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Transforming Garbage into Clean Fuel

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Transforming Garbage into Clean Fuel

What happens to waste we can’t recycle or compost? In much of the world, it’s destined for a landfill or incinerator. In the landfill, waste emits methane, which is about 25 times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide. Incinerating garbage can be used to generate electricity, but that also emits large amounts of greenhouse gases.

Canadian company Enerkem is changing that. It took 15 years of research for the Chornet family, who founded the company back in 2000, to develop a unique world-leading technology. After creating a pilot and small-scale demonstration plant, the stage was set to build an industrial-scale operation. Enerkem’s Alberta Biofuels facility opened in 2015 in Edmonton, the world’s first commercial scale facility to produce clean energy from waste.

Around this time, the City of Edmonton was looking into more ways to divert waste away from their landfill. The landfill was nearing capacity, and even though Edmonton had a strong recycling and composting program, only 50 per cent of its waste was being diverted from the landfill.

At first, the biofuels facility turned garbage into methanol, a flammable liquid used in hundreds of household products like paint, glue, automotive parts and textiles. Enerkem recently upgraded the facility to be able to also produce ethanol, which is used as a biofuel and can be mixed with gasoline.

The facility can divert 100,000 tons of garbage from the Edmonton landfill each year, and creates 40 million liters of ethanol from that process.

Edmonton is seen as a flagship.
— Pierre Boisseau, Senior Director of Communications and Marketing

“Edmonton is seen as a flagship,” said Pierre Boisseau, Senior Director of Communications and Marketing at Enerkem. “The Government of Alberta and the City of Edmonton are being recognized for their leadership from an environmental standpoint.”

Boisseau promotes Enerkem’s technology to a diverse audience to gain visibility and awareness. The response to this facility has been very positive, he said, both in Edmonton and around the world, adding that because their technology compliments instead of competes with recycling and composting, cities have been quick to embrace it.

Enerkem is now getting attention from across the world, from other cities and countries interested in turning landfill waste into usable fuel. The next Canadian facility Enerkem is building will be in Montréal, and there are other potential projects including in the Netherlands, Spain, the U.S. and China.


Learn more about Enerkem’s Alberta Biofuels facility, here.

For more information on bioenergy in Alberta, see our resources page.

Submit your own new energy story here.

Lending the youth voice to sustainable city planning

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Lending the youth voice to sustainable city planning

Teenagers may seem like an unlikely crowd to be shaping city planning, but they are proving to be key players and an important voice.

“It’s our future too!” said Logan Fechter, a member of the City of Edmonton Youth Council (CEYC), an advisory committee for the city council that aims to represent the interests of Edmontonians between 13 and 23 years old. “It’s our kids’ future, so why not? ... It’s not like sustainability has to be outside of our reach.”

CEYC has several subcommittees that deal with hands-on work and draft many of the policy proposals put forward by the youth council as a whole. The urban and regional planning subcommittee focuses on topics such as transportation, infrastructure and sustainability, with the broader aim of helping to build the identity of Edmonton and its sustainable future.

This 16-member subcommittee has been pushing boundaries for three years, with projects like City Hall Solar, where it made a recommendation to council to put solar panels on city hall. The group was given the go ahead to work with city officials and engineers to determine the feasibility of this project. In the end, the group also learned not every good idea leads to an attainable project – the proposal was found to be outside of the budget due to cogeneration regulations and charges around the downtown area.

There is something special about urban planning because the work is physical and the outcomes do literally change the city, which is incredibly fulfilling.
— Logan Fechter

“There is something special about urban planning because the work is physical and the outcomes do literally change the city, which is incredibly fulfilling,” said Logan Fechter. “Even if it's as simple as giving feedback on a transit strategy, you are still bringing the youth perspective in to change the everyday reality of city life.”

Indeed, the subcommittee recently worked with the Edmonton transit system to collect feedback from 600 youth on the city’s new transit strategy so young people could weigh in on the issues that affected them.

