Energy sobriety will be hard to achieve, experts say

Energy sobriety will be hard to achieve, experts say

(Montreal) The intentions expressed last week by the new energy minister, Pierre Fitzgibbon, to achieve greater energy sobriety are about to hit the wall of reality.


Some of Mr. Fitzgibbon’s assumptions are downright contradictory, while others are only partially feasible and would result in little or no energy savings because they are based on unfounded assumptions, according to experts consulted by The Canadian Press.

The two most important measures put forward by Mr Fitzgibbon, who was also re-elected Chancellor of the Exchequer, are dynamic or modulated pricing and reducing heating at night or during the day when the inhabitants of a dwelling are not at home.

dynamic price

Dynamic pricing mainly consists of significantly increasing the price of electricity during peak hours during the week, i.e. between 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. electricity at a high price.

“The main counterpart is that everyone has the same rush hour. Everyone showers between 6:00 and 8:00 in the morning. Everyone prepares dinner between 5 and 7 pm,” says Charles Côté, director of technical services at the Quebec Corporation of Master Piping Mechanics, experts in heating systems in the construction sector.

The expression “everyone” is not an exaggeration. According to Statistics Canada, only 1.7% of the labor force work nights and 6.4% work nights, 69.3% work regular day hours and the remaining 22.6% work irregular hours, but the most are diurnal.

rush hour prisoners

Therefore, it is the vast majority of the population that will have no choice but to pay more for their electricity because they find themselves trapped in peak hours, a measure that would hit the least advantaged hard.

“Modulated tariffs are particularly penalizing low-income households who have even less control over their energy consumption,” stresses Sylvie De Bellefeuille, legal and budget adviser at Option consommateurs.

“Unfortunately, low or modest income households have no control over their bills and it is not as if we have the option of consuming electricity or not,” he adds, describing the measure as “regressive”.

Worse still, underlines Professor Michaël Kummert, an expert in building energy efficiency at the Trottier Energy Institute of the École Polytechnique, this price dynamic could have a perverse effect.

“If Hydro-Québec, for example, charges you 5 cents during the day, but after 4 in the afternoon it becomes 10 cents, it is better, for an hour or two before it becomes expensive, than to heat more than normal, say 24 degrees. , even if you’re not there. In this way, as soon as the price becomes more expensive, you turn off the heating, let it go down and then consume less in this period”, he argues.

So instead of having used less electricity, you will have used, if not more than usual, then at least the same amount.

Heating: profits nullified at the worst moment

The idea of ​​lowering the heating may be attractive, but it presents two big problems, the first being the impact, precisely, at the famous peak hours.

“It’s going to make the problem worse for sure because if everyone who left the normal heating on all night set it to 18 degrees Celsius and turn it up at 6 in the morning, right at the tip of Hydro-Quebec, it’s going to hurt more. than anything else”, stresses Mr. Kummert.

“And the second peak, from 4 pm to 8 pm, is the same. If people come home from work at 6:00 p.m. and left the house at 15 degrees and suddenly it returns to 21, it will be worse than before, ”he continues.

The hypothesis of lowering the heating outside of peak hours, however well-intentioned it may be, actually implies a very strong increase in the demand for electrical energy exactly at peak hours, that is, at the moment when the objective is to reduce it. There is no profit for the Crown corporation. On the contrary ; this would compound your loss of income during very cold weather.

price shock

In a context of modulated tariffs, the practice of reducing heating outside the peak season would necessarily lead to a price shock for consumers, since not only would electricity be more expensive at peak times, but also more electricity would be required. to get the house working again. the desired level than if the temperature had been maintained at the normal level.

In addition, points out Charles Côté, it will be necessary to take teleworking into account. “With teleworking, people demand more from systems. Before, people lowered the temperature until 3:30 or 4:00 p.m., but by staying at home two or three days or more a week, they don’t want to work at home at 17 degrees. »

This reality is no less: according to Statistics Canada, 26% of Canadian workers work from home full-time (14.7%) or part-time (11.3%).

very unequal economies

The second issue relates to the anticipated savings that would be realized by turning down the heat. Even in the absence of dynamic pricing, can we really save money by turning down the heat at night and during the day when no one is around?

“Real savings can be achieved in a hot air system with a single heat source or in a plinth system,” explains Charles Côté. Unless the nights that announce very cold, it is preferable not to do it. Because you won’t feel comfortable getting up in the morning unless you leave at 3 am. »

“With a single source hot air system, you can save money. But avoid making too large returns. Five degrees is still a lot. I would rather suggest three degrees to avoid overworking the device in the morning.

“Will the savings be as fabulous as some say? I have a lot of difficulties moving forward. Too often, promising savings breeds more of a promise of disappointment. The savings are something that remains difficult to quantify,” argues Mr Côté.

No savings with dual power or hydro

But these savings disappear in several cases, starting with dual-energy heating systems with heat pumps, explains Professor Kummert.

“Most heat pump systems, and even older ones, interpret a sudden change in set points, like going from 18 to 21, as a failure. Since they believe that they cannot, they activate the auxiliary system that can be fuel oil, the electric oven or another”, he specifies.

If the backup system is an electric furnace, it will require more electricity than the heat pump to bring the heat back to normal, so there will be no savings, neither for Hydro nor for the consumer. If it is an oil furnace – which is destined to disappear – there will be no demand for electricity, which is a saving for Hydro, but at $2.04 per liter, the consumer will be losing.

When it comes to hot water systems, Charles Côté is unequivocal: no, especially given the time it takes to heat up cast iron heaters. “In this case, coming back at night is not worth it. The equipment will also work very well. »

“We are on the wrong target”

“There are limits to the measures we can take to make it effective,” says Sylvie De Bellefeuille. I’m not saying you shouldn’t save energy, no one is against virtue, but at the same time you have to be realistic. How far will it really have an impact?

“Measures must be taken so that the largest energy consumers contribute to the reduction of energy consumption. We are on the wrong target,” he said.

Pierre Fitzgibbon also vaguely alluded to business clients, saying that “businesses that want power, we may say to them: at the top, they will get nothing. Or we lower it”.

Because the residential sector ultimately only consumes 32% of Hydro-Québec’s production. The commercial, institutional and industrial sectors (large and small industry) consume close to 50% and 17% is exported.

“We can make a collective effort to some degree, but this effort should not be limited to just consumers. The consumer has a broad back”, blurts out Sylvie De Bellefeuille spitefully.


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