More small (and bigger) solutions

by Yule Heibel on June 28, 2005

Way back at the beginning of the month, I went to an event at the Royal BC Museum that showcased sustainable energy. Highlight was without a doubt a presentation by Guy Dauncey, whom we were lucky enough to hear even though we didn’t know he was giving a talk. I’m glad we didn’t miss it — it was inspirational, very hopeful (all things considered), and full of useful information about how we can move toward sustainable energy consumption and production.

The following are some links and pointers to the energy innovators Dauncey mentioned during his talk. I tried to scribble down as many URLs as I could — I get the impression Dauncey has a million more up his sleeve:

For those who want to reduce the cost of heating hot water, there’s the GFX(TM) Heat-Xchanger & Water Heater Booster. It’s a brilliantly simple idea, and it saves money & energy.

Then there are those kooky Swiss: who would have thought that they’d figure out a way to extract heat energy from …sewage? RabTherm designs pipelines with heat-conducting elements in the underside, which conduct the heat in sewage back to where it’s useful. Hmmm…. In the summer, they can even use it to cool homes. Wastewater, including sewage waste, has an average temperature of a whopping 25 Celsius when it leaves the house via the waste pipe. (That’s …let me see, 25 times 1.8, that’s 45.0, plus 32, that’s 77 Fahrenheit. Nice and warm.) It’s energy (in the form of heat) that’s dissipated and not recycled. RabTherm changes that. This page explains the system (in simple terms), and note that the heat exchanger pipes are embedded in the concrete sewage/ waste pipe under the street, and have a life expectancy of 50 years.

Switzerland. The clocks work, and so does the sh….

They even had a conference in Vancouver recently:

Vancouver: Geo Exchange Konferenz vom 17. bis 18.März 2005
Vortrag Urs Studer: An alternative thermal energy source for cities
Hilton Hotel, Burnaby / Session 3B am 18.3. um 10.15 Uhr

If you never thought that solar energy could fulfill your hot water needs, Thermomax Industries will change your mind. If you go to their applications page, you’ll find a gazillion other applications/ devices already in use (and for sale).


* Over 2,000,000 Thermomax Solar Tubes are in daily use in over 40 countries worldwide.
*From a pollution perspective, installing a 30 tube Thermomax collector is equivalent to removing one car from service.
* Thermomax Collectors are the best you can buy.

On a much bigger scale, there’s WaveGen, which harnesses the power of the oceans to harness energy we can use. Dauncey especially pointed to WaveGen’s LIMPET, which stands for Land Installed Marine Powered Energy Transformer, and which really does seem to have tremendous potential for use without bureaucratic centralisation.

Can’t rely on your bicycle or on public transportation? Get a hybrid plug-in vehicle: there’s The California Cars Initiative (CalCars), “a non-profit startup formed by a group of California entrepreneurs, engineers, environmentalists and consumers to jump-start the market for plug-in hybrids. We’ve built a prototype PHEV and we are harnessing the collective vision and purchasing power of individuals and corporate and government fleets. CalCars aims to engage with a major car maker to produce plug-in versions of existing sedans and SUVs.” Lots of information there to get started on. Of course, you could go off-grid with your transportation, too, and get a Solar Vehicle. These look really cute, but they wouldn’t do for sweltering humid climates. This is definitely a Left Coast or desert vehicle…. (Did I mention that this website has instructions for how to build your own? Check it out here — this sounds like one heck of a science project for some high schoolers, too.

There are alternative vehicle fuels, too: see Wise Energy‘s webpages for more on biodiesel, which now powers a number of City of Victoria vehicles, including buses. Phew, no more stinky diesel. Now if only the stupid double-decker London buses which the tourist industry uses would get on board and switch to biodiesel. They really should stop polluting the air here.

Then there are the initiatives to turn garden compost into fuel. If it works for plants, why not for us and our machines? See KompoGas (another Swiss concern, I think) for their English-language site. The political will has to be there, of course: biogenous waste includes all the stuff you are already putting into the compost, but it adds animal waste (kitty litter, dog poop, etc.), meat scraps and pasta and bread waste (which you don’t put in your compost, unless you want to feed the rats), and anything and everything that’s biodegradable. Obviously, your municipality has to be involved in organising pick-up of this kind of material. But it can be done.

And finally but certainly not last, check out Guy Dauncey’s own website, Earth Future, as well as the BC Sustainable Energy Association‘s website.

Update: My thanks go to Doug for the link to this Tyee article that explains all about white light emitting diodes (WLEDs). The Tyee article (Lighting up BC’s Dark Interior) is terrific — really worth your time — in terms of how it doesn’t mince words that “the third world” really isn’t that far away for all of us urban “first worlders.” The Interior of BC, the desert of the Navajos: from the grid to no-grid isn’t a stretch at all. I especially like that something as technologically “cool” as a WLED is far superior in absolutely every single respect to old-time true and trusted technologies like kerosene-burning lamps (i.e., “fire”).

In the late 70s, I rented a room in winter from an old man who had a nineteenth-century apartment in Munich: there was no central heating, but the room I rented had an oil-burning stove for heat. I was sick all winter; my headaches were non-stop. The old man was an artist, the place was funky. But it was cold, miserable, and it made me sick.

So, that was for “heat,” which you can allay with sweaters. Imagine having to stink up your home with kerosene lamps just to get some light. I can imagine it. The Tyee article has some excellent links to other organisations that are working to bring clean, safe light to people who still rely on solutions likely to poison them in their own homes: there’s the Light Up the World Foundation affiliated with the University of Calgary in Alberta:

Then there’s the Pembina Institute for Appropriate Development, a lodestone of further links (, Life Cycle Value Assessment, and “tonnes” more…).

And don’t miss TIR, which is a “world leader in specialty lighting; designing, developing and marketing products for architectural and corporate identity applications.”

If all of this doesn’t light up your world, you’re stuck in the dark…


Doug Alder June 29, 2005 at 12:04 pm

You missed WLEDs – White Light Emitting Diodes – cuts energy needed to light a home to 50% current needs. see

Yule Heibel June 30, 2005 at 12:22 pm

Excellent link, Doug,thanks! I’ll move it into the body of the post later, as an update.

I especially like that the WLED seem to work on dimmers, which is something the other efficient bulbs don’t do. That really limits their use for those of us who prefer to have most light switches as dimmers. Even we environmentalists like to “set the mood” and get all sexy, eh!

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