Vancouver Joins the 100 Percent Renewable Energy Movement

It’s easy to mock efforts by localities to take on climate change – looked at in isolation and strictly by the numbers, no matter how boldly they move to trim their carbon emissions, the impact will be minimal.

Then again, when you start to add up all those little impacts – and take into account a possible galvanizing effect – the story might change.

That’s part of the thinking in Vancouver, British Columbia, where the city council last week approved Mayor Gregor Robertson’s motion to commit the city “to the long term goal of deriving 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources.”

Robertson’s motion highlighted the fact that San Francisco, Sydney, Stockholm and Copenhagen have made similar commitments in recent years, and in comments the mayor said the move by Vancouver was to some degree intended to send a signal to world leaders.

“Cities around the world must show continued leadership to meet the urgent challenge of climate change, and the most impactful change we can make is a shift toward 100% of our energy being derived from renewable sources,” the mayor said.

Clean Energy Canada senior analyst Jeremey Moorhouse noted, “In the lead-up to the Paris climate talks, Vancouver has just bolstered its reputation as a global cleantech hub, reducing carbon pollution and keeping the air clean.”

The city’s goal is bold, even if it doesn’t come with a firm target date. Thanks to lots of hydropower, British Columbia’s grid is already more than 90 percent emissions-free (although not totally free of environmental impact, of course), but Vancouver’s commitment is to green all of its energy demand, not just electricity. And in those terms, Vancouver is now at 32 percent renewables, leaving it a big mountain to climb.

A particular challenge will be in the transportation sector, where cars, trucks and buses powered by gasoline and diesel still rule. Vancouver is working on a longer-range plan to address the transportation challenges, but it already has been pursuing goals like the making majority of trips in the city come by foot, bicycle or public transportation, and trimming the average distance driven per resident by 20 percent from 2007 levels.

While Vancouver joins growing but still small number of cities taking the plunge and aiming to make all its energy use green, the more modest – but hardly insignificant – goal of 100 percent renewable electricity is in a particular sector is becoming surprisingly common. According to the Renewables 100 Policy Institute’s Go 100% Renewable Energy project:

8 Countries, 49 Cities, 56 Regions, 8 Utilities, 21 NonProfit/Educational/Public Institutions, totaling more than 50.4 million people (and counting…) who have shifted or are committed to shifting within the next few decades to 100% renewable energy in at least one sector (e.g. electricity, transportation, heating/cooling).

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

  • mememine

    The only thing certain and “unstoppable” with 34 years of CO2 science’s; “97% certainty”, is 34 MORE years of global disbelief and failure in achieving the climate action targets needed to…. SAVE THE PLANET.

    It’s over, be happy science couldn’t be certain our children were doomed no matter how much you may despise conservatives.
    *Occupywallstreet now does not even mention CO2 in its list of demands because of the bank-funded and corporate run carbon trading stock markets ruled by trust worthy politicians.

    • CB

      MeMeMine is a spambot that posts the same “skeptical” phrases on any article even remotely mentioning climate change.

      It’s not a human.

      Please downvote and flag for spam.

      Mod, please permanently terminate the account’s access.

      • SkyHunter

        Off to work on the bio-char farm tomorrow for a few days. Still got some work to do on outbuildings. I am also going to design the layout of the hugelkultur mounds, tree types and planting for 8 acres. Hope to begin the work converting it this spring/summer.

        • CB

          You owe me pictures!!! PICTURES!!!

          …and video. I’m dying of curiosity…

          • mea_mark

            Just curious, have you seen this I thought he did a really good job. Kinda scary but does put things in perspective.

          • CB

            No, I haven’t seen it, but I do know about the methane issue.

            In some quarters Arctic degassing seems to border on the fringey, but it is without a doubt a real problem.

            It’s all the more reason to get started on projects like the one Sky is working on. We literally don’t have another choice. It doesn’t matter how much methane we trigger, the sooner we start pulling it and our CO₂ back down, the better off we’ll be.

          • mea_mark

            I hope you got, or get, a chance to check it out. I think it would make a good reference link for you. It’s a little technical for some but is understandable for most.

          • SkyHunter

            Here are the pictures of the hugelkultur mound. The water tank in the background will be used for the retort kiln when we abandon the well.


          • mea_mark

            I made something like that a few years ago just for the heck of it. Didn’t know there was a name for it. I was just trying to make good dirt out of some stuff I took out of an old stock stank a few years ago when we were in the middle of a drought. I mixed the chipped wood from tree trimmers about 50/50 with the dirt and it has been just sitting there for about three years now. It grows really good weeds. I guess I should move it to where I can work it and garden in it, and add more wood as I do it.

          • SkyHunter

            I am going to build 8 acres worth of them.

          • SkyHunter

            I will be taking before pictures tomorrow. I am working on an aerial view proposedof the proposed project. Eventually we will have a website, probably by Summer.

          • Kudos SH.
            Good for you… making a real contribution towards permaculture. Credit given where credit due. It’s hard to find enough good things to say about your work. Thanks for your example.

