Image © Robert Ingelhart, iStockphoto

Global Warming is HOT - literally and figuratively. From the popularity of ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ to our crazy December east/west weather reversal, our government is finally paying attention and putting money where their mouth is.

In the last month, we have seen the announcements of $$BILLIONS$$ in spending on clean and renewable energy. That’s a lot of money being thrown around, but where exactly is it going?

Here’s how the Ministry of Natural Resources (NRCan) breaks it down:

$300 Million = Smarter Energy Use

a.k.a. ecoENERGY Efficiency Initiative

$230 Million = Research and Development into ‘Clean Energy Technologies’

a.k.a. ecoENERGY Technology Initiative

$1.5 Billion = Boosting Canada’s Renewable Energy Supplies

a.k.a. ecoENERGY Renewable Initiative

Sounds like a whole whack load of money going towards a worthy cause, doesn’t it? Oh yeah, baby! Confused? Maybe a little… After all, what’s the diff between Clean Energy Technologies and Renewable Energy Supplies anyway? And isn’t it all about smart energy use?

We’re pretty familiar already with renewable energy supplies, with wind and solar being the most common. As for smarter energy use, it seems intuitive that we should find ways to reduce the amount of energy we’re using. But clean energy technologies? What exactly do they mean by “clean”?

Did You Know? Canadians use more energy than all of the 760 million inhabitants of Africa.

Clean Energy Technologies is a term used to describe coal and oil sands. More specifically, clean coal, and more efficient oil sands extraction.

Let’s take this opportunity to look a little bit closer at one of these technologies, Clean Coal.

Clean Coal is one of the largest technological promises of an alternative energy future. 17% of Canada’s current electricity currently comes from coal. And this number does not appear to be dropping anytime in the near future, as we possess over eight billion tonnes of proven coal reserves, storing more energy than all of our oil, natural gas, and oil sands combined. This actually only makes up 1% of the world’s coal supplies though – that’s how abundant this fossil fuel is and why we depend upon it so much.

Did you know? One new coal burning plant is being fired up every week in China. They hope to build 562 plants in the next eight years while many other countries of the world are trying to lessen their dependence on coal.

The problem with coal is that it burns ‘dirty’, spewing out tonnes of the greenhouse gas -  carbon dioxide, as well as smog causing nitrogen oxides and acid-rain causing sulphur dioxide, not to mention toxic mercury, lead, and other heavy metals into the environment.

Clean Coal comes with the promise of zero-emissions. This occurs through either ‘washing’ the coal to create a cleaner product for burning, or by ‘gasifying’ the coal by combining it with oxygen to form a gas called ‘syngas’.

In Clean Coal plants, these would be burned, and the pollutants from the exhaust removed with scrubbers (that do just that -scrub the gas clean), or filters, and/or electrostatic plates. Some CO2 is still produced, but it is now ‘sequestered’ (or captured), and piped down into underground storage or into the ocean.

This is all neat stuff, but we can’t forget that a lot of energy goes into the processing of coal to make it into a clean energy source. This might offset the amount of energy that it actually produces, and if a clean source can’t be found for that process, then it might not be worth going through that entire process at all! Another problem is what to do with the collected pollutants that are extracted from this so-called zero-emission exhaust.

Despite its problems, Clean Coal remains a viable alternative and is just one of the many new technologies that Canada is investing in, in its initiative to become a Clean Energy Superpower!

Wondering how you can do your part to help save energy? Here are some wacky…and practical ideas to get you started:

Turn off the TV or Computer and go outside and play!!! Count the number of times your family opens the fridge door (the average is 20) – challenge your family to cut this number in half! Change all your light bulbs to those funky corkscrew fluorescent bulbs or better still - LED bulbs. Have an 80’s Sweater Fashion Show and turn the temperature down in your house!

Learn More!

Check out this article on Clean Coal Technology with some really good diagrams on the BBC website

For more info on Clean Technology, check out this guy’s blog: Clean Break.

How does your energy consumption measure up with others around the world? Check out your Ecological Footprint at MyFootPrint.

CBC News Indepth: Energy

Natural Resources Canada Website: ecoENERGY Initiatives Backgrounder

David Suzuki Foundation Website

 

Iris Liu

I am a medical student at the UBC, Island Medical Program. Between coordinating for Gene skool, learning about medicine, and playing on my guitar, percussing my food and co-managing the In the News section of CurioCity, I occasionally wonder when I sleep! But all is well when I take the time to just reflect on the day by reading my Bible and writing plays about a fictional character named Cindy.

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