Vermont turns green!

By Stéfanie Rondou-Pontbriand, Jr. Eng., M. Sc.

Discussion on the Renewable Energy Vermont Conference & Expo 2014 held on October 16 and October 17 at the Sheraton Conference Center in Burlington, Vermont.

The Renewable Energy Vermont (REV), an association committed to reducing Vermont’s reliance on fossil fuels and expanding the availability of renewable energy on his territory, hosted a conference highlighting the current energy challenges in the perspective to achieve 90% renewables by 2050.

In Vermont, climate change’s consequences have real impact on population and industries. The polar vortex, the damage caused by Irene and the many blackout during last winter contributed to Vermonters’ awareness. Industrial players, municipal actors, institution members, legislative delegations and simply curious citizen members gathered during the conference.

To achieve their ambitious target, Vermont promotes the convergence of energy silos: power, heat and transport, as well as to diversify its renewables. While solar PV is very popular, several other options were discussed during the presentations: solar thermal panels, passive buildings, electric vehicles, etc. Vermont has also abundant resources for biomass production: forest waste, agricultural waste, manure, etc. The Vermont Technical College also presented the case study of “Big Bertha”, an Anaerobic Digester who produced energy for the school buildings from agricultural waste of the adjoining farm. The pilot project suggests a new approach for the many rural sites in Vermont.

From the presentations, three key elements can be identified: the importance of modeling, the energy efficiency and the human behavior.

Energy modeling is essential to achieve the Vermont’s target. Models allow a better comprehension of future needs at different scales. To be relevant and complete, many different models are required. For instances, municipalities can use geospatial data such as building age, the age of the population, the location of markets, to define their energy planning. On the other hand, life-cycle assessment of renewables provides guidelines for decision-makers.

Most of the panellists agreed: energy efficiency is the real technical challenge. Given limited resources, we need to produce, manage and consume in a better way. According to Steven J. Strong, a pioneer of passive solar in the United States, energy efficiency is the basis for any sustainable project. Being closely involved in the design of the Bullitt Center (the greenest commercial building in the world), he understands well that the viability and the success of the project relies first on energy efficiency and client commitment, and then on renewables.

Finally, as professors from the University of Vermont mentioned, the transition from fossil fuels to green energy is not only a technical substitution: social change is essential. The papers presented at the conference also highlighted the importance of human behavior. Framing the population and understanding the context, its evolving nature and its influence on policy, are fundamental.

Vermont seems determined to end its reliance on fossil fuels. In its fight against climate change, Quebec can count on a committed partner!

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