Bringing energy efficiency to the equation

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In a piece I wrote that was published in The Telegram on Oct. 7, and posted online Oct. 9, we saw that a key finding of the McKinley study in the United States was that a program offering 50 per cent rebates, funded by an electricity rate increase of only four per cent, gives a 24 per cent “reduction” in customers’ electricity bills.

By spending 10 times more than we do to assist “customers” with energy efficiency, they also reduce system demand by more than two per cent per year, often saving the expense of a new generation source, and at one-third the cost.

For Newfoundland there are important differences. We use electricity for heating, and they use gas. Our residential consumption is high, at 50 per cent of total. Our load is skewed. The high winter demand, at more than twice the summer load, is problematic. The winter peak demand is beyond the capacity of our hydro generation, so 12 per cent is supplied by the Holyrood oil-fired plant.

Nalcor correctly states that our winter electric heat has been the main driver for increased demand. Our residential load is 69 per cent for heat, 11 per cent for hot water, 20 per cent for appliances, lights and other products. Houses use less energy per unit, but more and larger houses and conversions from oil heat is the rationale for a new generation source.


Conservation would pay off

Nevertheless, the size and season of these heating loads is a very fortunate combination. The energy-

efficiency approach, when specifically applied to electric heating, would give more savings than the McKinley study found for the U.S. The solution offers many benefits:

1. It reduces instead of increases customer electricity bills.

2. It reduces transmission losses, a utility expense.

3. It allows us to reach 98 per cent green energy.

4. It will incrementally reduce Holyrood oil consumption allowing some fuel cost savings to be passed back to consumers.

5. It saves on water resources, important in dry years when rainfall is low.

6. It reduces air pollution.

7. It aids our commitment on the environmental global warming issue.

8. It helps flatten our load curve with less winter demand, which reduces the size and cost of future replacement backup generation systems.

9. It brings synergy savings (where technology works together) and would more than double the savings from efficient compact bulbs, fridges, TVs and hot water tanks.

Such good fortune lies in the fact that our winter heating load is an excellent fit for the heating technology that has matured, is reliable, and suitable for our climate. It’s an opportunity to benefit from these latest advances and high efficiencies. The relatively low equipment cost is due to the mass production by several world class manufacturers.

The familiar way of heating with electricity is to heat direct with a resistance heating element. It is cheap and reliable, but a century old and very wasteful of electricity. The newer way heats indirectly. Powered by electricity, it transfers energy from the adjacent earth, water or air, into the house. It elevates the temperature suitable for residential space heat or for hot water.

This method is not new to Newfoundland, having been used for more than 20 years, and is now mandatory for our large government buildings. Worldwide, smaller residential units are used for heating, cooling and humidity control.

Efficiency is the great advantage. During winter cold snaps these units produce the same heat as regular heaters, but use about one-third the power. At milder temperatures, in minimum heat mode, newer models can use as little as one-sixth the power.

A hydro source that would normally supply 1,000 houses with heat and hot water could supply 3,000 houses in cold conditions, and 4,000 or more at other times. The equipment cost, in kilowatts of heat supplied, continues to drop, while power generation plant and transmission costs escalate.


Big savings

If efficiency is a viable contribution to avoid new generation, one must first consider the magnitude of this resource. An analysis to quantify the extent of such savings on an island-wide basis is readily done using Nalcor’s data: 50 per cent of the island load is residential, of which 69 per cent is for electric heat and, applying the 65 per cent efficiency factor (7,642 x 0.5 x 0.69 x 0.67) gives the saving of 1,766 gigawatt hours. This is 23 per cent of our yearly total generation.

More importantly, it is 206 per cent of the yearly generation production of Holyrood. Such large savings would, first and foremost, go to offset the expense of oil and reduce pollution.

 There are other significant savings from commercial heat, residential and commercial hot water, at about 774 gigawatt hours. Basement insulation and  efficient appliances can offer savings of 840 gigawatt hours. And transmission loss savings, another 100, for a total of 3,480 gigawatt hours. A potential savings of 45.5 per cent of all generation is almost twice the 26 per cent saving potential in the U.S.

