Energy Efficiency

Elementary Students Conduct Their Own Lighting Audit

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Elementary Students Conduct Their Own Lighting Audit

At Hazeldean Elementary School in Edmonton, Grade 5 students created an energy efficiency program through the Innovative Elementary Program. The students were able reduce the energy consumption and cost of lighting at their school and teach other students and teachers about energy efficiency.

“Elementary kids are often overlooked about their ability to make changes and advocate to the things that they care about,” said Grade 5 teacher James Stuart, who manages the Innovate Elementary Program at Hazeldean. This project is one of many ways students have demonstrated the impact they can have in their school community.

They were able to go out into the school and make a measurable difference. [There were] real reductions and it was really rewarding for the kids.
— James Stuart

The first step was to learn about electricity, energy efficiency and light bulbs. Stuart along with some energy experts taught the students about different kinds of light bulbs and how much energy is used for each. They also learned about electricity, how it is produced in Alberta and the environmental impacts of the different types of production.

Next, students used their new knowledge to calculate their school’s electricity consumption by determining the types and consumption of light bulbs, and the number of each type of bulb throughout the building. From there, they monitored how many lights were on in each classroom, checking in at various times of the day to determine when classes were in session, when they were empty, and at the end of the day.

After collecting data, the students had to decide how they would present it. To make their information accessible to everyone, including the youngest students, they used made posters with photos and simple info boxes to teach their peers about the energy consumption of objects in their classroom. They included images of smart boards, desktop computers and lights with the amount of energy each consumed. The posters were distributed throughout the school.

The students also decided to create a contest for the classroom who was able to reduce their lighting energy consumption by the greatest amount. Using the information they had about each room’s energy consumption, they created a poster for each classroom showing its energy consumption. They continued to monitor the energy consumption of each classroom at random times until the end of the contest, with the winners earning hot chocolate made from the students’ self-made solar oven.

At the end of the lighting audit the Grade 5 group presented their findings during the school’s morning announcements. Over that time, they saw a reduction of 40 kWh. That is the equivalent of a 43-inch’ plasma TV running 32 hours a week for a month.

Through this project the students in Stuart’s Grade 5 classroom educated themselves, creatively engaged their school on the topic of energy efficiency, and were able to make changes in their school’s lighting electricity consumption.

“They were able to go out into the school and make a measurable difference,” said Stuart. “[There were] real reductions and it was really rewarding for the kids.”


For more information on education projects and opportunities in Alberta, see our resources page.

Submit your own new energy story here.

Energy Made Visible

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Energy Made Visible

Have you ever wished you could see where heat was escaping from your house?

This was the quest that spurred the work of Geoffrey Hay, a geography professor at the University of Calgary. After seven years of research, he founded MyHEAT, a Calgary company that helps homeowners visualize the location and amount of heat loss from their homes.

To accomplish this, a high-precision thermal sensor is attached to an airplane, which flies overhead. MyHEAT’s resulting map of rooftop heat loss is created by combining raw data from the sensor with other mapping data sets and some machine learning.

There are only a few other companies in the world attempting similar heat mapping. Some of its competitors use a 360-degree sensor attached to a car (similar to Google Street View cameras), but MyHEAT’s advantage is the speed at which heat loss data can be collected. By attaching the sensor to an airplane, the entire city of Calgary could be mapped in two nights.

MyHEAT is more than just a heat mapping technology. The company’s vision is to help homeowners understand how their home’s heat loss compares to others in their community. By creating heat loss ratings, MyHEAT builds on the power of thermal imaging as a behavioural nudge tool. This thinking is getting some major recognition; with MyHEAT, Hay beat out 400 other contestants to win the grand prize at MIT’s 2013 Climate CoLab Conference.  


“Homeowners are fives times more likely to take action after seeing their heat map.”


MyHEAT CEO Darren Jones said these heat maps can be a quick and inexpensive first step for engaging homeowners.

“Homeowners are fives times more likely to take action after seeing their heat map,” said Jones.

The heat loss maps and ratings are an indicator, he said, and should be used in conjunction with knowledge of the home. Insufficient insulation and poor sealing are two common culprits of heat loss that MyHEAT can often pinpoint. These findings can be the starting point for an energy audit.

