Despite recent price hikes, heating with gas is still so cheap it’s going to be hard to kick the habit

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Our planet is changing. So is our journalism. This story is part of a businesshala News initiative titled our changing planet To show and explain the effects of climate change and what is being done about it.

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You may have seen the recent media warnings that the price of natural gas is on the rise.

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As COP26 enters its final week, those trying to help Canadians meet our climate commitments and stop the world from overheating have a different perspective. problem with fossil methane – The main component of natural gas – they say, it is not expensive, but it is still so cheap.

It is efficient, reliable, and also in millions of Canadian homes. And at least in the burning phase, research shows it is cleaner and far less greenhouse gas intensive than other fossil fuel alternatives.

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Some, including former federal Conservative Finance Minister Joe Oliver, who is now chairman of Ontario’s Independent Power System Operator, opposed the move to stop using natural gas, saying it would Extremely expensive and self-defeating.

But there is a problem. It depends how you calculate it, but Most figures show As the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, space heating comes after oil and gas production and road transport. Of the heat sources, natural gas is Largest single GHG producer Partly because it is so widely used. Experts say that to reach net zero by 2050, we have to stop heating with gas.

Despite grappling with a powerful industry lobby, deep-rooted infrastructure, consumer familiarity and challenging economics, a group of committed Canadians are starting to move the needle on natural gas consumption that many of us in Canada’s cold climate face. makes it comfortable.

Toronto architect Sheena Sharp, whose firm, CoolEarth, has specialized in low-carbon and low-energy design since 2008, is the one who fears It will not be easy. That’s because reducing natural gas faces a tough economic reality. Sharp said that as the oil and gas industry has developed hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which offers new and cheaper natural gas from formerly “dry” geology, plans to reduce its use simply don’t pay off.

look | businesshala’s Johanna Wagstaff explains what she’s watching at COP26 this week:

won’t pay for windows

“Saving half of something that isn’t too expensive doesn’t make you a lot of money to play with,” Sharp said in a recent phone conversation.

In other words, if your gas bill is about $1,000 a year, even doing something as simple as replacing old leaky windows — while it will make you more comfortable — will never pay off your capital investment. does not make.

Sharp said that even at its peak years from now, the carbon tax would only go toward offsetting the cost of repairs to make an older building net zero. Sharp’s main clients are businesses or public institutions that see the public relations value in demonstrating that they are working to fight climate change.

He has some customers who own a home with extra cash to spend for their discretion and comfort, but if it doesn’t add to the sale price, most others will stick to natural gas. Most businesses that must face-to-face with competitors are unwilling to splash out on low-carbon refits that could put them at a financial disadvantage, she said.

“After you’ve done the low-hanging fruit, which is essentially replacing light bulbs and putting in more efficient gas boilers,” Sharp said, “most energy-efficient solutions are too expensive.”

That’s why he and many others who are trying to wean Canadians away from natural gas say the only solution is regulation by municipal or provincial governments that create a level playing field for businesses and homeowners, As well as create a new industry that will make fuel-switching fast, cheap and easy.

Leading the charge to carbon-free

That’s exactly what the City of Vancouver is doing, and Chris Higgins, the city’s senior green building planner, is one of those leading the charge. Vancouver is one of several Canadian cities that declared a climate emergency, and its first step, Higgins said, was Target new construction and major renovations, the climate-friendly phase of buildings is the cheapest and offers the biggest payoff. And he is moving fast.

“Vancouver as a city, we have our own building code,” Higgins said in a phone interview. “As of January 1, 2022 … we are no longer allowing fossil fuels – with natural gas being the most common – to be used to heat homes or to heat hot water.”

That deadline is less than two months away, and it comes with other conditions including thick insulation, triple-glazed windows, a draft-free building envelope and ventilation that retrieves heat from the exhausted air.

Overall, he said, the requirements would mean that newly built homes would use 90 percent less energy than homes built in 2007. And this means that the cost of heating decreases in importance.

In fact, most of those new homes, small and medium-sized, will cost less to heat than older homes that use gas, Higgins said.

Experts like Katya Rhodes Integrated Energy Systems Institute In Victoria says a healthy support network of local businesses to work with is already growing and BC community colleges are offering training a new generation of experts.

look | COP26 protesters increase pressure on leaders to act on climate change:

targeting existing homes

But Higgins and his team aren’t satisfied with the climate-proofing of the roughly 1,000 low-rise homes the city builds a year. Shortly after the new-home policy passed through the council just before the pandemic hit, Higgins began working on policy for existing homes.

Higgins said that houses built before 1940, when some homes were left untouched, are the biggest challenge, but Vancouver Heritage Foundation is offering grants and assistance to retrofit the oldest homes.

The city is also offering a $12,000 grant to any homeowner wishing to turn off the gas and install a heat pump—an inverted refrigerator-like device that concentrates heat from outside air using a fraction of the electricity of a standard baseboard heater. .

Higgins, whose own home was built in 1905, was a . warms up with Mitsubishi H2i Heat Pump Which reduces electricity usage by two-thirds and can continue to reduce heat from outside air to -25°C. Below this, in cold weather, the device is complemented by radiant electric heat.

Critics in colder places might complain that it’s easier to get to Vancouver, where temperatures rarely drop below -8 C.

But cooler cities in particular, including Halifax, are also leading the way, especially in the use of heat pump technology.

And Higgins’ model for his building code plan? This is Whitehorse, where temperatures have dropped to -50C, a city that issued its first Climate friendly building codes in 2009 City engineer Nick Marnick said the rules have been tightened steadily since then, although homes there are not connected to Canada’s natural gas network.

At COP26, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau committed Canada’s largest GHG generator, the oil and gas sector, to reducing emissions. With improvements in technology and falling costs, electric cars seem destined to send gas motors to scrap.

But as noted by architect Sharp, while people turn on their cars every 15 years on average, all the buildings you can now see from your window, in all likelihood, will still be there in 2050, a time when Canada has set zero Committed to zero.

As Vancouver has demonstrated, the private sector has the skills and technology to meet that goal. But in places like Toronto, Sharp said, a lack of government regulations that would encourage a virtuous cycle of better technology and a rapid transition to energy efficiency has meant a slowing to a crawl.

“…it’s important for the government to make a decision and it’s important that they do it quickly,” Sharp said.

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