“[If we] help make our transit system better, people won’t have to drive to all the places where they want to go,” said Kaelin Koufogiannakis, co-chair of the subommittee.

The group has also collaborated with the Change for Climate Edmonton conference to mount the “Sustainability of Tomorrow” youth speaker series, showcasing eight young adults leading their communities in sustainability.

Youth are and should be taking action on these issues and making an impact in their city. While the CEYC focuses on a range of topics, Koufogiannakis said a primary aim is to show council the youth of Edmonton really do care about sustainability.

“Youth are creative, innovative, and we are not buried by a bureaucratic need to check all of these boxes. So we can move things forward, add a new perspective and be an asset,” said Koufogiannakis.

In the future, CEYC’s urban planning subcommittee will support the efforts of City Lab, serve as the youth advisor for the new Edmonton Master City Plan and, as always, continue to give youth an opportunity to advocate for and create projects around the urban planning issues they care about.


Learn more about the City of Edmonton Youth Council, here.

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

Submit your new energy story here.


You Can Go Far with GoElectric

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You Can Go Far with GoElectric

After seeing an article about Tesla and electric vehicles (EV), Jim Steil realized this was the future. As both an electrical engineer and a “bit of a car guy,” he decided he was going to be part of that future. Six weeks after reading the article, he was laid off from his oil patch job; he decided the time was ripe to pursue his new dream.

His original plan was to convert classic cars into electric vehicles. The first vehicle Steil set about converting was his 1966 Volvo, his “eVolvo” as he called it. Word of his plans soon spread, and requests poured in from locals, many wanting their commuter cars converted, or wanting to know what would be involved in converting it themselves. However, delivering a safe, reliable, high-quality final product requires a lot of time and expensive parts, like Tesla batteries for example.

After more research, Steil and his partner, David Lloyd, found the best option for most folks was simply to buy an EV, and the idea of GoElectric was born. GoElectric is the first exclusively electric vehicle dealership in Alberta, and only the second in Canada.

GoElectric imports used EVs from California. Because of government incentives in California encouraging consumers to purchase new electric vehicles, many lease a new EV for two years, then upgrade. This leaves a bounty of unwanted almost-new electric vehicles.


“Two-year-old EVs cost less than half as much as buying them new,” said Steil.


Many of the used cars at GoElectric are priced under $20,000, with the low-end closer to $15,000. Even a high-end electric BMW with improved range comes in about $30,000, compared with the $65,000 price tag to drive it off the lot brand new.

Thanks to their reliability and incredible efficiency – accentuated by high gas prices versus Alberta’s cheap electricity rates – electric vehicles can be as much as 10 times cheaper to drive than a gas-guzzler. Steil spends $20 a month on electricity for his electric vehicle and drives 80 km each day.

Along with sales staff, GoElectric also employs mechanics trained to service EVs, although one of the benefits of electric vehicles is their low maintenance demands. Of the 10 most common repairs to conventional gas cars, none apply to EVs. In addition to the cost savings, electric vehicles are much more responsive and quieter. But Steil encourages people to test drive an EV to find out for themselves, and get what is known in the industry as “the EV grin.”

Steil and Lloyd are confident they will meet their goal to sell 200 EVs per year. They also want to add 70kW of solar panels to the roof of the dealership to power a quick charging station for electric vehicles.

But their aspirations don’t stop at the used EV dealership: they still want to help people convert their cars, bikes, quads and boats to electric, and will be opening a 7,000 sq. ft. space in the dealership’s basement, dubbing it The GoElectric EV Underground Makerspace.

 “To continue converting our own vehicles, and help others convert their vehicles themselves is where our real passion lies,” said Steil.


Learn more about GoElectric here.

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

Submit your new energy story here.


Nurturing Students on the Innovation Front

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Nurturing Students on the Innovation Front

The Innovate Program is a way for high school students to learn outside of a traditional classroom setting and do hands-on projects based on real world problems. The students are able to take on a project of their choice and are supported by educational staff, connected to resources and provided education credits for their work. Most projects emphasize sustainable development, emerging technology, reimagining citizenship for a rapidly changing world and entrepreneurship.