So far, there has been a lot of interest from homeowners; 150,000 Albertans have viewed their home’s rooftop map, and 300,000 homes in Alberta have been clicked on. MyHEAT has mapped several cities in Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia, but the goal is to eventually map all of Canada. The company just finalized its first deal with a customer in the U.S. and is excited to continue building its global customer base.

The company also wants to continue building the product and offer tools that is invaluable in helping Canadians find resources to improve the energy efficiency of their home. Daygan Fowler, MyHEAT’s program manager of energy efficiency, said many incentive programs are available to help homeowners. Her goal is to use MyHEAT to bring more awareness to these, and develop tools and resources to help answer homeowner questions.

Although often invisible, MyHEAT is improving energy efficiency one rooftop at a time.


You can learn more about MyHEAT here.

Check out the Resources page for more information on how to undertake your own clean tech and energy efficiency projects.

Submit your new energy story here.


Christina Found Her Fit at Ecofitt

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Christina Found Her Fit at Ecofitt

Christina Pidlaski was determined to carve out a career in energy sustainability. After working in California for 10 years, she returned to Alberta to be part of the clean energy transition.

“I never really knew how I could play my part,” said Pidlaski.

She decided to pursue an MBA specializing in Energy Management and Sustainability at the University of Calgary. One of her courses involved a consulting project and she chose to work with the Canadian Coalition for Green Finance, which exposed her to green investment and research. A big part of her work was to communicate her research and make them accessible to investors and industry.

Nearing graduation, she found a job posting at Ecofitt, a Canadian energy efficiency company which began with a small staff of 15 in Calgary. Working closely with consumers on energy efficiency seemed too good to be true to her, but within a week she was working as the company’s Program Coordinator.

Ecofitt runs energy conservation programs across Canada and works with provincial and municipal governments to develop regional programs. They also manufacture water and electricity-saving products, including light bulbs, which they use for direct install and kit programs.


“Our workforce has been a crucial part of delivering this program, and will be indispensable in successfully completing the next”


Ecofitt’s first Alberta program working with Energy Efficiency Alberta’s Residential No Charge Energy Savings Program (RNCESP), involved efficient upgrades for both rural and urban houses, apartments, and condos, where teams installed LED bulbs, faucet aerators, low-flow showerheads, power bars and smart thermostats.

As Ecofitt expanded, Pidlaski was promoted to Regional Program Coordinator, then again to Operations Manager.  At the peak of the RNCESP, she had 16 field coordinators and nearly 400 technicians working on her team, some who originally worked in oil and gas, but whose skills were easily transferable to energy efficiency. As the program nears completion, the team size has become more manageable, but the logistical challenges still keep her busy. 

Pidlaski said the response to the program has been extremely positive.

“I can’t tell you the number of people who have made the effort to call in or write in thanking us for not only the products we installed, but the interaction with our technicians and information about energy usage,” she said. “I feel like it’s been a huge success.”

When Energy Efficiency Alberta (EEA) launched the RNCESP, which is administered by Ecofitt, Albertans registered 153,000 homes. As this one-time program nears completion, Ecofitt has delivered energy efficient upgrades to 118,000 of these homes and installed 28,000 smart thermostats.

Ecofitt has now been awarded the EEA contract for the Affordable Housing Energy Solutions Program, which will launch in September. This will reach 25,000 Albertans in vulnerable sectors using the same core team that carried Ecofitt through the RNCESP.

“Our workforce has been a crucial part of delivering this program, and will be indispensable in successfully completing the next,” said Pidlaski. “I’m very proud of my team. We lucked out in getting fantastic people that care about the work we’re doing.  Being able to mobilize such a great team is really what makes me love my job.”


For more information on how to undertake your own energy efficiency project, check out the resources page.

Submit your new energy story here.


Welcome to the Mosaic Centre

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Welcome to the Mosaic Centre: Alberta’s first net-zero commercial building

The gap from net-zero houses to large-scale net-zero commercial buildings has been bridged. The Mosaic Centre for Conscious Community and Commerce in Edmonton is the first commercial net-zero office building in Alberta. In a net-zero building  the amount of energy used is equal to the amount of renewable energy generated on-site on an annual basis, allowing the Mosaic Centre to use 65% less energy than a conventional commercial building. What was once just a dream of co-owners Dennis Cuku and Christy Benoit has become reality.

