In Alternative Fuels, Retrofit, Solar, Structures & Energy Solutions

In one of my past blog posts, Investing Like An Ecosystem, I wrote about strategies that promote resilience and anti-fragility. One of the key areas of investment involved asking yourself one question: Can you wear it?

Now this doesn’t just mean clothing. This can also include valuable assets that retain or increase their value during an economic downturn and unforeseen circumstances. Examples include food, solar panels, generators, homes, fuel, perennial food systems, water harvesting systems, gardening tools, and low cost heating systems.

On Hot Water Heating: Electric vs. Natural Gas

Heating costs are major cost considerations in our part of the world. In just the past three years, 37,000 new single family homes have been built in Calgary and Edmonton. 22,000 of them have been fitted with electric water heaters, and while electric heaters are cheap to buy upfront, they cost approximately four times more to operate than natural gas heaters (with current electricity prices at ~ $0.16/kWh.) Add in the fact that most of Alberta’s electricity is produced from burning coal – which has twice the carbon footprint of natural gas – and you can see how relying on electric water heaters can become a losing proposition, both economically and environmentally.

Solar Heating: A Simple Third Solution

Simple Solar Tubes on flat roof

Evacuated solar tubes on a flat roof. Image courtesy of Simple Solar.


Luckily there’s a workaround. Most of these same new homes are built “solar-ready,” which means that provisions have been included to simplify the installation of solar heating systems. If homeowners choose to install a solar water heater to complement their existing system, they can save money and reduce their carbon footprint. Tom Jackman over at Simple Solar has done up some cost calculations, and over the course of twenty years, he estimates that investing in solar heating will yield $23,000 in savings and prevent over 50 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. (Cost savings are based on a 3% annual increase in electricity prices, which to me is very conservative given potential future energy instability issues.)

All well and good to talk about potential benefits, but you might ask: Does it really work?

Having used solar heating to complement our natural gas system for almost three years now, Michelle and I can speak about our experiences with it. First check out our solar panel installation video below:

The verdict: The solar heating system provides around 80-90% of our hot water needs. We pay next to nothing on gas. Being an engineer, I personally love solar heating’s simplicity and robustness. To me, the best systems are always the invisible ones that work without fuss in the background.

Rob Avis Solar Heating System

If you’re interested in learning more, visit Simple Solar’s website.

Disclaimer – I received no compensation from Simple Solar for my testimonial. I just believe that in order to create a new and more sustainable economy, we need to support green enterprises that do good work. I often talk about permaculture as a way of having our cake and eating it too. When something comes along that saves me money, helps the environment, and fosters new and better ways of doing things, well, I really think it’s my duty to highlight and promote it.

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  • Jaydel

    Hi there, I’m wondering how this is going. I know you published this just recently but I wanted to know how things were going now that it’s colder out and not as much sun. Also how much were your initial costs to purchase and install?

    I love stuff like this so it’s great to see someone else in Calgary trying things out!


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storing heat in an underground geo solar system