Aaron Dublenko, teacher at Queen Elizabeth High School in Edmonton and mastermind behind the project says, “this program assists students in developing mindsets that empower them to confidently design and implement solution oriented projects.” It also creates an opportunity for them to develop skills through hands-on trial and error and collaboration with peers and experts.

Innovate provides an opportunity for students to explore their interests, creates an encouraging space to make mistakes and troubleshoot designs as well as be creative in what they produce. Here are some of the projects students created.

Green Career Fairs

Students and staff organized five “Green Career Fairs” in Edmonton Public High Schools. Each school hosted 30-40 vendors per fair, with a total of more than 6,000 youth learning about environmentally focused career options. Students in the Green Career Fairs program created questionnaires, informative maps, and fundraised through grants for shirts, snacks and door prizes for the events.

Buildings that Teach

Through this program students explore, learn and change the way energy and resources are used in their school. In the past, students installed Smart Meters in a local arena to analyze electricity consumption. Another group researched their school’s solar passivity potential, natural light, and air quality. Others have completed energy audits, thermal analysis and used DENT meters to record light use over time in their schools. They use their research to inform necessary groups and work to cause infrastructural and behavioral changes in order to reduce the carbon footprints and costs of building operations in their schools and other large buildings.

The Mosaic of Youth Voices on Climate Change

Innovate Students are creating a series of podcasts titled “The Mosaic of Youth Voices on Climate Change.” In these podcasts, students write questions and interview their peers to create discussions about climate change and their future in Alberta. In collaboration with Edmonton’s historian laureate, the students are working to strengthen and illuminate the youth voice on climate change, as well as generate discussion about these topics among their peers.


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

Submit your 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.


Up to Speed: Youth Pushing Boundaries of Vehicle Technologies

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Up to Speed: Youth Pushing Boundaries of Vehicle Technologies

The University of Calgary Solar Car team and the University of Alberta EcoCar team are two great examples of Alberta students taking hands-on action to teach themselves and their communities about renewables and clean technology. These student groups design, build and race solar electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in national, continental and international competitions.

University of Calgary Solar Car team

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The University of Calgary Solar Car Team aims to participate in several competitions, but primarily in a three-day race in America. The team is made up of 65 students in four main undergraduate subteams: Mechanical, Electrical, Software, and Business. Engineering Project Manager, Morgan Grab, says one of the team’s main objectives is to involve students in every step of the design, build and troubleshooting process, giving them hands-on experience through working on an electric car and with solar modules.

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Business Project Manager Sarah Lam appreciates how the team enables her to empower other people and connect to her community. She says through its outreach, primarily classroom presentations and talks, team members feel as though they are able to “generate excitement about the possibilities in energy that we will have in the future,” and to teach younger students about the basics of renewable energy and car design. They also engage with the larger Calgary community by showcasing renewables as a viable and tangible option for Albertans. Grab says that by working on solar, they show “it’s not in the background or overseas, but it’s happening here, in the heart of Calgary.”

University of Alberta EcoCar team

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The University of Alberta EcoCar builds two hydrogen fuel cell vehicles: an urban car that emulates the look of an normal car, and a racing prototype. They compete at the Shell Eco Marathon, a continental efficiency competition in the U.S. Their team is composed of undergraduate and graduate students divided in six sub-teams totalling around 80 members.

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The team engages with the community through showcasing their cars at events, going to schools, engaging with political figures, university alum, and staff. Many students are drawn to the group as it allows them to practically apply their degree. Mechanical team lead, Shivam Jasawl, sees the benefit in participating in design and redesign cycles. Shivam says working on EcoCar gives him a chance to “apply what I am learning about, make my own assumptions and test them, and if everything I assumed was completely wrong, I get to ask why was it wrong and iterate it.”

“If the members of EcoCar continue to work in Alberta, we can take the principles we have learned about sustainability and efficiency and apply it to wherever we work in the future,” he adds.