“We said it was going to be beautiful. Check. Sustainable. Check. And affordable. Check,” says Benoit.

This 30,000-square-foot building cost $10.5 million dollars. It’s bright and roomy with beautiful exposed wood beams, feature stairs and a three-storey living wall in the foyer. It has large south facing windows, thermally massive concrete floors and as low an electricity demand as they could get away with.

They reduced that demand by getting rid of as many overhead light fixtures as they could. Instead, the workers get copious amounts of natural light and use task lighting when necessary.

There is much more energy demand per square metre in a bigger, commercial building than a net-zero home. The owners put together a team led by Vedran Skopac of Manasc Isaac Architects that used lean processes and integrated project delivery to build this first-of-its-kind building.

Typically, tradespeople just show up, do their job and leave it to the next crew to finish their part. With the Mosaic Centre crews collaborate to help eliminate the wasted time and materials that happens on a typical build. As a result, there were no change orders during the project, which is almost unheard of in a modern construction project.


“Sustainable and beautiful can co-exist. When you put affordability in there that’s where the real challenge occurs. But this is, I think, a living example of how the three can co-exist”


Mosaic’s heating and cooling system is a fully electric ground source heat pump system. The parking lot on the north side of the building is a geothermal field with 32, 70-metre deep boreholes.

With all of the south-facing glass and concrete floors, the building actually has a much larger cooling demand than a typical Edmonton office building. If the sun is shining brightly the building even has to run its cooling system in February.

Unusually for a commercial building, the windows can be opened. These help regulate the temperature in the summer and gives workers a measure of control over their environment.

The building achieved LEED platinum certification, the highest possible level of recognition for environmental stewardship on a construction project.

“Sustainable and beautiful can co-exist. When you put affordability in there that’s where the real challenge occurs. But this is, I think, a living example of how the three can co-exist,” says Benoit. Due to high savings on energy costs, the net return on investment, over 5 years, is the same as that of a conventional building. 

They want to inspire other builders to follow in their footsteps and to make commercial buildings closer to net-zero. To that end the engineering and research reports on the building are publicly available. If you are a builder and you want to make sure your next commercial building is closer to net-zero, the recipe is out there.


Read the full story on Green Energy Futures here

For more information on how to undertake your own energy efficiency project, check out the resources page.

Submit your new energy story here.


All Aboard the Earthship

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All aboard the Earthship: a sustainable off-grid home on the prairie

An Earthship is a long skinny bungalow with an earth berm enveloping the back and sides and a greenhouse on the front. The back and side retaining walls are made of tires sledgehammered full of dirt. Non-load bearing interior walls are made of aluminum cans sandwiched into a honeycomb of concrete.

Here’s the story of how a family built an Earthship in southern Alberta. After first reading about them in The Geography of Hope by Chris Turner, Duncan Kinney passed the book along to his dad Glen. He was intrigued so they volunteered on a build near Wheatland, Wyoming. Glen even volunteered on another build in Hundred Mile House in central B.C. the next year.


"It was invaluable seeing one built first-hand and meeting other volunteers and the crew"


A couple years later after everything was in place Duncan’s parents went down to Taos, New Mexico to check out finished Earthships first-hand. Suitably convinced they came back with plans for a three-bedroom, two-bathroom Global Model with a couple of modifications.

Michael Reynolds is the father of the Earthship movement. An architect by training and rabble-rouser by nature he was dissatisfied with standard home design and started building sustainable houses on the mesa using garbage. He used bottles, cans and tires alongside natural and conventional building materials. For the past 20 years Reynolds has been perfecting the design.

The design revolves around six core concepts: on-site electricity production and wastewater treatment, using rainwater into drinking water, passive heating and cooling, food production and using readily available materials. It has four walls, a roof, flush toilets and satellite TV just like any other North American home.

It generates electricity on-site with solar panels and batteries. Drinking water is caught by the metal roof and collected in four cisterns capable of storing 5,800 gallons of water. That water is treated and filtered to make it ready to drink. Greywater from the showers and bathroom sinks is used to water the greenhouse. That greywater is pumped back into the house and used to flush the toilets. Simple earth tubes and ceiling vents keep the house cool in the summer. Passive solar design, thermal mass, lots of insulation and sunlight keep the house warm in the winter.

