The Village Green

A blog about how Canadians can achieve energy independence by powering down and then powering up the right way.

It takes a tough hand on cost control to make the sweetest ice cream.  By that measure, Ed Francis is quite possibly the toughest ice cream man in town.  

I caught up with Ed this past week as we began the installation of the solar water heating panels that will turn Ed’s Real Scoop into the first solar-powered ice cream parlour in the country.  (By the way, if you’re in the Beaches, you have to check out Ed’s ice cream.  Best place in town!  Personally, i like mixing the strawberry with the sweet cream.  His lemon ice is awesome too).   

It turns out that the solar installation we’re installing is only the most recent initiative in what has turned out to be an ongoing program of energy cost control by the business.  

Ed tells me that he started by changing his light-bulbs to compact fluorescents a couple of years ago.  Changing the forty-plus, 100 watt bulbs in his shop to compact fluorescents cost Ed about $130.  By his estimation, the annual savings are roughly $2,000.  What’s more, his maintenance has decreased.  Every week some of the old bulbs would burn out.  The new CFLs have a 10,000 hour service life, roughly ten times that of incandescent light-bulbs. 

Next came the Real Scoop's main ice cream fridge which is on the main floor of his shop.  A couple of years ago he changed from an air-cooled system to a highly efficient water-cooled system.  In addition to being far more efficient to run, the kicker is that the new system generates way less heat which means his air conditioning unit is on that much less.  As Ed tells me, the A/C unit used to be on all the time.  Now it’s only on during the hottest hours of the day.  It’s a great example of how energy efficiency initiatives can be mutually reinforcing.  

Fourfold increases in energy productivity 

What’s the result of all this?  Ed tells me his business has quadrupled since he opened ten years ago but his energy costs are essentially the same.  That’s a fourfold increase in energy productivity.  

And by the way, this stuff is measured at an aggregate level.  The fact is, industry in Ontario is among the least energy efficient in North America as measured by the relationship between electricity use in kWh and economic activity as measured by GDP (gross domestic product).  

According to figures compiled by the Clean Air Alliance (2003 figures), Ontario’s economy requires two-and-a-half times as much electricity as California’s to create one unit of economic activity (compared on a kWh/$GDP basis).  

When I cite performance figures like this I hear no end from the apologists who say things like, “yeah, well, it’s cold here”.  

Comments like that betray a basic inability to grasp reality and fact.  Heating is generally accomplished in the province using natural gas-fired boilers and furnaces, not electricity.  By contrast, in California where it’s hot, electricity use should be off-the-chart because of air conditioning loads.  Even given this climate condition which should favour electricity productivity in Ontario, California outperforms us by a factor of two-and-a-half on a kWh/$GDP basis.  


Reinforcing top-line and bottom-line benefits 

Now on to the Real Scoop’s new solar panels.  First will come the solar water heating system which will heat the hot water in the Real Scoop’s commercial kitchen.  This four-panel roof-top system will harvest heat from the sun, working like the high-tech equivalent of a garden hose left on the lawn under the hot summer sun, and use it to pre-heat water used by the kitchen.  

Throughout the year, 50% of the parlours’ hot water needs will be met by the system.  Given that such systems can be expected to last 20 – 30 years, the business can expect more than a decade of free energy once it pays for itself in savings.  And, as energy prices rise, the value of the system actually appreciates given that its real value lies in the future stream of energy cost reductions it will generate.  

After installing the water heating system over the coming week, we’ll install a 1 kw solar photovoltaic system under the province’s feed-in-tariff.  With a 20 year guaranteed, fixed-price contract, the solar electricity system will generate a return of roughly 10% every year for the next 20 years.  The investment will attain break-even in year 11 after which the revenues from the contract go right to the bottom-line.  

In my view however, the real impact of the solar installations could be their value to community reputation, marketing and brand loyalty.  In a business, these reputational benefits are reflected into goodwill, a direct means of reflecting reputation and responsibility onto a business’ balance sheet.  

And here’s the other thing.  When do solar panels work the hardest?  When it’s sunny. When do people buy the most ice cream?  On sunny days.  

When you own the only solar-powered ice cream parlour in the country, there’s one more reason for every sunny day to be the greatest day around.  

April 2010

Gabriel Draven 

Village Technologies