Building community to achieve net zero energy

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In a study published in December, the Ontario Ministry of Energy, Innovation and Climate Change announced that electric vehicles will replace oil-based vehicles by 2040 in the province. The journey from zero to net zero, however, is an optimistic one. Many experts argue that getting there will require technological breakthroughs, structural changes and significant changes in cultural expectations around driving.

“My community knows this challenge — the question is, what will we do about it?” says Toronto University Professor Bonnie Clem. “[Public-private partnerships are an] example of this best practice, and what we have to do is find a way to transform the energy economy.”

Clem is a lecturer at the School of Environment and Sustainability at Toronto University and is the founder of Small Planet Toronto, a non-profit that aims to connect community members with entrepreneurs. The difference, she says, between an idea and a revolution is the impact it has on the infrastructure.

Clem explains that the power grid is the main structure for people getting energy, but she says part of the problem with distributing it is that it can be unreliable. “It’s either there or it’s not there, and people are realizing that once that starts to develop, then problems will arise and it will not be an efficient system,” she says.

She is therefore launching Opus One Solutions, a two-pronged approach to the problem of the grid. First, Opus One Solutions will create a website to make net zero energy central to the discussion, giving insight into what it means to reach zero. It will also launch a helpline, connecting callers with an executive.

“We just want to give people a clear sense of what that actually means,” Clem says. “Those people that are really frustrated with their lifestyle are wondering how to improve it.”

Opus One Solutions’ approach is also creating a network of architects, engineers and innovators who are working on ways to adapt to net zero. The Community Advisory Committee, a group of community leaders involved in energy and water, is made up of representatives from organizations including the Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto, the Sustainable Housing Corporation and Expire Energy. Clem hopes that the initiative will expand into other Canadian cities and eventually “spread to the United States.”

“It’s a very appealing model, because not only is it taking all of these different sectors, some of which are nonprofit and some of which are not, and bringing together people from different levels of government and different parties, but the network is entirely community-based and community-driven,” she says.

You can donate to Opus One Solutions’ efforts, or get involved yourself by taking part in a community tour at the centre and visiting the project’s website.

For more:

How John Kerry made a US clean energy revolution happen

5 key lessons from Ted’s Green Challenge

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