed of the options for renewable energy. If the government promoted new technology, and provided incentive, it would be easier for the average person to achieve.

Incentives are Needed

The high costs of most off-shore wind projects discourage the shareholders and partners involved. In Europe, large rebates and incentives offered by the government help convince investors that the projects are worth while.

Up and Up

As fuel prices go up, the production costs of renewable energy devices also go up. It is difficult to remain economically competitive.

Keep Constant

The energy supplied by wind and solar is intermittent. This problem must be addressed with technology.

Changing the Landscape

The installation of renewable energy systems drastically changes the landscape. Trees are cut down, and soil is permanently disturbed. Is this worth the lower emission energy?

Social Cost

There are reports that wind turbines produce constant noise and stray electricity that causes health problems. Solar panels take up large areas of previous green space. There are negative social impacts of renewable energy.


Carbon offsetting is the act of reducing or avoiding GHG emissions in one place in order to "offset" GHG emissions occurring elsewhere. Because GHGs mix well in the atmosphere, it doesn't matter where that mitigation occurs.


Is the carbon-offsetting system reliable? How can we insure that the proper procedures are being followed?

Office Pollution

Studies show that 20% of the world's annual paper consumption is in offices. Web based technology is actually increasing the amount of documents that are printed, with the average office worker using 50 sheets of white letter-sized paper a day.

Environmental Impact

We must change the way we live, and associate an environmental impact value with every activity we do during the day.

Staying Competitive

Measures to reduce emissions cannot impair the economic competitiveness of grown and opportunity.

Local Politics

When the process of change are accompanied by local policy and support, environmental objectives can become opportunities for growth. Should we encourage this support?

Planning Restrictions

There are aesthetic constraints that limit installation of solar panels urban areas. Should these restrictions be upheld, or are they outdated?

Condominium developers claim that high-rise structures "save more and spend less" in terms of green space and energy costs.

One Choice

It can take years to see the savings of renewable energy sources. What other options do we have for our children?

Power of Communication

Without energy production, many of the economic efforts that are proposed would be unnecessary. Should we think of investing in strong initiatives to provide information?


No citizen, regardless of economic background should be exempt from environmental initiatives.

Polluters Pay the Price

Luxury goods with high energy consumption (eg. swimming pools) should be taxed at a much higher rate.

Energy Audits

"Energy Audits" are actions that evaluate buildings based on energy efficiency. In most cases a certificate is presented that details energy consumption. Should these services be mandatory and free? Or should they be mandatory, and charged to the building owner?

Limit Consumption First

Solar and wind power can have significant environmental impacts. In areas of value, we should limit consumption rather than provide room for renewable energy construction.

Not "Turn-Key"

Installing a mini windturbine system is not simply buying a kit and installing it. The site must be analyzed in detail, including the wind speed and spatial features. At times the regulation process can deter even the most dedicated individual.

Innovation and Savings

The use of renewable energy does not translate to saving energy. It just ensures that the environmental impact is much lower.

Where Energy is Consumed

Buildings alone account for over 40% of Canada's energy consumption. This is important to consider when encouraging urban growth.

Timed Parking

Timed parking (where cars are ticketed after 2 hours) is proven to reduce car use without compromising business.

Renewable Rewards

At one time, homeowners that installed solar panels could link into the local electricity grid. The utility company would then purchase the electricity from the homeowner. Most utilities quickly realized that this was not practical or affordable long term.

The German Example

Solar panels in Germany produce 12,000 GWh of power annually, compared to only 63 GWh in Canada. Profitable stock in solar companies in Europe is increasing, and banks are more likely to provide funding for renewable energy projects.

Renewables Safeguard the Environment

Fossil fuels are damaging the planet. Renewable sources, such as water, timber, oxygen, fruit and vegetation – to name a few, are a way to combat climate change and reduce pollution.

A Smart Grid

A smart grid would unite consumers and producers in a network that reduces waste and increases efficiency. There is a two-way communication system, and energy is distributed only to meet usage requirements. The current power grid is not entirely adapted to suit this technology.

Gaps in Renewable Energy

There are gaps in renewable energy production ( ie: when the wind isn't blowing, when the sun isn't out.) A Smart Grid could eleviate this problem by combining sources and predicting usage.