The Kinneys hired the Earthship crew and Michael Reynolds to build the house in Lethbridge. With them came another 30-35 volunteers who camped on-site. Eight hundred tires were pounded and stacked by the end of the fourth day.

About 12,000 cans were used for interior walls, for the bond beam that sits on top of the tires and to help fill in and pack out the tires to get them to a level surface.

What began as a radical alternative in the New Mexico desert 30 years ago has evolved into an inspiring and surprisingly simple home. And the lessons learned from Earthships can be seen today in increasingly popular net-zero homes.


Read the full story on Green Energy Futures here

For more information on how to undertake your own energy efficiency project, check out the resources page.

Submit your new energy story here.


Straw-bale 101: A tale of two homes

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Straw-bale 101: A tale of two homes

Building homes with straw-bales is an old and proven technique. The first documented structure was a schoolhouse built in 1896, which was eaten by cows. However, pioneers in the Nebraska Sandhills were undeterred and began plastering the bales. They built 70 straw-bale structures between 1896 and 1945, some of which are still standing.

Habib Gonzalez owner of Sustainable Works, has built more than 100 straw-bale homes in B.C. and Alberta. Gonzalez says straw bale appeals to people who are interested in a hands-on approach to home construction.

“They want to be involved in some facet of the creation of their own homes, so the thought of having a straw bale work party, with their family and friends, is very appealing.”

Lance and Wendy Olson wanted to live smaller and reduce their footprint. After many months of research, Lance landed on a couple of ideas that intrigued him: straw-bale construction and rammed earth walls. They got a lot of help from SAIT researchers and Gonzalez.

“We’ve got straw bale insulation and rammed earth walls on the inside,” says Lance. “We’ll be net-zero.”

The result is an 800 sq. foot post-and-beam straw-bale home. The home is partially heated by a solar thermal system that uses rammed earth walls that store passive solar energy that streams into the home through a solar porch, similar to the greenhouse in Earthship designs. Heat also comes from solar thermal collectors on the roof, a wood stove where glycol is heated, and a solar PV-powered electric back-up heater.


"I discovered the wonderful benefits of straw bale. It’s warm in the winter, it’s cool in the summer"


Straw-bale already offers R35 insulation in the walls, but the Olsons added an insulated exterior wall, sheeting and plaster to reach R57.

Straw-bale homes are very strong and fire resistant. The National Research Council of Canada confirmed this through work with the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporate (CMHC).

Gonzalez was also involved with some CMHC research into moisture issues. They put sensors in 11 houses. They discovered the walls don’t trap moisture, they transpire like skin.

Nora Bumanis is the harpist for the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and she wanted a soundproof home where she could practice. She now lives in a straw-bale triplex in Edmonton, next door to the conductor of the orchestra-and can still practice with some peace of mind.

“I discovered the wonderful benefits of straw bale. It’s warm in the winter, it’s cool in the summer, my highest heating bill has been $60 in the last six or seven years,” she says.

After a history dating back more than 100 years it’s clear straw-bale occupies a niche market. But it’s hard not to be seduced by the allure of this down-to-earth construction strategy when the homes are so beautiful.


Read the full story on Green Energy Futures here

For more information on how to undertake your own energy efficiency project, check out the resources page.

Submit your new energy story here.


Life is Better at EchoHaven

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Life is Better at EchoHaven

What if we could build suburbs that preserved the natural landscape, featured super energy efficient homes, built a sense of community — and had no vinyl siding? The neighborhood of Echohaven in northwest Calgary is doing it.

A typical suburban development scrapes the site bare and parcels it into lots. At the end, a park might be created or a pond or natural space rebuilt. Echohaven, on the other hand, preserved 60 per cent of its natural spaces from the beginning.

The development preserved its unique knob-and-kettle foothill topography with ponds, creeks, forests and wildlife by parceling off 24 small lots with big natural spaces owned by the neighbourhood condo association.

Instead of a big backyard, kids get to play in a neighbourhood creek or a forest. And the landscape has a purpose.

“Typically, there’d be storm sewers that carry all the runoff from the site down to the Bow River through a series of pipes. We’re reducing the amount of infrastructure by retaining all the storm water management on-site. They feed the ponds, the storm water contributes to the ongoing viability and health of the ecosystem here,” says Dave Spencer, one of the founders of the Echohaven project.

