The Six Numbers of My Universe

https://digitalcitizen.ca/category/writing/Among my favourite books is The World in Six Songs, by Daniel Levitin. I loved it so much I wrote a series of blog posts in 2009 about a songs challenge I came up with, and even got to talk to the author about it! Recently, I heard about scientific book involving the number six, called Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape the Universe, by Martin Rees. This one didn’t interest me that much, with “deep forces” being beyond what I could fully understand, or at least be willing to commit the time to doing, seeing what those numbers were. Before I went to do that, though, I thought of the six numbers of “my universe”, as in a balance of the physical universe I knew and understood, as well as the emotional one that had the most meaning to me. I did it to see if I could hit at least one of those numbers inĀ Just Six Numbers, to see if what I thought were the important numbers were truly as important as someone more knowledgeable of the “deep forces” of the universe deemed them to be. The results are below, but before you read on and maybe get influenced by my choices, try making a list of just six numbers in “your universe”, with “your universe” being whatever ways you want to define it.

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Halifax, Dartmouth and Nova Scotia Pathetic in Earth Hour 2009… Watt Hour???

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Please click here for the 2010 Earth Hour Results

Nova Scotians showed our traditionalism at its best with nothing short of a pathetic effort during Earth Hour in 2009. Pictures from Halifax-Dartmouth shown below provide some evidence. Statistics from Nova Scotia Power Inc. (NSPI) were as dark as Nova Scotia should have been, obscured in ambiguity without context. By action, Nova Scotians’ response to participation in Earth Hour was a resounding Watt Hour?

According to NSPI, Nova Scotian power usage dropped “15 megawatts or the equivalent of 1,153,845 13 watt compact fluorescent light bulbs” (CFLs). No other context was given so let’s start with some questions.

NSPI Earth Hour 2009 Results screen capture, provided because the link in the text may not yield the quoted information long after Mar 28 2009 because its URL indicated it was for the top story regarding Energy Efficiency, not a dedicated page to Earth Hour. The next story in the category would conveniently sweep this one into the dark matters of cyberspace.

NSPI Earth Hour 2009 Results screen capture, provided because the above link in the text may not yield the quoted information long after Mar 28 2009. The story's URL indicated it was for the top story regarding Energy Efficiency, not Earth Hour. The next story in the category would bump this one elsewhere.

First, dropped from what? A seasonal average? This date last year? And what percentage was saved? 15 megawatters (MW) out of 1,500MW rather than 150MW are very different outcomes (1% versus 10%).

Mar 30 update: It was a one percent (1%) reduction [Toronto Star, Mar 30 4:30 AM].

Second, it was a relatively balmy 2 to 5 degrees Celcius at 9 pm tonight, the warmest in a while and well over the -2.6 degree Celcius mean temperature for March 2008 [Environment Canada]. How much of that power saving was due to less heat required rather than lights going out? NSPI can’t be expected to report this precisely, but they should have data to estimate it. If they don’t, Nova Scotians should worry.

Third, big buildings and structures like the bridges in Halifax-Dartmouth probably accounted for a good chunk of the 15MW reduction. Their lights aren’t exactly small power consumers. Despite being in this all together, perhaps something about what the general public contributed would help to give an idea of the effort. NSPI must recognize residential and commercial accounts in their billings. However, to give credit where it’s due, NSPI did get the information up online just hours after Earth Hour was over.

Fourth, was this progress? Fortunately, I found last year’s result to be 8MW in reduction [Cape Breton Post] so this year’s 15MW reduction was almost twice as good. For that, let’s take a second to say “hip hip hurrah”, but then move on because looking at the bigger context and rating progress against our Canadian neighbours (see below), our results were pathetic.

Using NSPI’s figures, for our population of about 0.95 million, I can calculate that each Nova Scotian saved about 16W during Earth hour. Watts isn’t the proper way to express energy savings scientifically, by the way, but we’ll save the science for another time and just work with it as is for simplicity of comparison.

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How did Nova Scotia do compared to the rest of Canada for Earth Hour?

