Fenestration Forum: August 2014
By Brian Burton
Change driving change
By Brian Burton
I suspect that by the time you read this you will have seen a number of
headlines about climate change and, more specifically, the new carbon
emission tax recently introduced in the U.S.
I suspect that by the time you read this you will have seen a number of headlines about climate change and, more specifically, the new carbon emission tax recently introduced in the U.S. From what I understand, this new levy on carbon pollution is focused primarily on inefficient, American coal-burning electricity plants. Coal burning plants produce 40 per cent of U.S. power while natural gas supplies about 30 per cent. There are close to 600 of these coal burning plants spread across the U.S., and, taken together, they produce close to 30 per cent of the carbon pollution in that nation. For example, Kentucky has 56 coal-fired electrical generating plants, which account for over 90 per cent of that states electricity. Ontario, by contrast, has a total of five. Almost immediately after the announcement, a spirited debate began about what the potential negative impact this tax could have on electricity prices, jobs and manufacturing industries. Conversely, some argue the move will stimulate “clean energy” innovations. The glass industry stands to both be hit by the negatives and benefit from the positives, if we can react to offer more energy-efficient products.
Here in Canada, politicians have long argued that introducing any measures to reduce carbon emissions would be dwarfed by U.S. emissions, and therefore would be ineffective and expensive for Canada. Regardless, Québec, B.C. and Alberta do, in fact, have some form of taxation on carbon pollution. Although there has been quite a bit of press coverage regarding the impact of the American carbon tax on the North American economy, we should note that some economists have calculated that the impact of carbon pollution on the economy is something like $30 or $40 per ton in industrialized nations. This number might not grab your immediate attention, but consider for a moment that we manage to emit several billion tons of carbon pollution every year. If these calculations are even close to being correct, we are certainly dealing with a very large amount of money. The U.S. government is insisting that if coal-burning plants are emitting excessive carbon and it’s costing the economy, the government is economically and politically justified, so to speak, to recover the losses. Canada will likely follow suit. We should prepare, as a sector, for an environment where people and companies are charged by the government for their carbon emissions.
Obviously, buildings and construction are very large consumers of energy resources, and energy efficiency is going to remain a very important issue over the long term. I personally don’t believe consumer demand will be changed or affected by higher-priced, energy-efficient glazing offerings because the market’s performance expectations are likely to remain very high.
Aside from cost, the design and specifications for building envelopes will be affected by climate change as well. For example, consider some specific climate data that was recorded over several decades at Pearson International Airport in Toronto. This climate data is site-specific and could not be applied across the country, but it does provide some information about what appears to be a gradual warming for this particular location. At this specific location, the average 30-year average annual temperature for 1961 to 1991 was recorded to be 7.3 degrees Celsius. Meanwhile, the average 30-year annual temperature between the years 1980 to 2010 rose by 1.5 to 8.8 C. This gradual warming resulted in an increase in the average number of days with a mean temperature above freezing. Specifically, this meant there were an additional16 days, or close to 400 hours, where the building envelope and related components were exposed to more moisture. This may not sound like a lot but over the lifecycle of the building it could have a significant impact. Several experts I have spoken to predicted changes in climate patterns such as this may require at least some adjustments in the building code.
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