          • mea_mark

            I would really like to see them also. Been thinking about making some bio-char myself. I have many truckloads of shredded wood from the local tree trimmers in the county. I am thinking of trying to make a crude form of bio-char by burning it in a pit and burying it partway through the burn cycle and digging it up later. Would love to see what you are doing. More ideas are always good.

          • CB

            …so Sky is working on something like this:


            It’s a multiple-unit triple-barrel retort system, and from what I understand he’s even got some extra bells and whistles going on as well.

            You can find any number of examples of the old-school pit burial method of pyrolysis that are a complete nightmare. Unless you’re way outside of a populated area, I’d suggest not trying that. It generates a huge amount of toxic VOCs. If you’ve got a few cutting tools and an insulated stack, this is the way to go:


            I freakin’ love Peter Hirst. I think he explains it very well and his system is super-clean.

          • SkyHunter
          • CB

            Definitely cheaper and easier!

            …but… I dunno about better. It looks smokearoo!

            If you don’t have that stack on the thing to mix the oxygen and burn off the nastiness, isn’t it just going to be a mess?

            Have you ever seen one in action?

          • SkyHunter

            True, it is not very efficient, but it is better than burying burning wood.

          • CB

            I guess the smoke is no more toxic than the smoke from the fire itself… I’m always thinking about the spare the air days and the bans on wood burning that we have… It might be possible to pyrolise that stuff, even in a densely populated area like the bay, without decreasing air quality one bit.

            Since the whole point is to control the flow of gasses, to me, retort design is like an opportunity to make sure the off-gas is burned so cleanly that one could do it in their backyard in Oakland.

            I’m going camping this weekend and I’m thinking about throwing something like this in the campfire just to see what would happen:


            It’s like a mini-version of the super-easy DIY retort you linked to.

          • mea_mark

            Been trying the two barrel approach, 30 gal inside 55 gal. The wood chips in the middle aren’t charring so I am trying again with some empty 32 oz cans in the middle to see how things work.

            Do you know what the best use is for the wood chips that didn’t char in the middle of the barrel? They are very dry and often partially charred. Thinking of just soaking them in a bucket with some coffee grounds and working them in soil.

          • SkyHunter

            I would wet it all down and compost it.
            Drill a few holed in the bottom of the barrel and bolt a threaded rod or three, that way the heat conducts to the center.

          • SkyHunter

            Use big flat washers on both sides.

          • mea_mark

            Good idea. I have some old half inch pipe I might use. Good repurpose for some scrap.

          • CB

            You might want to check your oxygen intake for the outer barrel too. Make sure it’s big enough and at the bottom.

            I saw one design that had the intake at the top, which doesn’t make a lick of sense.

            There are also a few designs out there which have insulation on the outer barrel, but I haven’t figured out what kind…

          • mea_mark

            Actually I am using a barrel with no bottom for the outer ring, completely rusted off. It sits on 5 stacks of bricks in a star pattern for lots of air flow and then inner barrel sits on another stack to be above the heat.

            I was thinking some kind of insulation would be nice. Haven’t figured anything out there yet that I can do for free out of recycled stuff yet.

            Double burn seems to work though with the juice cans in the middle. I can do 3 quick batches, short burns, mix it all up and then burn again in 2 batches and get some pretty good looking stuff.

            I may up making a shallow pit with big rocks around it for insulation, if it will ever stop raining here in central Texas.

          • CB

            That sounds perfect. Do you get any nasty smoke escaping from the bottom? What did you do for a stack?

            I was looking at Sky’s setup today. I don’t think he’s started on the retort just yet, but it looks like he’s got big plans for solar panels and permaculture mounds.

            I wish we had your rain! We had drizzle today, but that’s it. Pathetic!

          • mea_mark

            No real stack, I just throw the lid on after the fire is going real good, with it slightly off center so the air escapes. Usually keep the open part over where the fire isn’t burning as well. It helps to move the fire around the barrell during the burn since one part always seems to burn better than the other parts.

            Don’t get any smoke coming out of the bottom, except at the very beginning.

          • CB

            Hmmmm!!! Could it be that the lack of a stack is causing the reaction to be cooler so that you’re getting material that isn’t charred properly?

            …or maybe it’s the moisture that’s doing it… :/

            It’s interesting that moving the opening changes where the combustion is taking place.

            You know what, it might be an oxygen problem after all… Whichever side has the opening is pulling all the oxygen and getting the heat and the material on the opposite side isn’t charring because of it… I’ll bet if you carved a hole in the center it would heat more evenly.

            I never did test out my baby biochar idea. I realised the container I brought had aluminium in it and I’m pretty sure it’s a bad idea to breathe that stuff…

          • mea_mark

            That looks easy enough.

  • Pete Smith

    Why not just buy a bag of pure wood charcoal, add it to your compost and garden?

  • Geo T

    There is no “100 percent” renewable energy! Its very infrastructure requires fossil fuels to exist (you can’t mine and smelt metal or move heavy vehicles with batteries and blades). We are being left with ruined landscapes and a mere gesture toward replacing fossil fuels on a meaningful scale. It also feeds into a free energy mentality and the Jevons paradox, i.e. business as usual where true conservation is really needed. Solar panels on rooftops makes sense but not vast arrays in the countryside and gigantic wind turbines looming over every horizon.