The homes also collect rainwater for use in toilets and the yard, which reduces demand on the city and saves homeowners money.

Every home must meet a minimum Energuide 84 rating. That’s an extremely energy efficient home.

There are no gas lines. Up to 60 per cent of the heat it needs comes from sunshine streaming in through high quality south-facing windows. Spencer recommends an insulation minimum of R40 walls, R60 for the roof and R30 under the slab. His net-zero house has R60 walls and an R100 roof.

Former oil and gas guy turned investment advisor and Financial Post columnist, Martin Pelletier moved into Echohaven in May of 2014 and he loves it.

“What made it really attractive to us was the community feel to it, the healthy aspect to it, and the environmental side, the stewardship. We own the land together through a condo association, so what you see here will never change,” says Pelletier.

And Echohaven is doing more to build community. They’re planning to build a community greenhouse where everyone who lives in the neighborhood will get their own growing space.

This has been a 20-year labour of love for Spencer. And while the project was a lot of work (and, thanks to civic and provincial rules and regulations, a lot harder than it should be), it is nearing its end — and for Spencer it was definitely worth it.

“I think it’ll be easier in the future to do it. We’re just kind of a little laboratory, how to do things a little different in the suburbs, creating a more sustainable city environment. I think it’s worthwhile,” he says.


Read the full story on Green Energy Futures here

For more information on how to undertake your own energy efficiency project, check out the resources page.

Submit your new energy story here.

The Age of Affordable Net-Zero Homes

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The Age of Affordable Net-Zero Homes

Welcome to the future, a time when your home is energy self-sufficient and produces almost no utility bills.

Landmark Homes of Edmonton has announced a net-zero home that sells for just under $400,000. This new price point means the goal of making all new homes net-zero by 2030 is now a potential reality.

With plenty of natural light and its own garage, The Pisa is a beautiful 2-storey, 1,230 sq. foot home built to specifications beyond the building code.

Leading a tour of the home, Tanya Rumak, Landmark’s sustainability manager, places her hand on the basement floor and suggests we do the same. It’s warm to the touch.

“Insulation under the floor,” Remak says. Yup, foam insulation encases the home.

“We have an R80 attic insulation. We have an R27 above grade exterior wall, and that includes exterior rigid insulation that minimizes thermal bridging. And in the basement, we have R36, which is a fiberglass and mineral wool combination. And then underneath the basement floor, we have two inches of insulation which is R8,” explains Rumak. All that insulation does a great job of keeping heat and air from leaking.

To provide fresh air the home uses a heat recovery ventilator that recovers 75% of the heat in the air before exhausting stale air outside. A similar system recovers heat from water exiting the home.

As you shower, hot water goes down the drain. The solution is heat-recovering copper tubes that retain up to 15 degrees C from hot water.

The Pisa is so efficient it requires 60% less energy than a code-built home. In fact, it doesn’t even need gas for heating.

“We don’t have gas coming to this home. This is an electrically-powered home that is run off the solar panels on the roof,” says Rumak.

The heat-pump furnace, heat-pump hot water heater and ventilation system all run on solar power. So, no gas bill.

The only bill you get is for power. “For the majority of that year, you may actually even be running on credits, which means you’re not paying anything. But there may be those few months out of the year in the winter where you have a small bill,” says Rumak.

A net-zero home has no drafts, no cold spots, is super quiet and very comfortable. And there is another kind of comfort. “It’s the comfort of mind that I’m talking about, not having to worry about what’s going happen to my bill next month,” says Mananni.

The timing of Landmark’s affordable net-zero couldn’t be better. In Edmonton, work has begun on Blatchford, the city’s carbon-neutral neighbourhood. It will someday be home to 30,000 people.


Read the full story on Green Energy Futures here

Learn more about this project on the Emissions Reduction Alberta website here

For more information on how to undertake your own energy efficiency project, check out the resources page.

Submit your new energy story here.

Enjoy Centre Greenhouse

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Enjoy Centre Greenhouse

The Enjoy Centre is not your typical greenhouse. In fact, Dan Van Hoffen, the Building Operations Manager, describes it as a “lifestyle centre.” The Enjoy Centre is primarily a greenhouse, but includes a spa, liquor store, restaurant, deli and grocery store that all work in conjunction with the greenhouse. The Enjoy Centre is essentially a self-contained community with its businesses supporting one another. For example, the greenhouse grows products used by the restaurant, and the restaurant sources some of its meat from the deli.