These groups show things can be done differently, and students are ready to be a part of, and maybe one day lead, this innovation.

“This is oil country. When people hear that students are doing something different with hydrogen in Alberta, it makes an impact,” Shivam says.

As Grab puts it, “it’s always in the forefront of our mind that we can do things a different way. I hope that we can be that spark, that starts that innovation and gets people’s minds going about renewables. We want to show that it is possible and that there is an alternative.”


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

Submit your new energy story here.

Building your own Sun-In-A-Box

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Building your own Sun-In-A-Box

After electrical engineering students Nathan Olson and David Roszko completed a research project involving medical electronics at the University of Alberta last year, they decided to try their hand at solar technology. They figured it would just be another project that began and ended in the classroom. But Roszko’s wife Ashley, a graduate student in Community Engagement at the University of Alberta, had a bigger idea.

“I was like, [this project] is so cool; we could use it to teach people about renewable energy and how solar power works,” says Ashley Roszko.

In turn, the trio began a year-long interdisciplinary project teaching people how to build personal solar units, which they called a Sun-In-A-Box, with the broader goal of driving grassroots engagement with solar technologies.


“There were kids working with seniors … someone holding a screwdriver while someone else screwed in a panel. It was just so neat.”


Practically speaking, a Sun-In-A-Box is a beefed-up solar-powered charger. The wooden frame, about the size of a shoebox, contains a battery pack, a pivoting solar panel and a small computer that can be programmed for various tasks. The box’s 12-volt rechargeable battery can charge or power anything that plugs into a USB port.

“It was designed to support itself for two days without any sun,” said Olson, one of the two electrical engineering students who designed the box.

That means it can charge about five phones before it needs a new dose of sunlight. In addition, with a few modifications, the wooden box can be rugged and weather proof, and can be used camping, or left outside for longer stretches to harness the sun’s energy for daily use.

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Sounds cool, and maybe you want one of your own, right? But you can’t buy a Sun-In-A-Box. You have to build it. That’s the point.

The venture was created as an education project – a way to get kids and community members excited about solar energy, and to scale the power of the sun down to something people can understand and use themselves.

Once the two engineers had developed and finalized the unit specs – the parts cost about $350 and can be found at Canadian Tire, Home Depot, any electronics shop, or just lying around your house – Ashley kicked her community engagement skills into action. The trio gave presentations to elementary schools and community groups in the Edmonton area, showing participants how the Sun-In-A-Box works. In July, thanks to the support of EcoCity Edmonton, they put on a workshop through the Alberta Green Economy Network with the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues, Relay Education and the Riverdale Community to teach people how to build a Sun-In-A-Box.

Ashley Roszko said the workshop participants’ diversity and cooperation was inspiring.

“There were kids working with seniors … someone holding a screwdriver while someone else screwed in a panel,” she said. “It was just so neat.”

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From an engineering perspective, Olson said it was interesting to work with an interdisciplinary team, sharing solar technology with people who aren’t technical, and helping them make it a reality.

“It’s easy to get siloed and you don’t see what’s on the other side of the fence,” he said. “As engineers, we didn’t really consider the community engagement aspect.”

Being able to share their knowledge and passion with others who haven’t thought much about renewable energy was an exciting opportunity, Ashley Roszko said, especially when it came to hearing people’s ideas for what to do with a Sun-In-A-Box. Beyond charging phones, people suggested hooking up a wildlife camera, or powering a pump to use the water from a rain barrel or plugging in a soil sensor.

“[It was cool to see] what sustainability looks like to them when they realized that they could actually build their own,” she said.

Equally important, she added, is that there isn’t just one way to make a Sun-In-A-Box.

“We’re trying to show people something you can do, but you don’t have to do it exactly as we did,” she said, pointing out there are plenty of improvements people can make. Indeed, the project is open-source, and they are continuing to update documents and directions online, so that people can make their own suggestions and customizations.

“That’s one of the areas we hope it will continue to grow,” she said.


Detailed instructions on how to build your own Sun-In-A-Box can be found here.

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

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.