“It may not be evident to everyone that we are in a planetary emergency situation, but we are,” says Danny Harvey, professor in the Geography and Planning Department at U of T. “For perceptive people, the early signs are there. If you study the science, and look at the momentum of what’s already been done, we’re in big trouble.”
Those are powerful words, and if they don’t get people thinking about the implications of global warming, perhaps Harvey’s forthcoming books will. The planet faces global ecological disaster and if we don’t act soon, climate change in the next hundred years will be comparable to the warming at the end of the last ice age—except 100 times faster.
In 1978, when Harvey arrived at the University of Toronto as a Master’s student, he took a course taught by the late professor Ken Hare investigating global warming. It didn’t take him long to recognize the severity of the situation, and by the time he started his PhD in 1980, he focused his work on climate modelling. Attending conferences and meeting people—specifically those who knew about energy—provided Harvey greater education on the topic, until eventually in mid 2006, he published a book on the design of ultra energy-efficient buildings.
More recently, Harvey took a slightly different angle and began to write a book on the efficient use of energy. The volume grew so large that he had to split it into two: Energy and the New Reality, Volume 1: Energy Efficiency and the Demand for Energy Services looks at how to run the world on three to four times less energy than we use right now, and Energy and the New Reality, Volume 2: C-Free Energy Supply discusses how carbon-free energy sources could meet all of our energy needs.
Harvey sees the greatest potential lying in wind and solar energy, “There are a lot of misconceptions about wind and solar energy, [such as] they vary too much and you can’t store the energy. There are now many ways to get around that, and it’s not very expensive. Wind and solar [energy] truly are viable techniques to meet our energy needs as long as we’re efficient.”
Solar energy is more expensive than wind energy, although Harvey sees the cost coming down in the near future. In order to increase the electricity output from sunlight, a significant number of PV (photovoltaic) panels must be installed. For that to happen, more factories that manufacture these panels must be established. According to Harvey, “PV panels are good on buildings in cities because they’re producing electricity where you need it. It becomes a substitute for shingles or the kind of siding you would normally have.”
Concentrating sunlight with mirrors can also produce electricity. This approach is well-suited for arid and semi-arid regions, such as the American Southwest and Mexico.
Harvey’s research shows that almost every large population centre in the world is within 2,000 to 3,000 kilometers of a good site for concentrating solar or wind energy. “The bottom line is that we have plenty of sites with strong winds, and there’s no shortage of wind energy sufficient to generate more than the amount of electricity we use right now,” he says.
Consequently, the chapter on wind energy in Volume 2 of Harvey’s books is quite substantial.
“We need something we can ramp up fast, and wind is probably the fastest we can ramp up. You can build a factory to build the turbines in six months to a year. You can install huge wind farms in two to three months.”
Canadian Hydro Developers, the country’s largest independent developer of wind-energy projects, recently purchased the rights to develop wind farms in Lake Erie. There is now speculation that the world’s largest offshore wind farm may actually be situated there.
Recently there has been new exciting research regarding the production of offshore wind energy.
Last month, StatoilHydro of Norway installed the first large floating wind turbine off the country’s south-western coast. Because oil and gas production from the North Sea is declining, companies such as StatoilHydro, which is the biggest offshore oil and gas company in the world, have started to switch gears. They have learned a lot about building big structures in deep water as a result of their experiences with floating oil platforms and are now transferring their knowledge into what could be considered the “floating wind industry.”
This research could have exciting implications for wind energy production in the Great Lakes region, as it will allow turbines to be effectively positioned in deeper waters. With this new technology, Lake Ontario could be considered a practical wind farm site because its depth would no longer be an obstacle.
The need to produce energy from sources other than fossil fuels is becoming increasingly important.
“We have to get off fossil fuels by the end of the century, and the sooner the better,” says Harvey, “We’re talking three to nine degrees warmer if we don’t get off, and if we do, [only] two to four [degrees]. That’s already a serious problem.”