OK, so, we use a lot of energy. It takes energy to make energy. It takes energy to transport fuel, it takes energy to make the vehicles and devices that transport fuel, it takes energy to turn fuel into energy and it takes energy to distribute energy and fuel. Energy is also wasted all along the path.
One thing is certain: it’s not OK to waste energy.
Here, in no particular order, are nine reasons why. Together, they are what drives me to be so passionate about reducing the amount of energy used in Canadian houses.
A RANT, AND A LOVE LETTER, ALL IN ONE:
REASON #1: IT’S NOT OK TO WASTE ENERGY BECAUSE IT’S GONNA COST YOU MORE MONEY.
Each time energy is expended, it costs money. All of the infrastructure around us requires energy - our dependence on fossil fuels requires fossil fuels to continue the supply of fossil fuels. We need fossil fuels to explore for fossil fuel resources, to extract them, refineme, store, distribute them. And the machinery that allows us to do all that work is built using fossil fuels. Hydro and solar are no different - fossil fuels drive the dam-building machinery, solar panels require mining, refinement and manufacture. It’s pretty much a guarantee that the cost of doing business is not going to go down, which means that energy prices are going to increase, which means somebody (the end user - that’s you and me) has to pay for it.
REASON #2: IT’S NOT OK TO WASTE ENERGY BECAUSE IT’S GONNA CAUSE MORE ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE.
All of the mining, drilling, dam-building, transportation, extraction, refinement, storage and distribution has an impact on the environment. Some more than others. The more the energy sector expands to accommodate demand, the bigger the environmental impact. The bigger the environmental impact, the more tenuous our hold on ‘business as usual’. At some point, the damage will be irreparable and the resources will be depleted. We’re not very far away from that point, if we haven’t already passed it.
REASON #3: IT’S NOT OK TO WASTE ENERGY BECAUSE IT’S GONNA LEAD TO ENERGY INSECURITY.
Many livelihoods are associated with energy production, directly or indirectly. If these industries fail because have depleted the very resources they rely on, there is an economic crisis of massive proportions. On top of that, Canadians have very little choice but to rely on energy to keep them warm in the winter. So where’s the energy going to come from? If we have to purchase more and more energy offshore, then we are at the mercy of other governments and their policies. The same is true of massive offshore investment in Canadian resource extraction.
REASON #4: IT’S NOT OK TO WASTE ENERGY BECAUSE: CARBON.
Every energy exchange that includes fossil fuels has a carbon cost. We can reduce carbon costs associated with operating existing housing through energy conservation measures and electrification (assuming that the electricity is coming from a clean generation source). In some cases, we can reduce the embedded carbon in a renovation, or even create a minor carbon sink. We can reduce carbon costs associated with new housing in two ways: using low-carbon materials, and creating a building envelope that minimizes the amount of energy needed from the least carbon-intensive energy source.
REASON #5: IT’S NOT OK TO WASTE ENERGY BECAUSE IT’S TOO EXPENSIVE TO RENOVATE FOR ENERGY CONSERVATION.
More than 70% of Canada’s housing stock is over 30 years old, most of it built well before energy efficiency was a thing. We have the opportunity, the technology and the know how to greatly improve what’s already in place in urban, suburban and rural neighbourhoods, but often, individuals can’t afford the upgrades, or aren’t interested in paying for upgrades that they won’t see the long-term benefit from. What if we took the burden of energy conservation measures off the shoulders of homeowners and turn energy management into an infrastructure cost borne by the municipality, like water and sewer?
REASON #6: IT’S NOT OK TO WASTE ENERGY BECAUSE IT COSTS TOO MUCH TO BUILD NEW HOUSING.
The cost of building new, energy efficient, high performance housing is high. There’s financial costs associated with land development, water and sewer expansion, new roads, expansion of utility grids, and then there’s the cost of construction materials and labour. There are energy costs associated with new development, energy costs associated with every single building material and piece of equipment that gets installed in new construction. These costs are only going to get higher as prices for materials go up and options for expansion around big city areas go down. Vancouver and Toronto are already in the top 10 most expensive cities to live in.
REASON #7: IT’S NOT OK TO WASTE ENERGY BECAUSE OF OCCUPANT HEALTH COSTS
While energy efficiency is good on it’s own merits, there is a whole range of non-energy benefits associated with energy efficiency done right. In existing housing, it improves comfort and creates a healthier indoor environment, reducing any health-related issues with indoor pollutants such as mold, dust or radon. Healthier people means less burden on the social safety net.
REASON #8: IT’S NOT OK TO WASTE ENERGY BECAUSE IT’S EXPENSIVE TO MOVE
Sometimes you hear ‘oh, it would be cheaper to move than do renovations’. Sometimes the word people are actually looking for is ‘easier’, not ‘cheaper’. But really, the costs associated with moving are high, and creating more value in an existing home can outweigh the costs associated with selling and moving. There are real estate commissions, closing costs, decorating costs and moving expenses. These add nothing to the value of a property. You’re never going to get those costs back. What if that same amount was used to improve and reduce the cost of operating the house?
REASON #9: IT’S NOT OK TO WASTE ENERGY BECAUSE WE’RE ALL GETTING OLDER.
You can pay now or pay later. As we get older, more and more of us join the ranks of fixed income households. When that happens, we need to minimize our monthly expenses. This is a big driver for investing in energy conservation measures, because people also want to stay in their houses for as long as they can. Why? Because it’s their home, and they are surrounded by their social network. Renovations that reduce utility costs and reduce maintenance costs make sense to people who are looking to their future in their community.