Patio heaters

2009-10-11

in Canada, Economics, Rants, The environment

Patio heaters, Ottawa

The photo above illustrates part of why Canada has greenhouse gas emissions of about 24 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per person per year (about three times as much as Sweden). It also shows the extent to which we take the easy energy embedded in fossil fuels for granted: gas powered heaters, running in Ottawa in October, to warm a patio with nobody on it.

I doubt renewable energy will ever become cheap enough for this kind of excess to make sense.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Alison October 12, 2009 at 11:15 am

Are patio heaters a North American / Canadian thing?

Regardless, I think a prevalent attitude among Canadians is that energy is unlimited. In addition to the need to defy cold weather in a very inefficient manner, the fact that our consumer durables are bigger here (washing machines, dishwashers, homes, cars,) speaks to this attitude.

This attitude may relate to colonial conceptions of Canada, e.g. that it is and always has been “empty” land (e.g. empty of inhabitants, cultures) available for exploitation.

Tristan October 12, 2009 at 12:02 pm

“I think a prevalent attitude among Canadians is that energy is unlimited.”

The question that interests me here is “who holds this attitude”, or “who is” “Canadians” in this regard? Is it just that many individuals hold this attitude? Or is it that something like this value or attitude is reproduced through formal or informal institutions?

Surely the presence of cheap oil and gas in Canada might have something to do with it, and perhaps also the lack of state leadership on climate change – but that is not sufficient since Canadians “rejected” Dion’s greenshift campaign. But, what is “Canadians” in that rejection? Is it a group of impartial individuals with free access to information and who make decisions not under duress? Or is the assent or dissent produced by more insidious means?

Surely the idea that energy is unlimited is not a “belief” or a “position” held by Canadians. I’m sure that a fair poll asking people if “Energy is unlimited” would return only a small number of people responding in the affirmative.

“This attitude may relate to colonial conceptions of Canada”

This seems right. The settling attitude also has the character of continuing to value something despite it coming into direct contradiction with a new value (tolerance, fairness, democracy, lack of systematic oppression), and yet remaining a value (pioneer museams, mounties, railroad nationalism, etc..). (Just like unlimited energy is in contradiction with universally held green values).

Antonia October 12, 2009 at 1:58 pm

After the UK enclosed public spaces smoking ban, many restaurants and bars across the country suddenly developed outdoor spaces adding such heaters. They couldn’t enclose the space to conserve heat as that would have defeated the purpose – the proprietors were terrified of losing their social smoking customers (subsequent income drops for those who didn’t take such precautions seem to have proved them right, even before the wider downturn). At the time the government was also talking of energy efficiency and responding to climate change. Joined-up thinking in public policy seems a distant dream.

Milan October 12, 2009 at 2:57 pm

Smoking in pubs was a really nasty thing about living in the UK. After spending a couple of hours in one, I could smell it on myself and my clothes for days afterward.

I wouldn’t want to have to choose between smoke exposure for those inside or wanton energy use for the exiled smokers outdoors.

. October 12, 2009 at 2:59 pm

The patio pandemic

This is becoming a real issue because as a nation we are going patio heater crazy. Ownership of domestic heaters is set to double from 1.2 million currently to 2.3 million in the near future, according to our June 2007 Green Barometer, Britain’s first national survey of the country’s attitudes to green issues, published quarterly.

The demand for air-conditioning units, though currently on a much smaller scale, is rising steeply too: two per cent of homes now have one, with a further two per cent saying they plan to buy one.

The cost of heating the outdoors

The patio heater is no ordinary household appliance. It uses on average the same amount of energy as a gas hob gets through in six months, emitting around 50kg of carbon dioxide (CO 2) per year. FACT: the CO 2 emitted by 2.3 million patio heaters is as much as would be emitted by driving from Lands End to John O’Groats 200,000 times.

Patio heaters are an obviously wasteful appliance in that their job is essentially to heat the open air. Our research shows that they only really get used in July and August, usually the two hottest months of the year. And they waste shocking amounts of energy doing something that could just as easily be achieved by a rather simpler, completely free and totally carbon-neutral alternative: putting a jumper on!