It should not be surprising that our potential is twice that of the U.S. given that we use so much electricity for heat. What is surprising is that Nalcor proposed to save only nine gigawatt hours per year for the next 20 years. Manitoba Hydro International concurred with this, saying “technology efficiency savings were approaching a saturation point.” They reasoned that most upgrades for the housing sector are already done. But this applies only to the building shell construction. The serious oversight and error in their analysis is in excluding the savings of proven technology to the space heating and hot water for both residential and commercial sectors.

For all potential saving of the domestic plus commercial sectors of 3,480 gigawatt hours, it is four times last year’s 855 gigawatt hour total production from Holyrood.

I will look at achieveable saving and costs in a future letter.


Winston Adams lives in Logy Bay. He has a B.Eng. (electrical) and experience in generation and distribution and heating systems. He is not a member of the  Professional Engineers and Geoscientists Newfoundland and Labrador.

Organizations: Manitoba Hydro International, Professional Engineers

Geographic location: United States, Holyrood, Newfoundland Logy Bay

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Recent comments

  • Winston Adams
    November 01, 2012 - 17:21

    Abe G Yes , relatively expensive, at about 1200.00 per 1000 watts of heat producced at low temperature (-15C, + 5 F) . This is for the new ductless units. But this is about 7 times cheaper than every 1000 watts delivered to the island from Muskrat falls. With a good rebate program of 50 percent , the unit pays for itself in about 3.5 years. Without the rebate, about 7 years. Expect your energy bills to drop about 35 percent. With Muskrat falls, the calculator says 31 percent increase, and may be higher. Most units ooperate to -15C. Some go to -25C, which are better for inland or west coast, northern Peninsula. These can run about 35 percent more for the units, maybe 25 more installed cost.So payback is a little longer. If the government paid 100 pecent to installl these, it is still much less than MF. But 50 percent would be a good way to go, paid for by just 4 percent add on to the power bills. When you look at the savings compared to earnings in a savings account, you can see why last year shipments of these units jumped 46 percent from the prior year.

  • Abe G.
    November 01, 2012 - 14:14

    How much do these heat pumps cost? With these kind of savings it must be expensive technology. Any idea as to how long it would pay for itself?

  • Derrick
    November 01, 2012 - 13:36

    When I lived in Montreal, I installed a 3 ton Carrier and 20KW electric furnace, the heat pump switch on the furnace at - 15 C, it was nice as it cooled the house in the summer.

    • Winston Adams
      November 01, 2012 - 17:00

      Derrick, your Carrier unit likely has a capacity of only 5 kw at low temperature and almost twice that at 47F outdoors- so only partially big enough for full heating but helpful. You have a large back up heater.The ductless units Maynard refers to can handle the full heating load at low temperature. Some mini split ducted units can also.

  • David
    October 31, 2012 - 15:42

    WHOA - minus 10C you say. Not a problem. Most of the units operate down to -15C and some down to -20C. The units I bought still transfer about 2-3kW into my house for every 1kW of power the compressor uses, even down to -15C. The coldest night seen at my in-laws's last winter was minus 12, and it kept their house warm without any problems.

  • David
    October 31, 2012 - 14:16

    Maynard / Winston, the mini-split or duct less heat pump that you refer to are excellent. Last year, I helped my in-laws install a small unit in the house in Petty Harbour. It was operational by February. It cut their Feb/March/April power bill by 40%. Unfortunately, they are still heating their call space with an electric heater. If they had another heat pump for their basement, their bills would be down 50% or 60%. They were also fortunate enough to take advantage of a $1000 rebate from federal and provincial home efficiency grants (the federal program has since expired). I am a professional engineer and I have recently purchased units to install in my house as well. I can't wait until my bills drop by 50% plus I’ll have A/C for those muggy summer nights (and Nalcor has lots of surplus power in the summer for A/C)!!!

