A map of green building jobs in B.C.; Edmonton benchmarks its energy efficiency

On August 23, the Pembina Institute released an update  to the British Columbia Green Buildings Map, first launched in 2015 .  The updated interactive map of 2017 shows where approximately 20,000 energy-efficient homes and buildings are located throughout B.C..  Pembina’s research also states that there are 31,700 people employed in the green building sector – an impressive increase from the 23,200 in 2015, especially given the decline in energy-efficient retrofitting which occurred when the previous provincial government ended its LiveSmart rebate program in 2014.

Related documents recently released:  A discussion paper from  the Pembina Institute and The Atmospheric Fund, reminding  us that net-zero standards for  new construction will lead to a significant but insufficient reduction in GHG emissions –   retrofitting of existing buildings is also required. The Pan-Canadian Framework committed to the development of a national model code for existing buildings by 2022.   Energy Regulations for Existing Buildings  identifies the opportunities and challenges for the federal government to consider as it works with the provinces to create and implement supporting measures such as financing, incentives, and energy labeling, as well as ambitious and clear building codes and regulations.

From the Conference Board of Canada in August:  Doing More with Less: Energy Efficiency Potential in Canada.  The report surveys the existing studies about energy efficiency in Canada at the national and provincial level – highlighting the barriers that exist as well as the potential for savings in energy consumption and GHG emissions.  It concludes that energy efficiency measures such as incentive programs, retrofits, audits, land-use measures, building standards and renewable subsidies can substantially reduce Canada’s energy consumption, with the most promise for  energy savings to be found in lighting, space heating and household electronics for residences, and  lighting, computer and HVAC equipment in the commercial sector.

And on the ground,  the City of Edmonton, Alberta launched a three-year Large Building Energy Reporting & Disclosure pilot program in June.  Participants will benchmark the energy performance of the city’s largest buildings, using Natural Resources Canada’s Energy STAR Portfolio Management tool.  The full Program details are here ; a summary is here . At the end of the 3-year pilot, the city will evaluate whether to maintain the program as a voluntary one, or require mandatory reporting.

 

Methane regulations: a path to lower emissions and more jobs for Alberta

Dont Delay BlueGreen 2017 coverA July 2017  report by Blue Green Canada,   argues that the Alberta government should implement methane regulations immediately, rather than wait for the proposed federal regulations to take effect in 2023.    Speeding up regulations “could reduce air pollution, achieve our climate targets more cost-effectively, and create thousands of high-paying jobs in a single step”, according to Don’t Delay: Methane Emission Restrictions mean Immediate jobs in Alberta .  Blue Green estimates that Alberta’s oil and gas operations release $67.6 million worth of methane annually, and recovering it for energy use could create more than 1,500 new jobs in the province – well paid jobs,  including work in engineering, manufacturing, surveying, and administration.

Environmental organizations, labour groups and technology companies sent a joint Open Letter to Premier Rachel Notley in August, urging her to view the proposed federal methane regulations   as a floor, not a ceiling, and reiterating the argument for economic opportunity: “There are a number of innovative companies in Alberta ready to supply methane capture and detection technologies and services and a large majority of these companies report being poised for strong growth given the right regulatory signals.” The letter, from Blue Green Canada, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, Iron and Earth, Keepers of the Athabasca, Pembina Institute, Peace River Environmental Society, Progress Alberta, Questor Technology, Unifor, and United Steelworkers is here.

Accelerating the target date for regulations is not the only concern.  “Five Ways Alberta Can Raise the Bar on Methane Regulations” at DeSmog Blog, (August 1) makes recommendations for tighter rules for venting and flaring, improved monitoring, and expanded scope. Also in August, the Environmental Law Centre of Alberta released Methane Reduction under the Climate Change Leadership Plan , the latest paper in its Climate Change Legal Roadmap series, which makes recommendations for improvements to both the provincial and federal regulations.  The task of developing methane regulations in Alberta falls to the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), which has said that it is currently reviewing the feedback from its draft regulations, and will release a document for public comment in Fall 2017.

Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan in 2015 called for 45 per cent reduction in methane emissions from the oil and gas industry by 2025. The Pan-Canadian Framework included a commitment to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 to 45 per cent from 2012 levels by 2025, and in May 2017, the federal government released draft regulations beginning in 2020, with a second phase beginning in 2023.

Earlier, related reports:  In April, Environmental Defence released  Canada’s Methane Gas Problem: Why strong regulations can reduce pollution, protect health and save money , which demonstrated that methane emissions are higher than reported by industry: 60% higher in Alberta. Research funded by the David Suzuki Foundation and released in April, found that methane emissions in B.C. are 250% higher than reported.  The Cost of Managing Methane Emissions,  a June blog from the Pembina Institute, sheds light on the GHG savings to be had by instituting regulations.

A closer look at electric vehicle growth: impact on pollution, and labour conditions in the mines supplying raw materials

solar-power-1020194_1920The summer started with several “good news” stories about the surge of electric vehicles, such as “Starting in 2019, Volvo will use electricity to power every new model” from the Washington Post (July 5) , quoting Volvo’s CEO :  “This announcement marks the end of the solely combustion engine-powered car.”  Bloomberg Business Week, summarizing the findings of its latest New Energy forecast,  stated on July 7, “in just eight years, electric cars will be as cheap as gasoline vehicles, pushing the global fleet to 530 million vehicles by 2040″, and “Electric cars will outsell fossil-fuel powered vehicles within two decades as battery prices plunge, turning the global auto industry upside down and signaling economic turmoil for oil-exporting countries” .  On July 6,  France announced   it would end the sale of gas and diesel cars by 2040 ,  and on July 26 the U.K. released its Clean Air Plan, which included  a ban on the sale of new diesel and gas cars after 2040, with only electric vehicles available after that.

Response to the U.K. announcement is mixed.  In “Electric cars are not the solution to air pollution” Professor Frank Kelly, a professor of environmental health at King’s College London and chair of the government’s  Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants states that “The government’s plan does not go nearly far enough,” “Our cities need fewer cars, not just cleaner cars.”  In his role as a member of  the Centre for London’s commission on the future of the capital’s roads and streets  ,    Professor Kelly provides more detail about the problem of particle pollution and states:  “London should lead in showing electric cars will not tackle air pollution”  in The Guardian (August 4).  His conclusion: “The safe and efficient movement of people around the city can only be achieved through a clean and expanded mass transit system served by buses, overground trains and the underground system – and as much active transport in the form of walking and cycling as is feasibly possible.”

Others are raising issues about electric vehicles on other grounds, specifically the environmental costs  and labour conditions of producing the lithium ion batteries that power them.  These are not new concerns:  Carla Lipsig Mumme and Caleb Goods raised the flag in June 2015 with “The battery revolution is exciting, but remember they pollute too”   in The Conversation.   In January 2016, Amnesty International published a detailed documentation of the hazardous working conditions and the use of child labour in cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in  This is what we die for: Human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo power the global trade in cobalt  . (Cobalt is also used in mobile phones, laptop computers, and other portable electronic devices). The report  is available in English, French and Chinese from this link .

More recently,  “Politically charged: do you know where your batteries come from? ” appeared in The Conversation (July 26),   providing an overview of the geography , politics, and environmental impact of  lithium-ion battery raw materials. Briefly, the current major producers of lithium are Australia, Chile, Argentina and China, with Australia and Chile accounting for about 75% of the total. The main environmental concern, especially in Chile, is that the extraction can impact water supply in desert areas.  The article also looks at supply chain issues and states : “With almost half of the world’s cobalt ore reserves concentrated in Democratic Republic of Congo for the foreseeable future, and with a large proportion of refining capacity located in China, the supply chain could be more vulnerable.”  Not to mention the vulnerability of the miners Amnesty International has documented.