Ontario, outside of Toronto, saved 920 MW or 6%, from typical demand, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and CTV Toronto. At a population of 12.9 million, that’s 71W per person for the hour or 4.5X the amount Nova Scotians saved. Temperature ranged from 7 to -10 degrees Celcius so they probably didn’t save as much for heat as we did, either, with us at 2 to 5 degrees.

Live reports on the CBC television at the time of this post (1:40AM Sun Mar 29) claimed Toronto chipped in for 452 MW or 82W per person for the hour if you use the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) population of 5.5 million instead of 2.48 million for just Toronto [City of Toronto]. CTV Toronto puts this at a 15.2% reduction, up from 8.7% last year. If you use the latter population figure, they saved 182W per person for the hour, which would not be surprising given the large number of businesses and landmarks which are major consumers of power at night who participated. Regardless, that’s 5.1X or 11.5X the amount Nova Scotians saved, pending the number you choose, which is irrelevant for comparative purposes because of the big gap in either case. It was 11 degrees Celcius in Toronto at the time, much warmer than our 2 to 5 degrees or so, but that wouldn’t be nearly enough to account for the disparity between the two performances. Nor will I believe any claim that denizens at the “centre of the universe” using more power than the typical Nova Scotians as being sufficient to close the gap much, either.

Mar 30 update: Nova Scotia sat at a 1% reduction, but so did Newfoundland and Labrador, and the much touted environmentally friendly British Columbia. Calgary reported a small drop but was not quantified. Manitoba saw an increase but did not officially participate to get the word and encouragement out to the public. It was also rather cold that night at -8 degree Celcius and -13 windchill. Temperatures in other places were not reported for consideration of heat influence from Earth Hour night compared to other years or regular patterns [Toronto Star, Mar 30 4:30 AM].

Despite these relative comparisons to show we had “company” in our performance range, it does nothing to change my view on Halifax, Dartmouth and Nova Scotia’s performance. We can definitely do much better and should strive for it in years after this [ some tips for greater reductions ].

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Pictures from Halifax-Dartmouth showed very little noticeable effort

Seeing very little noticeable effort during Earth Hour from my downtown apartment window, I ventured up Citadel Hill, the high point in the landscape of Halifax and Dartmouth, to see if I just had a bad “sampling”. I also walked around the hill and downtown a bit and saw I didn’t. About the only noticeable structures I saw turned off from the hill were:

  • Angus MacDonald bridge floodlights turned off;
  • Nova Scotia Power building turned off for the most part;
  • City Hall; and
  • Aliant Building.

Good for them all, but can you believe that was pretty much it? The Metro Centre’s advertising board was lit up brightly as usual, practically lighting up its side of Citadel Hill. The BDC building, Homburg building, Town Clock and such were also all lit up. Participation in apartment buildings I could see weren’t great, either. However, I only documented with pictures of Dartmouth below because I did not have the night lens required for a wide view of Halifax, where you couldn’t identify the “guilty” parties. I wasn’t out to point fingers.

However, Ryan Taplin’s photo in the Metro [Mar 30] of the Downtown Halifax skyline showed it was beautifully LIT UP like a Christmas Tree during Earth Hour! UTTERLY DISGRACEFUL!

But before I present the pictures, I’m going to challenge Nova Scotians to do better next year because, frankly, I’m ashamed! If you’re Nova Scotian and reading this, you should be, too, even if you did your part like I did! I shared some tips for what to do, and other Canadians also shared their activities on the CBC. And I’m also going to call out NSPI to provide better reporting instead of sounding like a politician.

Compare the pictures below to CBC’s Toronto Earth Hour gallery of what a truly participating location should look like during Earth Hour and see the difference!

Click on all photos below to see enlarged versions.

What were your observations for Nova Scotia’s Earth Hour efforts?

Looking at Downtown Dartmouth, note the MacDonald bridge flood lights off during Earth Hour and on again after it

Looking at Downtown Dartmouth, note the MacDonald bridge flood lights off during Earth Hour and on again after it. Notice the minimal difference and building in the foreground practically all lit up. By fluke, a piece of Caution tape was fluttering in the wind and got in the way of the bottom photo at left, causing a slightly dark strip where there should not have been one... but I can't redo the photo now.

