09 September 2005

Air Conditioning in Toronto.

Engineers have developed an air conditioning alternative that keeps buildings cool in an environmentally friendly way at just 10% of the energy costs of conventional air conditioning. The downside, you need to tap into the deep waters of one of the Great Lakes to make it work. It draws cool waters drom the depths of Lake Ontario and circulates them, rather than directly cooling the air. This is fine for downtown Toronto where the system is being built, but with average high temperatures in July of 80 degrees Fairenheit (and just 3 cooling degrees per day on average in the hottest month of the year), air conditioning isn't exactly the most urgent energy issue. Cornell University has a similar system.

I was going to simply stop with this irony. But, I won't because this story illustrates one of the wonders of capitalism. This project is going to save downtown energy consumers in a single Toronto building something on the order of $400,000 a year. Several dozen buildings are going to be involved in the project. And, there are major American cities, Seattle, Portland, Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and Buffalo come to mind, where similar systems could be practical. Systems like this make a meaningful impact on pollution emissions. And, they are problems that someone looking for a technology to maximize air conditioning expenditure savings would never have considered. But, capitalism allows niche opportunities to be identified without regard to a master plan, and cost savings and energy conservation often go hand in hand. If Canada ever institutes a significant carbon tax in order to meet global warming treaty goals, the Toronto customers could end up saving even more in the long term.

We have barely scratched the surface of energy conservation measures, and many of those opportunities will be more attractive in the long term than exploration for new sources of fossil fuels, because they are sustainable and reduce pollution.

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