. October 12, 2009 at 8:12 pm

“The excerpt addresses the agency’s “450 scenario”—its view on the stable atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (450 parts per million) that will halt climate change—and looks at a range of potential contributions to cuts in emissions that could be made by producing power differently and using energy more efficiently. The effects of these different technologies and strategies are popularly called “wedges”, because a graph showing how they effect carbon emissions over time is invariably wedge-shaped.

Stack up a lot of these wedges and out comes a chart showing the best- and worst-case scenarios: a stack of different coloured wedges showing where emissions would end up if people did nothing, sitting on a mountain shape at the bottom that shows what would happen if the potential cuts in emissions— currently figments of the hopeful imaginations of renewable-energy engineers and climate-change-policy campaigners—actually materialised. The new report provides just such a chart, and it presents a striking finding.

The top wedge, comprising more than half of the difference between the best and worst cases, is due to “end-use efficiency”—that is, the efficiency of energy use by the people and the things that consume power once it has been produced and delivered. It means that using energy more efficiently could have a greater impact than all of the billion-dollar, decades-long solutions such as developing genuinely sustainable biofuels, building enormous next-generation nuclear power-stations and engineering vast swathes of photovoltaics.”

oleh October 13, 2009 at 7:53 am

Thank you for bringing this to my attention. Because I enjoy being outdoors, I have patronized establishments who have such heaters and benefitted from them. I will now try to avoid doing so.

However, I am a polite person who avoids confrontation. If I simply do not go into the establishment, The establishment is unlikely to know why. I think I will try going into the establishment and advising them that I would like to use their outdoor space, if they turn off their heater. I wonder what reaction that will have.

This brings up a broader question: how does someone who avoids confrontation bring about change in others. An example would be how do I effectively encourage fewer people to commute by car over the Lions Gate Bridge to downtown Vancouver with only themselves as occupants. Any ideas?

R.K. October 13, 2009 at 10:21 am

Patio heaters may be a good candidate for a total ban. Along with driveways that heat up to melt snow, they are just too energy wasting to be acceptable, in a world that needs to cut carbon emissions.

Tristan October 13, 2009 at 11:21 am

“I think I will try going into the establishment and advising them that I would like to use their outdoor space, if they turn off their heater. I wonder what reaction that will have.”

I think the firms would be surprised and receptive to comments like this. I wouldn’t expect it to happen every time, but I wouldn’t be surprised if heaters are turned off in response to the complaints of just one or a few customers.

XUP October 13, 2009 at 12:19 pm

Tristan – “Surely the idea that energy is unlimited is not a “belief” or a “position” held by Canadians. I’m sure that a fair poll asking people if “Energy is unlimited” would return only a small number of people responding in the affirmative. ” I think you would be very surprised to find that the majority of Canadians DO believe that energy is unlimited. You don’t need a poll to tell you that. Just look around at the number of SUVs. minivans, etc. compared to the number of hybrids or more fuel-efficient cars. Look at the the number of gigantic homes being built and snapped up every day. Look how incensed people get when fuel prices go up by a few cents.

Milan October 13, 2009 at 12:27 pm

Patio heaters may be a good candidate for a total ban.

I agree. Sometimes, bans are the best way to deal with really awful technologies.

Milan October 13, 2009 at 12:33 pm

I wouldn’t be surprised if heaters are turned off in response to the complaints of just one or a few customers.

Those things can’t be cheap to install. The owners must have done some thinking about the total economics associated and decided that the possibility of a few customers outside was worth more than the installation and fuel costs.

Fundamentally, the problem is that the cost of carbon-intensive energy is too high. Ideally, we would raise that price to the level that would provoke change. Given the lack of political will to do that, alternative options like bans should be considered.

patio maryland October 19, 2009 at 1:22 am

There are a lot of substitute for this product. And yes, this will likely to be ban in the future.

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