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Energy alternatives viable for Whistler

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In schools that use daylighting instead of fluorescent lights, learning retention increased by about 26 per cent.

Another innovation that Whistler could benefit from is geothermal exchange technology, whereby water is piped a few hundred feet underground where the sand is warmed by geothermal radiation, and pumped back up to heat buildings and provide hot water.

For energy plants that use steam power to activate their turbines, by preheating the water from the ground they can get it to boil faster and it is safer than coal, wood, oil and natural gas.

You can also reverse the process and pump heat out of rooms and back into the earth during the summer months to air condition a building.

Whistler does have geothermal exchange capability, according to Aitken, and several projects are in the initial planning phases.

Wind power is also readily available to Whistler. Small wind turbines (1 kilowatt to 100 kW) only require steady winds of about 14 km/h to be effective, while large turbines only require wind speeds averaging about 20 km/h.

And although the horizon is almost non-existent, and the sky is frequently hidden by the clouds, even solar has its uses for heating water and providing electricity.

"You do your efficiency first, take care of drafts, using energy efficient bulbs and appliances, then top it off with renewable energy," says Aitken. "For example… one building took care of 92 per cent of its costs through daylighting, and the remaining eight per cent was supplied by a single row of solar cells for $20,000."

For Canada, which is already high in hydroelectric values, one of the biggest benefits of adopting energy efficient building designs and supplementing energy needs with renewable energy is the ability to sell that surplus power to the U.S.

For the U.S., energy efficiency could have wider implications.

"We currently spend about 25 per cent of our military budget to protect our oil interests in the Middle East," says Aitken. "If we could improve fuel efficiency standards to 32 miles per gallon, we wouldn’t have to import one drop of oil from the Middle East."

If the mileage of every sport utility vehicle in the U.S. was increased by one kilometre, the U.S. wouldn’t have to encroach on the Alaska National Wildlife Preserve to bolster its supply, adds Aitken.

Whistler recently commissioned a study on energy use in the valley and found that energy consumption is poised to increase by 28 per cent by 2020, while greenhouse gas emissions are expected to increase as much as 44 per cent. The study evaluated the needs of commercial users, residential users, transportation, public works and industry.