The Drake Landing Solar Community in Okotoks, Alberta, isn’t necessarily a Greenfail. On paper, it looks greener than the Jolly Green Giant (aside: whatever happened to him, anyway?).
This “planned community” in a bedroom community/suburb/commuter town/banlieue of Calgary looks great on paper. 52 detached single-family homes are all built to Natural Resource Canada’s R-2000 Standard, which means upgraded insulation, sustainably-harvested wood, partially-recyled drywall, super-efficient windows, etc., etc. blah blah blah.
But the showstopper with these homes is the community’s communal solar thermal collection system. It works like this: tubes filled with an antifreeze mixture run through solar panels, that super-heat the liquid during the summer. That super-hot liquid gets stored in a superinsulated underground tank. Then in the winter, that super-hot liquid gets run through pipes in the home or something and the stored heat heats the homes. Neat. Neat-o.
The end result of all of this? These houses emit five tonnes less greenhouse gases than comparable homes. That’s pretty impressive, right?
But hold on a second. Remember me mentioning that Drake Landing is located in Okotoks? That’s about 38km from Calgary. Now, if you’re a wealthy hermit or work exclusively from home, no matter. Even if you work in Okotoks itself (which, with a population of just 17,000, isn’t bloody likely), it’s all good. But if you have to commute to a job in Calgary to pay for your home, your greenhouse-gas reductions are null and void thanks to the increase in greenhouse-gas emissions you’re using to drive to Calgary every day.
Here’s the math:
- Your Drake Landing Solar Community house emits five tonnes less greenhouse gases than a comparable home. That’s 5000 kilograms (assuming that the five tonnes figure is metric).
- If you’re driving to Calgary for work, that’s a 75.6km round-trip. Five days a week, 50 weeks a year, and congrats! You’re driving nearly19,000km more than you would if you lived closer to your job!
- It’s Alberta, so you probably drive a truck, right? Welll, that extra 19,000km means you’re spewing out at least an extra 7000kg of carbon dioxide each year! Had you stayed in Calgary, used public transit, or even driven a smaller car, you’d be doing more for the environment than you are in your fancy-pants enviro-home that you commute in a pickup truck from. Even if you drive the most efficient hybrid SUV available, you’re still polluting more than your solar home is saving you from polluting!
- So no problem – you’ll just drive a more fuel-efficient car. Which would be fine and dandy. Except you’d have to drive a car that’s going to create less than 5000kg of carbon dioxide annually during your commute to make any difference. Otherwise, it’s a zero-sum game (5000kg created commuting – 5000kg saved by your eco-house = no difference at all in your carbon footprint!).
So which cars could you drive 19000km a year and create less than 5000kg of carbon dioxide, you ask? The Toyota Prius or the Honda Civic hybrid. That’s it. If you live in Drake Landing and commute to Calgary in any other vehicle, you are creating more greenhouse gases living in your eco-home than you would be if you were living in a regular home closer to work. And even if you do commute in a Prius or a Civic Hybrid, you’re only saving 600-1000kg of greenhouse gases per year!
So Drake Landing isn’t a fail in and of itself. The tech seems to be sound and the greenhouse gas reductions in housing look to be real. But because the geniuses behind this project chose to build it 38km from Calgary, the greenhouse gas reductions of your shiny new eco-home are offset by the amount of greenhouse gases created driving to Calgary for work, unless:
- you don’t have to drive to Calgary at least five days a week
- you drive a Prius or a Civic Hybrid
- you car-pool
- you take (non-existent) public transit into town everyday.
Suddenly, living in Calgary doesn’t look like such a bad idea, does it?
Like Upski’s book says, Bomb The Suburbs!