Energy Security

Threats to global energy production include the political instability of countries that produce fossil fuels. We must consider competition for the control of the source, bombings or sabotage of the production plant, and natural disasters.


Biomass (defined as organic material used for energy) is renewable and inexhaustible. There are thousands of sources, including farm and forestry byproducts.

Beginning of Biomass

Stations that produce energy from biomass are still in infancy. These stations operate at much lower potential that other traditional energy production stations.

Carbon Credits

Countries have attempted a system of carbon trading, where countries could trade producing and consuming carbon "credits". This trade system was flawed, and is no longer seen as a reliable procedure.

Turn it Down

A reduction of just one degree celsius in our homes during winter, and an increase in one degree celsius in summer can cut heating and cooling costs by 5-10%, and reduce CO2 emissions by 300kg per house hold annually.

The Small Investment

Energy efficient power devices, like LED light bulbs may cost more at first, but provide savings in the long run.

A Car's Worth

On average, every litre of gasoline that a car burns emits more than 2.5kg of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Green Roofs

The concept of growing plants on roofs of buildings is beginning to catch on in Canada. It is being recognized as a way for cities to compensate the loss of green space.

Cost of the Roof

Green roofs improve function and aesthetics of personal and business buildings. They can cost anywhere from $27-$120 a square metre to instal, and require maintenance. During a hot summer, the temperature of a green roof is about 25 degrees celsius, compared to 80 degrees on a traditional roof.

A Rooftop Garden

A rooftop garden lasts twice as long as an ordinary roof. It can also be used for agricultural purposes. The Fairmont Waterfront Hotel (Vancouver) grows herbs and vegetables on its roof, saving $30,000 annually. Decreased temperature of the roof also decreases air conditioning demand.

Planting Trees

Many Canadian provinces have strong ties to forestry. Planting new trees is a way to offset carbon emissions, but it depends on the type of tree and the fertility of the soil.

The Expert Opinion

Richard Capetown of the Center for American Congress has stressed in the past that "to push the green economy, it is essential to work on three aspects: demand stimulation, appropriate support mechanisms, funding and infrastructure modernization."


Car pooling (multiple people sharing one vehicle), public transportation, and taxis are all ways to reduce carbon emissions significantly.

Green Living

The number of people choosing "green" homes is increasing in Europe. This trend is not as prevalent in Canada.


Eco-tourism is a booming industry. It has been seen in most countries of the world, including ecologically sensitive and rare areas.

Energy Breakdown

Fossil fuels account for 36.8% of energy production. Natural gas equals 37.7%. Coal equals 8.2%. Hydroelectricity represents 7.9%, nuclear is 5.9%. Solar, wind and tidal account for 0.1%.

Strength in Solar

Modern solar panels are strong. Solar panels have been launched into space to power space stations, probes and satellites. There is significant maintenance required, including motor and battery upkeep. The life span of a solar panel is 20-25 years, and they begin to offset their own production after 7 years.

Culture or Technology

The behaviour of the people inside a building is more important than how environmentally friendly the building is.

Road Savings

Using LED lights for traffic signals and street lighting reduces energy use by 50% (compared to conventional lighting). Moreover, the LED lights are highly visible and last much longer.

Parking and Energy

In Italy, Engineers have outfitted the roof of a covered parking lot with solar panels. The lot has space for over 11,000 vehicles, and potential of generating 2.8 MW daily. Canada can incorporate energy production in engineered structures.

Encourage Bycles

Many European countries offer cash rebates for anyone that purchases a bicycle. Retailers sell the bike at full price, and then the government reimburses the customer.

Geothermal Heating

Geothermal heating cools homes in summer and heats them in winter. Coils placed in the soil surrounding the home circulate air, maintaining a constant temperature year round. Systems are suitable on all terrain types, with near zero emissions.

Investing in the Environment

According to a recent study, homes that are built with energy saving features have higher resale value than traditional homes. Homes with a good degree of energy efficiency increase in value 15% on average, with peaks of 22%. This is most noticeable in northern Canada, where energy use is highest.

Small Turbines

Small wind turbines are a solution that can be adopted for small consumption. Small wind turbines can deliver 3.5 kW of power. The start up cost of installation is usually off-set by savings within 6 years. An ideal alternative for rural homes, farms and cottages.

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