Niall Enright is a sustainability consultant helping companies become more resource and energy efficient. A few months ago he contacted me to tell me about a book he’s written called, Energy and Resource Efficiency Without the Tears – the complete guide to adding value and sustaining change in an organisation. This guide is free as a PDF and can be downloaded via this link.
About this book, Niall writes:
This is not a theoretical manual – it is based on more than 25 year’s work in the field in the US, Canada, Europe, Africa and the Far East. For example, for the last 8 years I have been Director of Sustainability for Peel Holdings a US$10bn property and infrastructure company here in the UK. In this time, I helped design and lead a programme which has saved £1.5m a year on an energy bill of £4m, achieved the first ISO 50001 certification for a major UK property company as well as piloted the “BREEAM Communities” standard (similar in some ways to LEED Neighbourhood Development).
Green Bonds are bonds that are designated as having some sort of environmental bent to them. The world of green bonds is still young, so there is not a lot of regulation around them yet. I have wanted to invest in green bonds for awhile, but until now they have not been available to the consumer. Enter CoPower.
CoPower was formed in 2013 when the founders identified a particular hole in the green investing and technology market. They have developed a market for people who want to invest their money in clean-tech while providing businesses who do clean tech with capital. But they are not looking at start-ups and risky investing. CoPower is providing money for a variety of businesses that install renewable energy projects and energy efficiency projects such as improving a building’s insulation and replacing lighting with LEDs. They only invest in projects using experienced designers-installers who use proven technologies.
On one of the nicest days so far this year my husband and I took a field trip to Burlington, Vermont to check out all the green exhibits at the Vermont Home and Garden Show.
The first exhibit I saw was a “tri-exhibit” of Pellergy, Vermont Renewable Fuels and Green Mountain Wood Pellets . These three companies work together to provide homeowners with a no-fuss wood pellet boiler system. I know very little about wood pellet boilers, so I imagined that every few hours you have to go down to the deep dark recesses of your home, grab a few scoopfuls of pellets and feed it to a big scary oven. I believed that having a pellet furnace would be both inconvenient and tie you down — you could never leave your house for longer than a few hours without the place freezing up. But that image is totally wrong and misguided; these boilers are like modern gas or oil boilers only with a much lower carbon footprint. They heat the water just as effectively as oil and gas, while the wood pellets are delivered to your house, directly to your storage container through a vacuum hose that looks not unlike an oil hose.
Pellergy Alpha Boiler
Pellergy Alpha Self-Cleaning Boiler is made in Austria and uses wood pellets to produce enough heat to boil the water that goes through your radiant flooring system or radiator system. The difference between this system and an oil or gas boiler is only the fuel source. The ignition system that is used monitors demand and temperature and adjusts accordingly. Pellets are fed through a vacuum transfer system to the heating chamber when needed. I asked the exhibitor about the insurance issues — what do home insurers think about a fuel system made from wood? He said that insurers don’t have a problem with it because oil and gas are significantly more explosive than the wood pellets. And in terms of spillage, he said, “If you have a pellet spill, you use a broom to sweep it up.” Quite a bit different from an oil spill!
Pellergy boilers keep track of how many tons of wood are burned and when it reaches a certain amount, it connected wirelessly to the pellet delivery service, which will then schedule a delivery of more pellets. While the delivery truck looks just like an oil tanker, it’s filled with wood pellets. A vacuum system feeds the pellets into the home’s storage tank.
Pellergy Boiler Cutaway
Pellets are fed automatically to the boiler, so you never have to worry about feeding the system — unless of course there’s a power outage. There is a manual system available, but the company has never installed one.
What I really liked about this system was the vertical integration. Last year Vermont Renewable Fuels bought its own mill which uses local Vermont white pine — essentially a weed tree that needs to be cleared out of the forest anyway. Foresters now have a market for this tree. Another benefit is that the mix of the white pine fibers with its sap produces a “premium quality” pellet that burns at the optimal temperature for longer and cleaner than a “high quality” pellet producing less ash than other pellets. One of the issues with pellet furnaces is the amount of ash that can build up after burning. The Pellergy units are self-cleaning. Using it together with the low-ash producing wood pellets will also mean less maintenance.
The cost of the system ranges from US$9,999 (A-60 Manual Feed) to US$11699 (AV-100) Vacuum feed plus tax and installation. There are additional costs for the storage container as well. Rebates and incentives for wood pellet systems will vary depending on where in New England you live. You can check with a Pellergy installer or look on the DSIRE website. (Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency)
Vermont Renewable Fuels delivery truck
Fuel rates: there is a good cost comparison to oil on Pellergy’s website, but basically, the cost of a ton of pellets ranges between US$240-290/ton. Based on the amount used through a winter equates to $2.14 per gallon of oil.
Carbon neutrality: using wood as fuel is considered carbon neutral as it is considered the same as if it had decayed naturally in the forest at end-of-life. Carbon is stored in wood until it is released upon burning or natural decay.
Other good resources for information on financial help for renewable energy systems in Vermont are:
Usually once a home is built, the builder hands the keys over to the new owner and unless there’s a problem, the builder moves on to the next project. However, in the case of a straw-bale built home in Peterborough, the home has been lived in for the past year and all water and energy consumed has been recorded. The goal was to see if, in fact, the home is Canada’s greenest home. You can read all about its features in the article I wrote last year. Chris Magwood, director of the Endeavour Centre, whose students built the home emphasizes that it’s not supposed to be a competition, it’s meant to demonstrate that building a green home is achievable using currently available technology that is locally available.
I met Ben Polley on the trip to Poland in October, 2014, but his company, Evolve Builders had been on my list of ones to contact for awhile. Evolve Builders builds low impact houses and buildings from straw, earth and wood. The company is divided into various divisions each of which specialize in a particular area of green building ranging from green design to “biological based building systems” (dealing with gray and black water and the like) through the Torus division.
mobEE, the prefabricated straw bale school portable system has recently signed a contract with the Pinoleville Pomo Nation to provide six mobEE units for the aboriginal group. What is unusual about this contract is that this nation is based in northern California. You might be wondering, like I did, why this group from northern California selected a southern Ontario-based natural builder to build these school buildings for them. The questions was answered in Evolve’s press release:
After extended bid requests for a strawbale constructed portable school structure failed to garner interest locally or elsewhere across the U.S., determined Pinoleville Native American Head Start program representatives discovered Evolve’s mobEE eco-portables. Both parties came to learn that they held in common many organizational values, including support for local jobs, environmental stewardship, healthy buildings and energy efficiency. This inspired a joint effort that ultimately will meet Pinoleville Pomo Nation’s ideals, needs and budget.
Construction of the walls will take place in the Durham, Ontario factory then the parts will be shipped to California where they will be assembled by local trades, overseen by the mobEE group.
For the most part we rely on third party organizations to determine what is and isn't a "green building material." The only time we might not is when products are locally produced or no third party green designation is available for the product.