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Energy-saving innovations driving change in thinking, behaviour at home and the office

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By Paul Barker

Rising energy costs and concern for the environment are the catalysts behind a deluge of devices and breakthroughs designed to reduce electricity consumption in homes, schools, office buildings and factories across Canada.

Constantine Eliadis, vice president of business development with home energy audit organization GreenSaver, says that with the daytime cost of electricity virtually doubling overnight in Ontario, for example, it is “hitting a lot of folks hard.”

Adopting a more energy-conscious lifestyle, he says, requires more than new technology, however; he notes it’s important to change the way you think and act where energy use is concerned.

“There are great technologies out there, particularly on electricity displays in the home that tell you the real-time cost of electricity and consumption and train you to look out for waste,” says Eliadis. “That is a big opportunity. You can install all the compact fluorescent light bulbs you want, but if you leave them on you are wasting electricity.

“If you are sitting in your living room reading the paper and the tap in the kitchen is gushing water, you don’t ignore it and keep reading. It is kind of obvious, but electricity is invisible and you can easily sit in your same living room chair, while the lights are on in the basement and the television is on in the bedroom.”

Businesses face the same need to save energy and reduce costs as individual consumers, but finding solutions can be complicated. Speaking at the Construct Canada conference in Toronto, Dan Wendl, a vice president with the Trane, Hussmann business sectors of Ingersoll Rand, summed up the situation on the commercial side by noting while energy conservation is about turning the lights off, it’s hard to work in a dark room.

Wendl says even many of the world’s best companies do not have effective business processes to align facility infrastructure needs with their business plan.

“As a result, facilities engineers who are responsible for the comfort, health effects, operating specifications and utilities management often get trapped in a deferred maintenance/catch-up loop,” he says.

But linking building performance to business objectives, he says, benefits owners, facility engineers and occupants; successful strategic energy plans combine the latest climate control technology with consistent monitoring and personal decision.

“The proxy for behaviour control in the commercial and industrial sectors is automation,” says Eliadis. “There are products that have sensors that can detect when people are there or not, and bring up lights. One of the wonderful things about electricity display is that you can see real-time costs. They can reduce electricity consumption by 20 per cent.”

Rodney Wilts, a partner with BuildGreen Solutions, highlighted at the conference products, systems and technologies he says are becoming more accessible and affordable.

These include:

  • Control4, an IP-based software interface from a Salt Lake City company of the same name. The device is described as a “control freak” that works with energy monitoring devices that allow home and commercial building owners to manage energy consumption. In the Dashboard setting, for example, the price per kilowatt hour can be tracked. The Electricity Use setting allows an individual to identify spikes in usage and adjust his settings.
  • The Modlet, a web-enabled device that Wilts says “automatically kills vampire power, informs users what power is actually being consumed and suggests strategies to reduce consumption.” Developed by ThinkEco Inc. of New York, N.Y. , the company says the modlet, short for modern outlet, rethinks how to prevent plug load waste – the power consumed by plugged-in equipment when not in use. ThinkEco claims an overall utility bill can be reduced with no change in office routine.
  • The Freewatt, a micro-sized combined heat and power (Micro-CHP) cogeneration system for homes that provides the necessary heat and can also operate as a backup power supply should a power outage occur. The system, powered by a Honda engine, has been popular in Japan, says Wilts, and is now starting to impact the North American market.
  • The Twinfire (distributed in North America by Wittus Inc.), which Wilts described as the most efficient wood stove in the world, with an efficiency rate of 93 per cent through something called down-draft dual-burning technology.
  • So-called Smart Windows, touted as a technology that could revolutionize the industry. Switch Materials Inc. of Burnaby, B.C. and its team of scientists are currently developing smart windows and lenses that the company says will darken when exposed to the sun and “rapidly bleach on command when stimulated by electricity.” Last year, the B.C. provincial government announced it would invest $2.1 million into the company as part of its Innovative Clean Energy Fund.

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