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February 2015, issue #8

Force of Nature

A newsletter about sustainable building and energy from the Fourth Pig

"Construction is not a sexy area of climate policy, but it is one in which huge gains can be made for relatively little cost." New Scientist 
The oldest straw bale building in the world is in Alliance, Nebraska and is over 110 years old. Straw bale has a great track record and has been well examined, but recently more studies have been coming out and the scientists are saying what the builders and residents know - this is good stuff.  We also share news of a possible solar breakthrough plus we take a look at energy storage for renewables. Thanks for reading!


Straw bale building is growing and with growth brings increased scrutiny. This is good news for straw bale builders as straw is a great building product. The Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering at the University of Bath has spent over a decade studying straw bale building. "In 2014, the research culminated in the sought-after industry certificate, which provided the construction sector with scientific proof that straw is durable, genuinely environmentally beneficial and suitable to be insured." Straw buildings have also been "put under the microscope" in France and are doing great. None of this is news for folks who build or live in straw bale buildings. 

A CPV solar energy system stands for "concentrating photovoltaic"  and is a system used in space programs.  PV Buzz  reported a new breakthrough may allow this system to be used for rooftops, greatly increasing efficiency. As one researcher put it “Current CPV systems are the size of billboards and have to be pointed very accurately to track the sun throughout the day. But, you can’t put a system like this on your roof, which is where the majority of solar panels throughout the world are installed.” Now researchers have  a working prototype and CPV may come to a roof near you. 


Five day Passive House Design and Construction course April 6-10 Winnipeg, Manitoba. "The Passive House Design and Construction course will provide you with the fundamental knowledge to set you on the path to design and build compliant Passive House buildings, meaning an 80 – 90% reduction in annual heating and cooling energy, and reduced mechanical systems."

Renewable Energy 101 Free Webinar, March 11 "is a presentation and discussion for those who are new to renewable energy, community power, and renewable energy co-operatives, or who want to learn a bit more." 

Carpentry for Women, March 14-15, Peterborough, Ontario. "This workshop is intended to create a friendly, inviting space for women who would like to learn the basics of carpentry."

LEED v4 virtual classroom study course starting April 2. "Looking to study and pass a LEED v4 credential exam this spring? Consider the CaGBC's LERN Virtual Classroom Study Courses."

If you have an announcement or class you want listed email us at:


Store it and they will come

One of the challenges in sustainable energy is the storage of that energy. That is, how do you get energy from your turbine or solar when the wind isn't blowing or the sun isn't shining? Coupled with the fact that commercial buildings often pay a fee for peak power use, and the search for great storage options is big business. In fact according to Renewable Energy World "the fastest growing market for battery storage systems is for applications that reduce demand charges or provide other grid power support -- NOT to store daytime solar energy for night time use."

So how is storage happening? In Arizona there is a 900GW solar energy plant that uses molten salt to store heat energy. This solar plant though works by capturing heat and the molten salt then can store the heat and be used to turn turbines for six hours. For home residents selling energy to the grid is often the best option, though battery storage is growing very quickly. Recently electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors revealed that they will be releasing a home battery energy storage system this year.  Last year in Ontario, as the Globe and Mail reported, "The province’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) recently chose five companies who will build a dozen demonstration projects designed to capture and release energy." These systems to be tested include a hydrogen system, flywheels, thermal bricks, and an electrolysis system. 

In other words from the consumer to the corporate to the municipal to the provincial, energy storage is changing and changing pretty fast. In a future edition we will write about the opportunities of distributed generation. In the meantime, this video looks at one flywheel approach and one battery approach to storing energy. 

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Turbine photo by.pixl used under creative commons license 2.0.