The Off-GridGreen Myth, Part II

| 3/23/2012 8:22:52 AM

Tags: off grid, energy, air travel, Cam Mather,

When Professor and Canada Research Chair Phillip Vannini came to visit us recently as part of his research on people who live “off the grid” he had just come from an off-grid home north of Toronto. This couple had indicated to him that they had gone off grid for “environmental reasons.” I can’t remember their exact distance, but let’s say they were about 50 miles north of Toronto (which you’d have to be to be able to afford any amount of property these days.) And it turns out that they worked outside of the home… in Toronto. They commuted back and forth every day.

Perhaps you can see where I’m going with this. Everything they do from an electricity energy standpoint is being offset by their transportation energy use. And what’s worse, in a province like Ontario where more than 55% of our electricity is nuclear (which I don’t like but which doesn’t emit carbon like coal) and 20% is hydro (with wind and solar gaining some ground as we close coal plants) electricity isn’t the problem for most people. It’s transportation and heating. Burning natural gas to heat your home or hot water is the problem. You take sequestered carbon and burn it and release that carbon into the atmosphere.

If you look at the Ministry of Natural Resources data for Canadians as a whole, which includes some provinces like Quebec and B.C. where most of their electricity is generated with hydro (water), and places like Alberta which is mostly coal, you see that really, electricity use in the house isn’t that big a deal. Almost 80% of your carbon footprint is how you heat your home and your hot water.


Source: NRCan, National Energy Use Database, 1990 to 2005 (2007), Comprehensive Energy Use Database,  Residential Sector, Canada, Table 2, “Secondary energy use and GHG emissions by end-use.” 

So really, in many places throughout Canada, going “off-grid” from an environmental point of view doesn’t make any sense.

Alexander Clarke
3/25/2012 7:42:44 PM

The mild winter was apparently caused by an over active jet-stream. An Newfoundland (Where I am) has had the coldest winter for a few years, it was -10 C last night. I think it's -5 C now.

3/23/2012 9:11:53 PM

So many mistakes & so little time to disabuse you of them. (A)You display pretty faulty logic: that flight you're not going to take to India is going to go there anyways, with or wthout you. You'e not saving any "carbon" by staying home.(B) Whatever happened to that suit the Maldives were going to file against industrial nations over GW? And why has the govt there built a multi-million dollar resort to attract hi-end tourists if they think they're sinking? (C) It's been hot here in Chicago too, and record cold in Europe. Rome had 3 deep snowfalls this yr. It usually gets a light snow once every 30 yrs. Also- largest snow storm ever in Pacific NW. It all averages out. (D) Add up all the people killed by nuclear generation of electricity in the past 60 yrs and then explain why you don't like nuclear. (E) The dopes that spent $30,000 to stay off grid instead of $42,000 to go on grid will have to repeat the expense every 20 yrs or so. Forever. (F) You're right about many of the short sighted efforts of TreeHuggers to be "Green." They do it to satisfy their consciences, fantasizing that it actually solves problems.

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