Sustainable development and renewable energy may be the buzzwords these days, but as the technology is new and often expensive, many wonder how feasible it is to integrate them into our everyday lives.
According to DJ MacIntyre, the president of Le Boisé Alternatives, a company that distributes and installs solar, wind and micro hydro energy products, green technologies cannot be employed with a “cookie-cutter approach.”
MacIntyre says some of his clients are interested in the environmental aspect of his business and others simply want electricity but can’t afford the cost of installing hydro poles – sometimes costing up to hundreds of thousands of dollars – to the location they need it.
In Quebec, people who opt for renewable energy either for environmental concerns or logistical difficulty can choose among sun, water or wind energy sources. But depending on the client’s needs, MacIntyre said that he could recommend different alternatives.
For a three-season cottage, he recommends solar panels. But for a year-round home a combination of windmills and panels would be necessary, as each is more beneficial at different times of the year.
“Windmills don’t work as well year-round,” MacIntyre explained. “What is actually interesting with the wind turbines is that if you actually see an overall graph of wind performance in this part of Canada versus the solar incidence that we get in this part of Canada, they are almost mirror images of each other.” MacIntyre described the third option, the personal microhydro turbine, as the “Holy Grail of off-grid living.” Micro hydro systems are able to generate electricity more consistently than either windmills or solar panels. They need to be set up on falling water with an approximately 10-foot drop near the home, much like the large-scale ones Hydro has installed in the North.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the one thing that eats up the most energy in the province, home heating, all three renewable energy sources fall short.
“What goes on is that we can make 4-, 5-, 6-kilowatt hours of electricity each day. That is not a problem for running your TV your DVD player, your microwave, washer/dryer, the whole nine yards, water pumps, all of that stuff, it can handle it. It’s when you actually want to make heat from electricity that you start to look into the 20 kilowatt hours a day that you just don’t have, that you just can’t realistically make out of alternative energy or renewable energy systems,” said MacIntyre.
Installing these kinds of systems can be quite costly but cost is relative when some the advantages of off-grid housing are taken into consideration. MacIntyre set up his own off-grid home for approximately $30,000 to $40,000, but said it would cost more now.
“For a new house, including a solar hot water heating system, and let’s say it’s a really nice set up, you are looking at about $50,000 to $70,000, depending on the set up of the house. That includes everything but a heating system – that is the one thing that is really difficult to do with renewable energy.”
For a hunting camp or a small cottage that is not intended for everyday living however, it gets a lot cheaper. “I have set up cottages quite nicely for $7,000 or $8,000. The client could go every weekend and have lights and you know, run the DVD player and that kind of stuff.” The one thing that the system he installs can’t do, however, is run an oven. In this case many clients will employ a diesel or propane-run generator just for the oven or to heat as well.
For the time being in Quebec, because the cost of electricity is significantly cheaper here than in other provinces, MacIntyre said that it would take almost 50 years to make the money back in energy savings, but in Ontario it would take half that time.
In regards to the environmental impact of his business over the past few years he has, “we are past the 100,000 tons of greenhouse gas saved with all of our clients put together.”
To find out more about home alternative energy sources, contact Le Boisé Alternatives via their website at http://www.leboise.com.