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Watt's Happening: Three big things you can do to lower your footprint

​ ​Governments and industry have to take leadership roles in our transition to clean, carbon-free energy, of course, but you and I have a role to play in dropping our carbon pollution footprint too.
Don Pettit: "Make your next vehicle electric. Heat and cool your home with a heat pump. Generate your own solar power."

don​Governments and industry have to take leadership roles in our transition to clean, carbon-free energy, of course, but you and I have a role to play in dropping our carbon pollution footprint too.

There are three big things you can do that will have the biggest impact on your personal footprint while improving your quality of life and reducing your day-to-day expenses: make your next vehicle electric, change how you heat and cool your home, and go solar.

Let's go EV

About 1.1 million electric cars and trucks (EVs) were made in 2019 around the world. (That number is way up now: Tesla just passed two million all on it’s own.) Not many compared to the 75 million vehicles sold globally, but the EV growth rate is a hefty 20% per year and growing. That means in just over 20 years EVs will be about the only vehicles being made anywhere. Already nine out of 10 cars sold in Norway are electric, one in five across most of Europe.

The cleaner your local grid, the more EVs make good carbon sense, but even in high carbon grids like Alberta, they are still the best way to go. And of course, you can always charge them on your own super clean little grid from the solar on your roof! (More on “going solar” later.)

OK, EVs don’t have the soul or character of good old-fashioned combustion vehicles, but they more than make up for it in performance, power, safety, and very low maintenance and fuel costs.

For those long distance trips, fast EV chargers are going in quickly all across Canada, so soon that famous “range anxiety” will be a thing of the past. Even now, most EV owners charge at home with a simple outlet or low-cost Level Two charger while the vehicle sits doing nothing anyway: overnight at home or at work, taking care of about 80% of most people’s charging and driving needs.

What about their performance in cold northern winters? Well, Norway seems to be doing OK. I know about a dozen EV owners in Northeast B.C. and Northwest Alberta, and their reports give EVs a big thumbs up. They love them!

With only a handful of moving parts, EV maintenance is very, very low, making them reliable and easy on the pocket book. And acceleration? Hold on tight, you’ve never felt anything like it, guaranteed.

Heat pumps for heating and cooling

The first step is always to reduce your need for heating or cooling by making sure your home is well insulated and has high efficiency windows. The next step is to go to electric heating and cooling.

Electric heat has had a bad rap for ages: too expensive! That’s because until recently electric heat meant low efficiency “resistance” heating.

With traditional resistance heating, we push a lot of electricity through a metal conductor that has high electrical resistance, so the metal strip or coil gets red hot. Works well, just uses a ridiculous amount of electricity for a small amount of heat.

Now here come the heat pumps. A heat pump does not directly convert electricity into heat like a resistance heater. Instead, it harvests heat from the air or ground.

The fact is, even very cold air actually contains a lot of heat, as does the ground just a few feet down. An air or ground source heat pump gathers that energy, concentrates it, and then pumps it into your home. The amount of heat produced per watt of electricity consumed is about three times that of resistance heating. Suddenly, electric heating begins to make a lot of sense.

And so does electric cooling. Simply reversing the flow of your heat pump turns it into an air conditioner, so you get both heating and cooling in one gadget, automatically.

Heat pumps are sweeping the cooling and heating industries for a lot of very good reasons, plus there are now generous subsidies available for switching to heat pumps (check out the Canada Greener Homes Grant).

Next issue we’ll cover the third big climate change action you can take: go solar. It’s the cleanest energy you can possibly use, and making your own at home is quick, easy, and can eliminate your electrical bills!

Don Pettit lives and writes in Dawson Creek, and is Executive Director of Peace Energy Cooperative.

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