Dartmouth North End, dockyards and MacDonald bridge, showing the MacDonald bridge floodlights off and on

Dartmouth North End, dockyards and MacDonald bridge, showing the MacDonald bridge floodlights off and on during and after Earth Hour. The slight increase in brightness from the bottom photo is an exposure error, not that the lights were brighter after Earth Hour.

Looking towards the road to Cole Harbour and Eastern Passage during and after Earth Hour. There may not be many homes here, but whatever the sources of the lights, there was practically no difference during Earth Hour. (click to enlarge)

Looking towards the road to Cole Harbour and Eastern Passage during and after Earth Hour. There may not be many homes here, but whatever the sources of the lights, there was practically no difference during Earth Hour.

Dartmouth straight across from downtown Halifax, as seen between the NSPI (Duke Tower) and CIBC buildings from atop Citadel Hill during and after Earth Hour (click to enlarge)

Dartmouth straight across from downtown Halifax, as seen between the NSPI and CIBC buildings from atop Citadel Hill during and after Earth Hour. The top photo was over exposed to make it seem the lights were brighter during Earth Hour, but there was no difference.

Halifax

Looking to the south side of Dartmouth, just north of the refineries in Dartmouth which, of course, were not shut down. Nothing here seemed turned off, either.

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Reading Level: 8.9

End is Coming for Environmentally UNfriendly CFL Bulbs

The end for compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) is coming because they will be environmentally unfriendly and energy inefficient compared to cheap new light emitting diodes (LED) alternatives. But what will we do with all the current CFLs with about 5 mg Hg each able to contaminate 5000L of water beyond safe drinking levels?

led-christmas1

LED Christmas Lights

Can you believe the day would come so soon that new technology would make CFLs environmentally unfriendly and energy inefficient? LEDs are actually not new technology. They can be found in your Christmas lights, although don’t get the impression your future lights will be like these. LEDs are little slices of semi-conductors, gallium nitride (GaN) to exact. And when I say small, I mean small. At less than 1 sq mm, they can be put virtually anywhere, in any shape or collage because each piece is so small, and can extend into the infrared (IR) and ultraviolet (UV) spectrum beyond the visible. They have not been used till now because of economics. It cost less to make CFLs than LEDs, but not any more, apparently.

LEDs also use 75% less energy, and could take light energy usage for the United States from 20% to just 5%. That’s actually more than 75% when I think about it, because the 5% is of a smaller overall energy pie than the 20% from which the pie came. Doing the math shows it’s an 80% decrease. Think 20 of 100 as the big pie, 4 out of 80 (5%) as the small pie.

LEDs also have no mercury. Hopefully, I won’t have to tell you about the harmful impacts of mercury. I wouldn’t have enough room in this blog!

led-diagram

How LED Lights Work

However, CFLs do. Each CFL is estimated by Environment Canada to contain between 1-25 mg of mercury. In Europe alone, way back in 2006, 4.3 million tonnes of Hg was sold. At 1000 L of water contaminated beyond drinking levels if not disposed of properly, the impact can be monumental. And don’t forget all the other plants and creatures depending on water supplies, not just humans. Even if we knew what not to drink, creatures all around us don’t, and we’ll probably get a good dose of it as we consume them for mercury will migrate up the food chain.

So what are we going to do with all those CFLs with mercury in them? Basically, the lesser of “harmful” solutions to the environment. Use your CFLs until done, then properly recycle them at hazardous waste stations. I know not everyone has access to such a program or service, but hopefully, as the CFLs come out of service, the demand for them will increase supply of such service providers. Let’s hope the economics that brought CFLs into the market will work to take them out responsibly.

If you don’t have access to services properly disposing of CFLs, check to be sure with Earth911. If not, refer to this Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) page.

From some brief reading, at least, gallium and gallium nitride seem relatively safe. Can’t wait!

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Reading Level: 6.5