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Geothermal heat pumps, which draw heat from 115 metres below the earth through a series of pipes, are “the heartbeat of the building,” Rand says. But getting the technology installed was a battle, since they didn’t own land to drill into. It took six months of slashing through municipal red tape to bury almost 2 kilometres of piping in an adjacent city-owned laneway. Since then, Toronto has created a taskforce that expedites similar requests.
The roof bears two kinds of solar panels: photovoltaic, for powering the building, and solar thermal, for heating water. “No one will ever know” the place is mostly off-grid, Aarts says as he stares at a meter measuring how much energy is currently flowing from the gigantic panels. The roof also serves as a bar for patrons with a panoramic view of Toronto.
Copper coils encircling the drainage pipes, designed by the Canadian company RenewABILITY, recover heat lost down the drain and use it to warm incoming cold water.
The whole building is lit by LED bulbs, which all combined use less energy than a toaster. The decision to use LED meant many of the light fixtures had to be custom-made. Rooms are also equipped with motion sensors so the lights go out when no one is there.
According to Rand, the money they’re saving on geothermal heating alone amounts to more than the loan payments for the green retrofits. Carbon reduction “makes us more economically competitive, because every dollar I don’t spend on energy I can spend on something else,” Rand says. He hopes the project will be a model for retrofitting larger buildings. “Everybody could do it.”
Buildings around the world account for 40% of our greenhouse gas emissions. And if everybody did what we did, we would cut global emissions by a third. And everybody who did it would be making money. This is low hanging fruit, and I'll tell you how we pick it. There is a role for government here - so President Obama, Prime Minister Harper - backstop or force those commercial banks to lend money at low interest rates for these kind of retrofits. Better yet: mandate the retrofits.
- it creates local jobs
- it cuts carbon
- and it forms the basis of a new clean-tech economy
That's an economic stimulus package. For 20 years we've been frozen into inaction on climate change by bickering - and my story says we can kick the fossil fuel habit and Planet Traveller offers a very simple, and very constructive way forward.