Air quality and energy efficiency: Quantitative connections and provincial programs

Source: OPG website

Many energy conservation programs are driven by the goal of reducing carbon emissions. But air quality is also an important factor to be considered when implementing energy conservation programs. Dr. Andrew Knox, who works with CLEAResult, spoke at the SOCAAR Seminar on February 7th about the value energy conservation can provide to reducing air quality externalities. Air quality externalities are the health impacts of air pollution quantified in economic terms. In his SOCAAR research, Knox quantitatively links exposure to power plants to health outcomes of individuals living nearby. He calculated the externality value for power plants in Ontario using dispersion models, pollutant release data, and life-year data from literature.

Electricity generated from these power plants go to powering homes and Knox’s research also provided insight into the potential health impacts of more energy efficient homes. From his EnergyPlus models, Knox calculated significant energy and health savings are afforded by the construction of low-energy homes and argued that that low-energy or passive buildings should be the next step in Ontario’s building code.

Aside from encouraging energy conservation through building design, Ontario has various industrial energy conservation programs.  In his talk, Knox highlights two programs that have been used to drive Ontario government’s 2020 energy conservation target: Save on Energy Retrofit Program and Process and Systems Upgrade. Industrial facility projects which use the latter are mostly met by utilizing combined heat and power machines. However, there are emissions from the combined heat and power units. Knox hypothesized that there is a local air quality impact on the people working in the facility where these machines are used. Knox believes that good energy conservation programs can have negative impacts and that it’s important not to lose focus on air quality when reducing carbon emissions.

Knox is also a former SOCAAR PhD student and spoke about his transition from academia to industry. His top tips for finding employment as a graduate student, included making friends to genuinely help each other and using of eye catching explosion gifs.