A  Canadian viewpoint on  the issue of supply:   “Clean Energy Spurs Lithium Rush, Demands Response to ‘Dirty Mining’” in the  Energy Mix (August 8). In the article, Financial Post columnist Peter Tertzakian states: “ it takes the equivalent of 15,000 cell phone batteries to make one battery for an electric car,” and “ramping up raw material inputs to build millions of car batteries a year fills the back of the envelope with scalability issues.” These supply issues may lead to a growth of “dirty mining” practices.  Will Canada be affected by the push for clean energy raw materials?  We do not currently produce lithium, although the article states that  engineers are trying to isolate it from tar sand/oil sand waste. We are a minor producer of other battery components,  graphite and cobalt, and the 3rd largest  producer of  nickel in the world.  According to Bloomberg News in August, the growth of electric vehicles will drive a doubling of demand for nickel by 2050. However, Bloomberg reports that  mining giant  BHP Bilton will invest in Australia to make it the world’s largest producer of nickel for electric vehicle batteries.

A final troubling issue with electric vehicles: disposal.  “The rise of electric cars could leave us with a big battery waste problem ”   according to The Guardian (August 10) , which cites the International Energy Agency estimates of  140m electric cars globally by 2030, resulting in a possible  11 million tonnes of spent lithium-ion batteries in need of recycling.  Two solutions are profiled in the article: recycling and reuse. The recycling profile features the CEO of  Canadian battery recycling start-up company, Li-Cycle, which is pioneering a  wet chemistry process which would  retrieve all of the important metals from batteries. The  proponents of the re-use solution include Aceleron and carmaker Nissan, which has patented a process for re-use. The article states that  car batteries can still have up to 70% of their capacity when they stop being good enough to power electric vehicles, so that they can be broken down, tested and re-packaged for functions such as home energy storage.

 

 

 

Decarbonizing Canada’s economy offers huge construction job opportunities

Columbia Institute jobs for tomorrowA July report asserts that Canada’s ability to meet our climate goals will be based on multiple paths to decarbonization, including construction of new electricity-generation facilities using renewable sources, including hydro, wind, solar, tidal, biomass and geothermal energy. In addition, it will require the construction and maintenance of more efficient buildings, and transportation infrastructure. The tradespeople who can build such low-carbon solutions include masons, boilermakers, pipefitters, insulators, electrical workers, glaziers, HVAC, linemen, ironworkers and others .

The July report,  Jobs for Tomorrow: Canada’s Building Trades and Net Zero Emissions   makes job creation projections for construction occupations, based on an aggressive emissions reduction target of Net-zero emissions by 2050  (Canada’s current national emissions reduction commitment is 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030) . Overall, the report concludes that the Net-zero emissions reduction target could generate nearly 4 million direct building trades jobs, and 20 million indirect, induced and supply chain jobs by 2050. Some examples from the report:  building small district energy systems in half of Canada’s municipalities with populations over 100,000 would create over 547,000 construction jobs by 2050. Building solar installations would create the next-highest level of construction jobs: 438,350. Building $150 billion of urban transit infrastructure (rapid transit tracks and bridges, subway tunnels, and dedicated bus lanes) would create about 245,000 direct construction jobs by 2050.

Jobs for Tomorrow is much more than a laundry list of job projections. Authors Tyee Bridge, Richard Gilbert, and Charley Beresford were supported by advisers Lee Loftus, President BC Building Trades; Bob Blakely, Canadian Operating Officer, Canada’s Building Trades Unions; and Tom Sigurdson, Executive Director, BC Building Trades. As a result, the report provides a depth of understanding of the construction industry, which is put in the context of solidly researched overviews of Canada’s current economic and climate change policy.  The report was commissioned by Canada’s Building Trades Unions (CBTU), an umbrella organization affiliated with 15 international construction unions, and released by the Columbia Institute, Vancouver. A French version, Les emplois de demain : Les métiers de la construction du Canada et les émissions nettes zero  is available here   .