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Posted: 2013-02-25
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Posted: 2013-02-25
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Interesting Facts

Introduction to Energy Efficiency and Climate Change

What is Climate Change?
Climate change is a change in the "average weather" that a given region experiences. Average weather includes all the features we associate with the weather such as temperature, wind patterns and precipitation. When we speak of climate change on a global scale, we are referring to changes in the climate of the Earth as a whole. The rate and magnitude of global climate changes over the long term have many implications for the natural ecosystems that sustain life on earth. Some changes might result in extreme weather events, like tornados and hurricanes. Other changes may appear to be beneficial. For example, an arid area that receives additional rain might produce more crops. And a cold area that experiences longer, warmer summers will probably make the local inhabitants happy. But scientists remain concerned because of the speed and unpredictability of these changes - changes that not only affect the weather, but also have far-reaching environmental, social and economic consequences.

Human activities contribute to climate change primarily through the greenhouse gas emissions produced by burning fossil fuels. Oil, coal, and gasoline are common fossil fuels used extensively in our daily lives – to heat our homes, to power our factories, to produce electricity and to run our vehicles. These human-generated greenhouse gases, released in huge quantities, mix into the atmosphere and significantly alter the Earth's natural greenhouse effect.

As you know, a typical garden greenhouse uses glass to keep heat in. And just like this glass, the Earth's atmospheric gasses trap the sun's heat near its surface. This keeps the Earth warm with what are called "greenhouse gases". Without these gases, the sun's heat would escape and the average temperature of the Earth would drop from 15 degrees Celsius to -18 degrees Celsius! Of course the opposite effect also occurs - with excessive amounts of greenhouse gas, the Earth's average temperature goes up.

The energy that we use in our daily lives produces greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change: about 5 tonnes per person per year. Each of us has a responsibility to use energy more efficiently to reduce our personal contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. It is never too early for students to learn about the efficient use of energy and the link to climate change. By ensuring that young Canadians are aware of how important it is for all of us to do our part, we will have moved one more step toward a safe and clean environment for the future. Everyone has a role to play - individuals, communities, industry and government.

What does energy efficiency have to do with the environment? Everything!

Being energy efficient means being able to satisfy our energy needs today without compromising the resources of tomorrow. Specifically, in order to maintain long-term energy supplies, we must use energy efficiently, develop alternative sources of energy and protect the environment. Future generations are counting on it.

By improving how we use energy today, we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help slow climate change – and that's good for our health, the environment and our children's future. All Canadians can contribute by using energy more efficiently at home, at work and on the road.

Energy Efficiency – What Can We Do?
Simply stated, energy efficiency means using energy in the most economical way possible and keeping its use to a minimum. Energy efficiency can be practiced at home, at school, at work and during recreational activities – in fact, practically anywhere and anytime in our day-to-day activities. This may be as simple as turning off the lights when leaving a room, or bicycling to school instead of asking mom or dad for a ride. Encouraging energy efficiency reduces the use of fossil fuels, thus reducing emissions of harmful pollutants into the earth's atmosphere.

Renewable Energy
Nature provides much of the energy we need for light, heat and power. Some of this energy is called"renewable", which means that it doesn't deplete the earth's limited resources. Examples of renewable energy are the sun, the wind, water and the earth itself. Trees and other plants can also be a source of renewable energy if they're managed properly.

In many cases, replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources reducesemissions of harmful pollutants into the atmosphere. Solar and wind energy,hydro-electricity (water-generated electricity), tidal power and photovoltaictechnologies, such as photovoltaic cells, release very little or no pollutantsinto the atmosphere while the energy is being produced or consumed.

Canada is rich in renewable resources. Some, such as hydro-electricity, are already being harnessed. Others are now being developed. Here are some examples of renewable energy:

1. Wind energy: Windmills are a good example of how wind energy has been used for centuries. Today, we use wind turbines to power generators or run machines. There is a lot of potential for wind power in Canada. Canada has "wind farms" in Prince Edward Island, Alberta and on Quebec's Gaspé Peninsula. The latter is the largest wind plant in Canada and one of the largest in the world.

2. Geothermal energy: Geothermal energy comes straight from the earth. Good examples are volcanoes, hot water springs and underground water, which can release tremendous amounts of heat. Other parts of the world have far more potential for this kind of energy than Canada does. Nonetheless, we can still take advantage of the sun's heat absorbed by the earth, and geothermal pumps can use the ground or underground water as a heat source. The earth can also be used to absorb excess heat from buildings during the summer.

3. Solar energy: The sun is a major source of energy. The sun's rays can be converted to thermal energy, which can be used to heat air and water. Solar photovoltaic panels, such as the ones used on satellites and in calculators, can convert the sun's rays directly into electricity.

4. Hydro-electric power: Moving water is very powerful. By using dams or the natural flow of a river, water can drive a turbine that spins an electrical generator. More than 60 percent of all electricity used in Canada is hydro-electric power.

5. Biomass: Biomass refers to any plant or other organic matter, with wood being the most utilized. Biomass can be burned to produce heat, and it can be converted to fuel or gas using biological or chemical processes. Although burning biomass can emit pollutants, this can be minimized using low-emission technologies. To manage biomass sources of energy properly, it's important to let nature renew itself.

Alternative and Future Transportation Fuels
Transportation is essential to the economy and to our personal activities. The transportation sector has made good progress in reducing emissions that result in urban air pollution, however, emissions of greenhouse gases from the transportation sector are expected to grow in the future. There are numerous research efforts under way around the world to develop these technologies and fuels for motor vehicles, which account for about 80 percent of transportation emissions.

Future vehicle technologies and fuels can change this outlook. In the longer term, electric-powered vehicles, and using batteries or fuel cells powered by hydrogen, could reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles to verylow levels.

Alternative fuels currently being used in conventional vehicles are propane, natural gas, ethanol and methanol. These are less polluting than current petroleum-based fuels such as gasoline and diesel fuels.

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