Monday, November 9, 2015

Renewable Energy

I think shifting into renewable energy is one of the most important things we need to do as a society if we are to avoid climate change catastrophe.  If we are to avoid losing southern Florida, to say nothing of low-lying other parts of the world, to avoid crippling drought making areas uninhabitable (perhaps parts of the western U.S.), and other crises in the future, we are going to have to reduce carbon emissions.  There is no other choice.

But there are many choices about HOW we do that.  I'm currently reading the National Geographic article on efforts to move to renewables in Germany.  It's well worth reading, if only for the optimism it portrays.  In fact the entire current issue on Climate Change is worth reading.  Germany now generates 27% of its energy from renewables such as solar and wind (twice the U.S. rate), and aims for an astonishing 80% by 2050.  They are also vowing to close all nuclear power plants by 2022.  And there is a 90% public approval rating for this fundamental shift.

I'm well aware of all the controversies over wind power, which is the renewable energy production that we see most of driving around southern Ontario.  About 30 minutes south of us is the Melancthon Wind Farm, with 133 turbines.  It's created a surreal landscape, especially at night, when all you see are the twinkling red lights on each tower.

I actually find the turbines interesting and attractive, but I don't live near one, and I can well understand how someone who is sensitive to low frequency noise or vibration would feel.  I think the studies that claim there are no health effects are based on a misunderstanding of science - to be more scientifically accurate, they should say that 'statistically, 95 out of 100 people will feel no negative health effects'.  We tend to forget the other 5%, and most statistical tests are based on a '95% confidence level'.

On the other hand I know from the broader society's perspective, we need to move in the direction of this and other renewables.  It's the old broader common good vs the individual again, but as the planet gets both more crowded and hotter, some tough decisions are going to have to be made!  How many turbines can you count here?

In the meantime, these wind turbines have made an enormous impact on the rural landscape in a few parts of southern Ontario, and I'm sure elsewhere in North America.  I'm not going to suggest what side of the coin you should choose, but I will suggest that you should educate yourself a bit about the implications of climate change and how we get our electricity.

The second fairly widespread, but much more innocuous, renewable we see in the rural landscape is solar power.  Ontario's government put in place a set of incentives for farmers to install these large solar panels, and they have popped up in many places.

On the other hand, nuclear power still provides the backbone of electricity in southern Ontario (36%).  This is the main transmission line from the Bruce Nuclear plant to the Toronto region, a transmission line we also see driving up and down from further south in Ontario.

But we tend to forget hydro-electric power and take it for granted.  This is the small Eugenia Power Plant just down in the bottom of the valley close to us.  It has the highest water drop of any hydro plant in Ontario and this week is its 100th anniversary!  Hydro provides 22% of Ontario's electricity, with the largest amount coming of course from the plants at Niagara Falls.

In Canada as a whole, the contribution of hydro-electricity is even more dramatic.  Overall, 58% of Canada's electricity was generated renewably from hydro in 2007, the most recent year I could find a figure for.  Only China exceeds this level among other countries.  Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, Manitoba, British Columbia and the Yukon all generate over 90% of their needs through hydro.  And I haven't talked about tidal plants or solar farms yet.  My interest arises through my interest in the rural landscape, but there are much bigger issues to be talked about as we shift to renewable energy in the future.  This picture is one of the generators inside the Eugenia Power Plant.


Good news!!  We finally saw my surgeon again today, and learned (surprise, surprise!!), that I don't need surgery, at least not for now.  Rejoice, rejoice!  (I'd put in a smiley face if I knew how, maybe several).  It's a complicated health issue, but we had been expecting further major surgery ever since my heart surgery of a year ago this week.  I didn't realize how much of a burden that had been on our thinking until today, when the weight lifted off our shoulders and we feel like we can start living again.  I may (or may not) need it in the future, but for now it's back to annual monitoring.  We had our travels for the next two summer planned by the time we finished the drive home!!

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  1. Great news on your health issues! I read your post with great interest as I did not know much about these wind turbines.

  2. Wellsaid. We do have to make changes before more people suffer than are already suffering from climate change.

  3. I saw many wind turbines the times we drove from the east coast to the west of the US. They make sense to have in in open windy areas.

    I'm very happy to hear your good news about not needing surgery, and I hope you continue to do well in the future!

  4. Solar or wind turbines for my way of power supply,We live a little over an hour from a wind farm, and unless you are right under,or very nearby,all you hear is a gentle "HMMMM" or a "whoop/whoop/whoop" as each of the 3 blades go round. Great news from your surgeon, plan,go forth and travel, enjoy the moment.

  5. I so agree that wind and sun and water are the way to go. In the UK a succession of governments have cancelled funding on renewable energy for silly reasons like "it isn't windy all the time" etc etc. and now we are running out of power stations because no-one has bothered to build any new ones. Seriously we are running out of power. We have been warned there may be problems this winter so I mustn't forget to lay in a large supply of candles. Delighted to hear your healthy news. (Smiley face?)

  6. Glad your health is looking very manageable in the future. You can now concentrate on living. The issue with bird death is an important one when locating those turbines near migratory paths. I also think we can harness tides and ocean energy much better than we are doing. I do think we have reached the tipping point already on climate change and now we are under the gunt to adapt.

  7. I read not long ago about putting wind turbines along the coast in the water might be the way to go. I counted twenty. And congratulations on your health news. That is wonderful! :-)

  8. Hear, hear! In a controversy over wind turbine project near here I often wondered if the opponents ever thought about where the electricity they used came from. They must never have seen a coal strip mine or photos of mountain top removal in other states or must not understand that those sites are seldomly truly reclaimed. And that goes for the "Chickadee Chasers" who bemoan the bird losses at wind turbines who don't seem to understand the habitat losses from strip mines impact bird populations far more than do turbines.

    That said, reducing electricity useage thru efficiency is far preferable to the proliferation of turbines on the landscape that has occurred in the last decade -- cheaper too.

  9. Great news indeed . I am pleased you and your ticker are doing well . We have a large wind turbine farm down here on the north shores of lake Erie they have been down her for over 15 years as well as a solar farm or two . My hubs steel company also works with the wind turbine company , these turbines are huge and we often see them on trucks moving down the roads to put more up . Lovely photos . Thanks for sharing , Have a good day !

  10. Great news, that the surgery is not necessary. I am all for the wind turbines as long as they are not near the birds migratory routes. I wish going green was more afforable for the average person, solar panels are very expensive at this time. Great post. Happy Tuesday, enjoy your day!

  11. Good news!

    We do need these alternate energies. I have been around the wind turbines in the Shelburne area, and I must be one of those five percent... because it has left me feeling nauseous.

  12. We have the wind turbines around here I love to watch them. They are mesmerizing for me. They seem so peaceful graceful.

  13. I'm happy for you and your great news from the doctor. Now you can relax and enjoy life a bit more. There are a few turbine farms in NB. They are interesting to see from afar and up close.

  14. We have hundreds of the wind mills in our state of Iowa. It is weird to drive through them while on an interstate road. We will be adding many more in the near future so I understand. There really are a lot of options to get energy.

  15. In all of your dissertation you do not once mention energy conservation and reduced consumption.

    1. You're right David. I was so focussed on those things I see around the landscape, I skipped over conservation and simply using less. Those options, in all kinds of ways, add up to the biggest single way to save on energy. Insulation and improved windows and doors, better appliances, more efficient vehicles, all of these are things individual consumers can do to contribute.