Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Clean energy comes to the coffee table

Is green, renewable energy a sexy enough topic to be the centrepiece of a coffee table book? Tom Rand, who leads cleantech development at Toronto’s MaRS Centre, believes so. In fact, he figures that it’s just such a book that will expose a broader section of the population to the issues, technologies and opportunities around renewable energy. Rand has written a soon-to-be-released book called Kick The Fossil Fuel Habit: 10 Clean Technologies To Save Their World. The “their” being our children and their children and so on. The technologies or subjects under the spotlight are solar, wind, geothermal, biofuels, hydropower, ocean (tidal and wave), smart buildings, conservation, transportation and the energy Internet.

Now, there’s no shortage of books out there about green energy, but there’s little that explains it so simply and with the graphics and beautiful pictures that show how it’s done and how it can help change our world for the better. This is an accessible package, cleverly assembled and pleasant to look at, while at the same time making it enjoyable to learn about the technologies that, while seemingly “alternative” or “new” today, are destined to become a dominant and permanent way of energizing future generations and the economies that support them.

I’ve written about Rand before. He’s one of a handful of ambitious business leaders who is trying to convince our federal and provincial governments to create “green bonds” that can be sold to the public and used to finance renewable-energy projects across the country. Sadly, our political leaders have been slow to embrace the idea. Rand describes his upcoming book as “advocacy, pure and simple.” The plan is to distribute it through mainstream outlets such as Starbucks to coincide with the big climate-change conference coming up in December in Copenhagen. It will be released in October.

I’m not usually a fan of these kinds of book, but when the format embraces a serious subject — as opposed to movie stars and dogshow pooches — the larger mainstream awareness that can result is too rare in a society overloaded with information. For this reason, Rand’s book should be on every coffee table, out in open view for family and guests to see.

~Tyler Hamilton

Tyler Hamilton is senior energy reporter and columnist for the Toronto Star, Canada's largest daily newspaper. In addition to this Clean Break blog, Tyler writes a weekly column of the same name that discusses trends, happenings and innovators in the cleantech market. This blog is a personal project started in April 2005.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Geo-engineering: Clamping a Lid on a Boiling Pot

The irony is worthy of a Noel Coward play. If it weren't so frightening, it would be worth a good guffaw.

Defenders of the fossil patch have gone from accusing climate science of being incapable of producing reliable predictions, to arguing that we can "geo-engineer" our way out of this problem. So on the one hand, climate science is an immature, complicated and unreliable science. On the other, we are capable of controlling the entire global ecosystem, essentially forever, by engineering temperature-reducing solutions and controlling the outcome.

The underlying paradox hints at other motivations. Like defending business-as-usual whatever the cost, including intellectual dishonesty. Like pretending we are not in a pile of trouble. Like wanting to stick your head in the sand.

Geo-engineering means treating the global climate system like a machine, one that you can not just predict, but actually control. But it's more like trying to clamp a lid on a pot of boiling water. As the water heats up, you need to clamp the lid on tighter and tighter. Forever. This is not a a solution, this is hubris. And yet another excuse not to deal with the root causes, to do the real work that needs to be done.

Bjorn Lomborg, director of the "Copenhagen Consensus Center", has successfully put geo-engineering front and center just in time for COP15. The argument is that it's cheaper to control global temperatures - by putting reflective dust in the upper atmosphere, or increasing cloud cover over the oceans - than it is to reduce our carbon footprint.

It's true geo-engineering is cheap: it's often cheaper to suppress symptoms than to deal with underlying causes. It's also true that we'll probably need some sort of geo-engineering: we're far too late to the climate reducing game to avoid some level of temperature increase.

But geo-engineering is a dangerous distraction from the main event. Committing ourselves to a future in which we are responsible for artificially controlling the temperature of an enormously complicated system, replete with feedback mechanisms, is Faustian madness. It brings to mind a skidding car, when the driver over-compensates by trying to steer in the other direction. The result is an uncontrollable spin.

What geo-engineering might do is give us a bit more time. But it is no reason not to act on the carbon front.

We are in deep trouble. Let's not pretend geo-engineering abdicates us of our responsibility to deal with it.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Green or Green Wash? Lessons from building North America’s greenest hotel in Toronto

Tom Rand, Cleantech Practice Lead at MaRS Discovery District, inventor of the Green Bond, previous entrepreneur and successful Venture Capitalist talks about his journey to build "the continent’s greenest hotel" - Planet Traveler.

Rand sees the world through green-colored glasses. There is too little time and too much at stake to invest in “green” technologies that do not succeed in effecting a substantive reduction in carbon emissions. Low carbon technologies represent a third-industrial revolution that Rand believes must take place. And soon.

Green or Green Wash? Lessons from building North America’s greenest hotel in Toronto from MaRS Discovery District on Vimeo.

In pursuing the goal of building the greenest hotel, Rand didn’t waste time quibbling over payback periods on geothermal heat exchangers, or spend months negotiating with government agencies to obtain retrofit grants. In fact, Rand and his partner are making this project work without the help of any grants or subsidies as an example to others that the adoption of green technologies isn’t prohibitively expensive. Day-to-day building operations are responsible for 40 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions: a huge market. And greening buildings are the low-hanging fruit of carbon emissions reduction, ripe for the adoption of new green technologies.

Rand talks about City cooperation, payback periods, technology and financing options and how to measure the cost savings of green technologies.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

KICK the Fossil Fuel Habit!

10 Clean Technologies to Save Their World

In “Kick the Fossil Fuel Habit - 10 Clean Technologies to Save their World” author Tom Rand, P.Eng, PhD (engineer, Cleantech authority, venture capitalist, pragmatic entrepreneur and philosopher) doesn’t provide a "3-easy-steps" approach to fixing our dependence on fossil fuels. But he does show it's possible to do without them.

By giving an in-depth look at 10 technologies that together can bring a clean future, free of fossil fuels, Tom provides education and hope. This is a clarion call, a directive that we act quickly and collectively (governments, corporations and individuals) to provide future generations the opportunity to live in a sustainable world.

Unique in being accessible by the general public, his message is not just important, but understandable and entertaining. His personal views and anecdotes are combined with a hard-headed engineering and business perspective. Beautiful photographs bring the text to life.

It is this generation’s job to save the world we know for the next. Kick – literally – shows us how to do this.