The greenhouse itself has some unique and state of the art energy efficient features. The building contains eight flood floors that allow it to water an entire section of the greenhouse at once. The water is then recycled into a holding tank. This has drastically reduced the labour required to water pots individually.

The greenhouse also has moving lines hanging baskets hung on chains, each line holding 750 baskets, for a total of 6,750 baskets. The system is equipped with a sensor, so when a basket goes by, it is automatically watered. Finally, the greenhouse has a 600 litre rain water holding tank for irrigation.

In terms of heating, the Enjoy Centre has in floor heating and cooling, and two boilers. The primary boiler has a cogeneration unit that acts as a backup and produces half to two thirds of their power requirements during peak daytime demand.

Dan has greenhouses in his blood; his family owns them in Ontario. He has a degree in environmental science and also studied power engineering. His role is to look after the building itself and make sure all of its systems (heating, cooling, irrigation etc.) are running smoothly. He also takes care of maintenance contracts and oversees all of the contractors in the building. In May, the greenhouse hires a lot of people. There can be up to 300 people working in the building during the busy season.

Dan sees the technology adopted by the Enjoy Centre gaining interest. He’s provided tours of the cogeneration unit to people constructing new buildings. He’s received calls from other greenhouses to learn about the hanging baskets and sub-irrigation. He’s seeing what used to be “novel technologies” become mainstream as costs drop. Cogenerators like the one the centre uses are typically manufactured by a company based out of the U.K. But now similar companies are opening offices in Alberta because of increased demand.


For more information on how to undertake your own energy efficiency project, check out the resources page.

Submit your new energy story here.

Relighting Schools

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Relighting Schools

Dan Lafferty is the owner of Relight Solutions, a company that specializes in installing energy efficient lighting in commercial and multi-residential properties. The company is based out of Vancouver, but has recently expanded to Alberta with hopes of going further. It currently employs five people in the province, with backgrounds ranging from industrial electricians to electrical engineers.

Relight is currently working on a project at Tempo School, a private school in Edmonton. The school has older lights and wanted them to last longer, not only to reduce energy costs but also to reduce the maintenance costs of having to regularly replace the old lights. Relight designed a project for Tempo School that includes installing new LEDs with daylight controls that turn off the lights when there is sufficient sunlight entering through the school’s skylights.

The school will receive a rebate of $11,500 through the Energy Efficiency Alberta’s Business, Non-Profit, and Institutional Energy Savings Program and expects the annual energy savings from the project to be $13,500 per year. With an additional $8,000 of lighting maintenance cost savings per year, Tempo School expects to earn back its upfront investment in just three years.

Lafferty sees energy efficiency as an integral part of the new energy economy. According to him, Canada is a resource rich country and he wants us to use our resources more efficiently. He says that up to 40% of commercial building energy use can come from lighting. And if we reduce that by 50% through energy efficiency, it reduces overall energy consumption by 20%. This reduction means that we will have 20% less emissions to address in the future through other mitigation methods.

Lafferty comes from a business background and it was his experience working for a tech company that developed energy-monitoring software that got him interested in energy efficiency. He decided to start a company focused specifically on energy efficient lighting because lighting improvements have a very quick payback – typically two to three years in the projects Lafferty has been involved in – and he sees a lot of room for growth in the industry due to the massive building stock with inefficient lighting. Plus, electricity costs are rising while the cost of the efficient light bulbs and other energy efficient technologies is decreasing. Energy efficient lighting is the “lowest hanging fruit to make drastic changes to our consumption as a society,” says Lafferty.

One reason Lafferty expanded his business into Alberta was because of the Alberta government’s energy efficiency rebates. He thinks that by providing a lucrative financial incentive, the market will adopt technology more quickly. In his opinion, a lot of our environmental problems aren’t from a lack of technology, but a lack of adoption of technology. Providing financial incentives allows for quicker adoption of that technology.


Check out the Relight website here.

For more information on how to undertake your own energy efficiency project, check out the resources page.

Submit your new energy story here.