Canadian excess makes us energy hogs

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We Canadians love to mock American excesses like McMansion homes and enormous SUVs, and why not? They really do symbolize a sadly wasteful culture.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/07/2012 (3857 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

We Canadians love to mock American excesses like McMansion homes and enormous SUVs, and why not? They really do symbolize a sadly wasteful culture.

But the last laugh may be on us. It turns out Canadians are far bigger energy hogs than our neighbours south of the border. Indeed, we’re among the worst energy wasters in the industrial world.

This finding comes from a new international energy-efficiency scorecard published yesterday by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

Among 12 big industrial nations, Canada ranked 11th, well behind China and Brazil and barely edging out Russia.

On a ranking scale where perfection was 100, we were fully 10 points below the ninth-place position of the U.S.

“I frankly was surprised” by Canada’s poor showing, said report author Sara Hayes.

The council, whose research aims to cut the harmful economic effects of wasteful energy use, is a 32-year-old non-profit group supported by government agencies, foundations and private firms in the U.S.

After producing comparisons of energy performance among different regions of the U.S. for many years, the group expanded its focus this year to the G8 group of leading industrial nations and three other big economies: Australia, China and Brazil.

The results were discouraging, even for Americans. For Canadians, they were outright depressing.

While it’s always possible to quibble with the elements of energy policy and performance that such a report card homes in on, this study looks responsible and well-designed. It ranks each country on both policy and performance in each of the three big areas of energy use: buildings, industry and transportation. Then it adds a fourth category, national efforts, that takes in big-picture measures such as national energy productivity, progress in cutting energy intensity and the efficiency of thermal power plants.

Before we even begin to look at Canada’s abysmal showing, we should set aside two common excuses for this country’s high energy consumption: cold winters and a thinly spread population.

Australia also has a thin population spread over a large area, but its performance is far better than that of Canada or the U.S., ranking it a middle-of-the-pack sixth overall.

And Germany, where winters are nearly as cold as Canada’s, was an outstanding performer, ranking second.

Actually, rankings for building efficiency were adjusted to remove the influence of temperature differences among countries.

Canada, however, still ranks 11th on building efficiency, with high energy consumption in both homes and commercial buildings and no effective national standards to encourage better performance.

On transportation, another key area, we also rank 11th, with low American fuel-economy standards and minimal investment in public transit.

Industry, where we rank 10th, is much the same story. After all, we earn billions from selling oil, natural gas and electricity across the border, so why worry about waste?

The answer, says Hayes, is whether you import it or export it, every dollar’s worth of wasted energy is still a dollar of wasted economic opportunity.

Of course, there’s some history here. Canada’s big resource sector has always been a major consumer of energy, points out P.J. Partington of the Pembina Institute.

If you look on the bright side, “there’s huge scope for improvement” if we should wise up and use this energy less wastefully, he notes.

For example, oilsands projects often liquefy underground bitumen by heating it with large amounts of natural gas. Alternative technologies, such as dissolving the bitumen with solvent, then reusing the solvent, might cut energy use greatly.

At industrial plants, a big unused opportunity is cogeneration — the production of both industrial heat and electricity from the same power source, which is far more efficient than running separate power plants and industrial boilers. Cogeneration is common outside Canada.

In Canada, cogeneration is such a minuscule power source, it accounts for less than one per cent of industrial power production. That compares with nearly 19 per cent in Europe and nearly 18 per cent in the U.S.

“It’s mystifying,” says Partington.

Or maybe not. When you live with a psychology of energy abundance, maybe it’s just easier to do nothing than to do the smart thing.

— Postmedia News

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