Sustainable living usually isn’t what comes to mind when people think of Alberta.
Our large oil and gas industry dominates the province. However, protecting the environment is becoming more and more necessary, and because we noticed a rising interest in sustainability, we went out to discover the most eco-friendly way to live.
Naturally, our first thought was off-grid living because the disconnected wilderness lifestyle seemed to shout sustainability. Off-grid living means generating energy sources instead of using power and utilities from the city. It seemed like the appropriate thing to do, but we quickly found out that it isn’t the best choice for sustainable living in Alberta.
“The benefits to the environment are subtle,” said Ralph Cartar, professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Calgary and off-grid home owner.
“I can imagine grid connection to be better for the environment because in our case for example, when our batteries are charged, our photovoltaics [solar panels] shut down and they’re capable of producing a lot of useful power that others could use.”
When you are disconnected from the grid, the power you generate is stored in batteries, however, when the batteries are full, any excess power is wasted. On the other hand, when a system is connected to the grid, excess energy can go back onto the city’s grid instead of being wasted.
“I can imagine grid connection to be better for the environment.”
Off-grid systems have to be overbuilt which has environmental impacts. According to David Vonesch, COO of SkyFire Energy, it takes two to three years to offset the emissions of manufacturing a solar panel. The average Canadian household uses around four solar panels and 7,200 kwh of energy per year, or around 70-square-feet of photovoltaics, which produces roughly 1,300 kwh annually. Therefore, on off the grid houses, the system has to be larger than normal in order to produce and store enough energy for cloudy days when energy is not being produced.
EchoHaven is a unique new community in northwest Calgary that combines the advantages of grid connectivity with sustainable energy sources. In Alberta, homeowners that utilize sustainable energy sources can give their excess energy back to the grid for a credit.
“We have what’s called a net-building system,” says Brian Taylor, homeowner in EchoHaven.
“If you have a surplus, that goes into the grid and then you get a credit. Then if you use electricity later, you use up those credits first.”
Because of this, sustainable living is not only better for the environment but easier on your wallet in the long run. Right now, the average cost of photovoltaics for your home is around $18,000, depending on a number of factors such as the size and age of your home, its insulation, the energy efficiency of your appliances and the weather. Though start up costs are high, after 10 to 18 years, the money you save will pay back the cost of the system.
To help offset the cost for homeowners and commercial businesses, the Alberta government has also announced a $36-million rebate program for buildings with solar panels. According to the Government of Alberta, solar installations have doubled in the province since 2015 and with this rebate, they hope to see panels on an additional 10,000 roofs by 2020.
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