Canary Islands: Embracing Renewable Energy

For the last few years as I’ve given talks for Climate Reality Canada, I’ve referred to the efforts made by Vatican City to become completely self-sufficient in generating its own energy. Starting with solar panels installed on the roof of the Paul VI Audience Hall, I like to point out that they have two things going for them to help achieve their goal of being the first European nation to be carbon-neutral: they have a population of only about 800 inhabitants to generate energy for, and of course God is on their side.

But another part of Europe is doing one better: El Hierro, the smallest of Spain’s Canary Islands has already made an impressive achievement. A couple of years ago the island opened a new wind farm and with this step, its population of more than 10,000 people have been living on the first island in the world that is totally self-sufficient in generating its own electricity, through both wind and water power. The five new wind turbines generate 11.5 megawatts of energy which is more than enough to supply the population’s energy needs. It’s also enough to power the desalination plants which provide the island’s fresh water needs.

The two renewable sources of energy compliment each other, because when the wind isn’t blowing, hydropower can do the job. Here’s how it works:  Continue reading

"An Inconvenient Truth:" Happy 10th Anniversary!

“There is the natural tendency that all of us are vulnerable to, to deny unpleasant realities and to look for any excuse to push them away and resolve to think about them another day long in the future.”
—Al Gore

Today marks an important anniversary for the climate movement. Ten years ago today the Oscar-winning film An Inconvenient Truth was released. It was seeing this film that started me on my journey of environmentalism in general, and trying to combat global warming and climate change in particular. And in my travels I’ve learned that I wasn’t the only one so inspired.

It’s especially an important anniversary for Climate Reality Leaders who have been trained by Al Gore to provide talks on his behalf to interested folks. That’s a group I feel very fortunate to be part of. In addition, I’m also a Climate Reality Mentor, having helped to train some of these Leaders myself, including my son Jamie.

Many of us Climate Reality Leaders are honouring this important anniversary by doing any number of leadership acts including hosting a party and watching the movie, giving a presentation, or sharing our story on how we became a climate activist.

Have we come a long way since the movie was first released? You bet we have. Is it far enough? Definitely not. But the momentum is there, and we’re continually moving in the right direction. And as Mr. Gore so aptly puts it, political will is our best renewable resource.


A New Kind of Wind Turbine

Wind turbines will play a large part of our planet’s transition away from fossil fuels as we move toward renewable energy sources. But we all know they have their opponents. Reasons for opposition include harming the bat and bird population, purported adverse health effects from infrasound, interfering with flight paths near airports, and even just that they’re unsightly to some folks.

But a startup company in Spain might have the answer. Vortex has recently created an entirely new design for wind turbines that’s nothing like you’ve ever seen before. It’s a wind turbine without any blades. It’s nothing more than a pole in the ground so it can fit easily fit into almost any space, generating much more electricity than conventional wind turbines without taking up so much land. Also, most of the complaints of conventional wind turbines don’t apply with this design.

So how do they work? Quite simply, they jiggle. They rely on a branch of science known as aeroelasticity. That’s the study of how elastic things will move when they’re exposed to a constant energy such as wind. One of the best examples of aeroelasticity was the 1940 collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in the state of Washington. That bridge was exposed to constant winds up to 40 mph. Although the suspension cables were able to absorb the impact, the bridge started to vibrate just like a sine wave. This actually started to accentuate in a positive feedback loop to the point where the bridge couldn’t take it any more and it collapsed.

Engineers learned a lot from the Tacoma Bridge disaster and this knowledge is what has been utilized in the bladeless wind turbine design by Vortex. They take advantage of the aeroelastic flutter that aeroelasticity creates. The magnified vibrations actually generate power with less wind than conventional turbines. Vortex claims that its design is 40 percent less expensive than traditional turbines because the blades themselves are quite expensive. Maintenance will also be less because because they don’t have a lot of moving parts. And they’ll be quieter with less wind disturbance. In so many ways its a win-win-win for everyone.

Imagine a day where wind farms will simply consist of jiggling poles in a field. Here’s a video to give you a better idea of what they’re all about.

Bring Back the Bees

This is a departure from my usual post. It’s not global warming. It’s not climate change.

But it’s environment. And it’s something that might irreparably harm our planet as much as the issues I usually post about. We need our bees. Much more than the vast majority of people realize.

We tend to care as a species. Cheerios has done a brilliant ad campaign highlighting that simple fact, tied into their Honey Nut Cheerios cereal. See what you think, but I find it to be powerful.

Fort McMurray: The Horror

I can’t joke about it. I can’t relish in the fact that the city dedicated to the most carbon-intense fuel on our planet is most likely burning because of the very problem the combustion of fossil fuels creates. All I can think is that my fellow Canadians are suffering. People like my high school friend Ed. Or my former nanny Deb. People who left their communities for better job opportunities elsewhere in our country.

In case you hadn’t heard, Fort McMurray is going down in flames due to wild fires that ar burning out of control. More than 80,000 residents have been displaced, and it is the most expensive insurable event that Canada has ever faced, far surpassing the Alberta floods that happened a few years ago. Most of the time we tend to think about climate change affecting groups who are so far removed from us that it’s almost convenient to ignore. But when climate change affects your own back yard, you tend to take notice.

Behold, 80,000 Canadians evacuated from a small Canadian community dedicated to the procurement of fossil fuels.