  • Maynard J. Clouter
    October 31, 2012 - 09:46

    The more efficient "newer way" referenced by Mr. Adams is assumed to be heat pump technology. I fully agree that this option for residential heat in particular offers great advantages, and the capital costs have been reduced considerable with the recent introduction of ductless installations. In response to the Energy Plan Review of 2006 I offered the following comment which is reproduced verbatim: "Except for some federal initiatives, there have been very few (if any) Provincial measures aimed at reducing the demand for electricity. The emphasis has consistently been on finding ways to expand the supply. This is regrettable because conservation can be a very effective tool especially with respect to use of electrical energy for heating purposes. In particular, the application of the well established heat pump technology can greatly improve the efficiency with which electricity can be employed in residential heating. This isespecially true for our (moderate) maritime climate where winter temperatures do not deviate far from 0 degrees C for any extended periods because it is in this regime that heat pumps are most effective. There should be a concerted government effort to expand the use of this technology."

    • Winston Adams
      October 31, 2012 - 10:54

      Maynard, you understand the "newer way" and it's benefits. There are many mechanical engineers locallly who are very familiar with this and apply their expertise daily to save their clients on energy consumption. It needs to be applied to residential in particular and also commercial. Good guidelines are essential and would avoid expensive engineering analysis for individual houses. My concern is that too few, if any, MHAs understand these benefits. None, to my knowledge, has expressed a single word as to it's benefits to improve the welfare of the average Nflder on a cost of living aspect.

    • Whoa
      October 31, 2012 - 14:33

      Hang on there. Our "winter temperatures do not deviate far from 0 degrees C for extended periods of time". What is the definition of "extended periods of time"? Last year was a mild winter here on the west coast. Even then it was normal to go almost a week with an average temperature below -5C. The past January had 14 days below -5C, with 7 days with a maximum temp below -5C and 10 days where the minimum fell below -10C. February had 11 days with an average below -5C, with 7 days with a maximum temp below -5C and 10 days with a minimum temp. below -10C. A heat pump may be okay on the east coast but in places that have winter, well, you'd more than a heat pump.

    • Maynard J. Clouter
      October 31, 2012 - 22:42

      I normally would decline to respond to an anonymous comment, but in this case I will make an exception for WHOA. The advantage of the heat pump over direct electric heat is lost when the outside temperature reaches about -20C. The Canadian "National Climate Data and Information Archive" shows that for the period 1971 to 2000 the lowest daily average temperature for any month was not less than -5.5C for St. John's and -7.2C for Corner Brook. Yes, there will be several days (nights) when the temperature is much lower, but we need to heat our houses over a period of 6 to 7 months and the these instances are not likely to be significant when considering the advantages as a seasonal average.

  • Ken Collis
    October 31, 2012 - 07:58

    As I've said before, EXACTLY who are you, and anyone else who posts here? You too John Smith. We need info both ways on the issue from folks who have nothing to gain either way. Tell us who you are and what interest you have on the issue and I'll listen. Ken Collis is my name. I live in Rencontre East. I work in the oil and gas industry, but not in Canada. I don't make any management decisions, and I have NO say in anything. I'm just a worker. I've seen the feds cut my overseas tax credit and now I'm seeing my power rates double and I'm trying to find a reason not to move away. All I need is to know from honest people is why I need to pay so much more to live here and exactly what it will cost me? I can live like a king elsewhere on just what I pay in taxes here but I love Newfoundland and I would like to stay. There are more people in my situation than you think.

    • Winston Adams
      October 31, 2012 - 10:35

      Ken, like you, I prefer to live in Nfld, in rural Nfld. There are some disadvantages, but we should enjoy some advantages, including one of the lowest power rates in Canada, and non poluting green energy as well . We already have about 85 percent hydro and it is outrageous to have our power bills go double what Man, Que and BC have so we can get to 98 percent green energy. Efficiency can do this and actually lower our power bills due to a much less power consumption, not by rationing, but more heat for our homes, more comfort , and at less cost. This is well proven technology. You ask "EXACTLY who are you"? I state my qualifications on this issue. What else would you like to know?