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Could a Flint, Michigan-Style Water Crisis Happen in Canada?

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tap by Olly Clarke via flickr

The short answer is, yes. When it comes to aging infrastructure, mismanagement, and lack of resources, anything and everything can happen. The crisis that caused so many to wonder how the world’s wealthiest country could be afflicted by such a seemingly foreseeable and preventable chain of events can certainly happen anywhere – Canada included.

What Happened in Flint?

In April 2014, the city of Flint began drawing water from the nearby Flint River as a temporary measure to assuage residents concerned with water quality as the municipality transitioned between suppliers. The water, which the city decided to draw untreated from the river, immediately began to corrode the pipes, leaching lead into the supply.

In October of that year, General Motors announced that it would not use water drawn from the river, citing concerns that the water’s elevated chlorine levels might corrode and damage their equipment.

Fast forward to February 2015. After months of resident complaints, a water test conducted in a resident’s home found that the water the family was using on a daily basis had a lead count of 104 ppb (parts per billion). To give this figure some context, the Environment Protection Agency (EPA)’s maximum limit for the amount of lead that should be present in water destined for human consumption is only 15 ppb. It bears repeating that consuming lead is incredibly dangerous and can lead to a host of medical problems, particularly in children.

Months of controversy ensued, some of which included statements by city and government that claimed the water was in fact safe to drink, insisting tests showing elevated lead counts could be dismissed as outlying situations that did not represent the norm. Since then, subsequent third party analysis has continued to conclude that an excessive amount of lead is present in Flint’s drinking water. Ultimately the lack of admission and conflicting statements only served to muddy the waters.

The State of Water in Canada

Canada may be known the world over for it’s pristine rivers, lakes, and wetlands, but that doesn’t mean that we’re completely safe from our own Flint-like water scare. In fact, the Canadian Water Network estimates that upwards of 60,000 homes across the country may still be hooked up to their city’s water supply via lead service lines.

Thankfully, municipalities all over the country have recognized the risk and have taken steps to mitigate the public’s exposure to leached lead in their drinking water. In addition to replacing aging lead pipes on city property, using new pipeline condition assessment technology. Furthermore, cities can also take advantage in innovations in water treatment technology, investing in state of the art municipal water treatment systems to keep their water clean.

But here’s the rub – there’s only so much your city can do to protect you. That’s right, some of the responsibility falls to you, the homeowner to protect yourselves from lead-laced water. Service lines located on your property are your responsibility to maintain and, depending on the size of your property, replacement of lead lines can cost thousands dollars.

At greatest risk are buildings and infrastructure built before 1950 as lead pipes were a staple of construction projects prior to that year. Owners of buildings and homes built after 1990 are drastically less likely to contain materials capable of poisoning inhabitants.

Canada’s Unforgotten Water Crisis

Sometimes, lessons concerning public safety are learned the hard way. Canada may be in decent shape now, but we too once suffered through our own water crisis.

In 2000, residents of Walkerton, Ontario, were exposed to an E. coli contaminated water supply, which resulted in the death of 7 residents, with thousands more becoming incredibly ill. The shocking tragedy prompted a province wide review of 659 water treatment facilities, which concluded that 57% of them were not complying with provincial regulations and standards.

Shocking as it was, these findings did inspire other provinces to examine their own practices and paved the way for Ontario to abandon its voluntary compliance standards in favour of legally enforceable obligations.

Canada’s water system is far from flawless, and perhaps it will never be perfect. Events like those that have taken place in Walkerton and Flint, while tragic, do help to identify glaring issues with the way we provide public services; issues that perhaps would never have come to light had tragedy not struck. Is Canada safe from a Flint-like crisis or a repeat of Walkerton’s E. coli outbreak? – Perhaps not completely. Knowledge however, is power – one hopes that, knowing the danger, a large-scale crisis is a lot less likely to occur.

 

Energy

Are the UK Governments Plans for the Energy Sector Smart?

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The revolution in the energy sector marches on, wind turbines and solar panels are harnessing more renewable energy than ever before – so where is it all leading?

The UK government have recently announced plans to modernise the way we produce, store and use electricity. And, if realised, the plans could be just the thing to bring the energy sector in line with 21st century technology and ideologies.

Central to the plans is an initiative that will see smart meters installed in homes and businesses the length and breadth of the country – and their aim? To create an environment where electricity can be managed more efficiently.

The news has prompted some speculation about how energy suppliers will react and many are predicting a price war. This could benefit consumers of electricity and investors, many of whom may be looking to make a profit by trading energy company shares online using platforms such as Oanda – but the potential for good news doesn’t end there.

Introducing New Technology

The plan, titled Smart Systems and Flexibility is being rolled out in the hope that it will have a positive impact in three core areas.

  • To offer consumers greater control by making smart meters available for all homes and businesses by 2020. Energy users will be able to monitor, control and record the amount of energy they use.
  • Incentivise energy suppliers to change the manner in which they buy electricity, to offer more smart tariffs and more off-peak periods for energy consumption.
  • Introduce new standards for electrical appliances – it is hoped that the new wave of appliances will recognise when electricity is at its cheapest and at its most expensive and respond accordingly.

How the Plans Will Affect Solar Energy

Around 7 million houses in the UK have solar panels and the government say that their plan will benefit them as they will be able to store electricity on batteries. The stored energy can then be used by the household and excess energy can be exported to the national grid – in this instance lower tariffs or even payment for the excess energy will bring down annual costs significantly.

The rate of return on energy exported to the national grid is currently between 6% and 10%, but there are many variables to take into account, such as, the cost of battery storage and light levels. Still, those with state-of-the-art solar electricity systems could end up with an annual profit after selling their excess energy.

The Internet of Things

Much of what the plans set out to achieve are linked to the now ubiquitous “internet of things” – where, for example, appliances and heating systems are connected to the internet in order to make them function more smartly.

Companies like Hive have already made great inroads into this type of technology, but the road that the government plans are heading down, will, potentially, go much further -blockchain technology looms and has already proved to be a game changer in the world of currency.

Blockchain Technology

It has already been suggested that the peer to peer selling of energy and exporting it to the national grid may eventually be done using blockchain technology.

“The blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value.”

Don and Alex Tapscott, Blockchain Revolution (2016)

The upshot of the government’s plans for the revolution of the energy sector, is that technology will play an indelible role in making it more efficient, more flexible and ultimately more sustainable.

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Energy

4 Case Studies on the Benefits of Solar Energy

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Demand for solar energy is growing at a surprising rate. New figures from SolarPower Europe show that solar energy production has risen 50% since the summer of 2016.

However, many people are still skeptical of the benefits of solar energy.Does it actually make a significant reduction in our carbon footprint? Is it actually cost-effective for the company over the long-run?

A number of case studies have been conducted, which indicate solar energy can be enormously beneficial. Here are some of the most compelling studies on the subject.

1.     Boulder Nissan

When you think of companies that leverage solar power, car dealerships probably aren’t the first ones that come to mind. However, Boulder Nissan is highly committed to promoting green energy. They worked with Independent Power Systems to setup a number of solar cells. Here were the results:

  • Boulder Nissan has reduced coal generated electricity by 65%.
  • They are on track to run on 100% renewable energy within the next 13 years.
  • Boulder Nissan reduced CO2 emissions by 416,000 lbs. within the first year after installing their solar panels.

This is one of the most impressive solar energy case studies a small business has published in recent years. It shows that even small companies in rural communities can make a major difference by adapting solar energy.

2.     Valley Electric Association

In 2015, the Valley Electric Association (VEA) created an 80-acre solar garden. Before retiring from the legislature, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid praised the new project as a way to make the state more energy dependent and reduce our carbon footprint.

“This facility will provide its customers with the opportunity to purchase 100 percent of their electricity from clean energy produced in Nevada,” Reid told reporters with the Pahrump Valley Times. “That’s a step forward for the Silver State, but it also proves that utilities can work with customers to provide clean renewable energy that they demand.”

The solar energy that VEA produced was drastically higher than anyone would have predicted. SolarWorld estimates that the solar garden created 32,680,000 kwh every year, which was enough to power nearly 4,000 homes.

This was a major undertaking for a purple state, which may inspire their peers throughout the Midwest to develop solar gardens of their own. It will reduce dependency on the electric grid, which is a problem for many remote states in the central part of the country.

3.     Las Vegas Casinos

A number of Las Vegas casinos have started investing in solar panels over the last couple of years. The Guardian reports that many of these casinos have cut costs considerably. Some of them are even selling the energy back to the grid.

“It’s no accident that we put the array on top of a conference center. This is good business for us,” Cindy Ortega, chief sustainability officer at MGM Resorts told Guardian reporters. “We are looking at leaving the power system, and one of the reasons for that is we can procure more renewable energy on the open market.”

There have been many benefits for casinos using solar energy. They are some of the most energy-intensive institutions in the world, so this has helped them become much more cost-effective. It also helps minimize disruptions to their customers learning online keno strategies in the event of any problems with the electric grid.

4.     Boston College

Boston College has been committed to many green initiatives over the years. A group of researchers experimented with solar cells on different parts of the campus to see where they could produce the most electricity. They discovered that the best locationwas at St. Clement’sHall. The solar cells there dramatically. It would also reduce CO2 emissions by 521,702 lbs. a year and be enough to save 10,869 trees.

Boston College is exploring new ways to expand their usage of solar cells. They may be able to invest in more effective solar panels that can generate far more solar energy.

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