Recent projects

Theme 1: Energy poverty (with Maryam Rezaei)

What is it? How can it be defined? What can we do about it?

This is a topic demanding our attention as more and more jurisdictions choose to use market based mechanisms as a means of addressing their energy and climate policy objectives.  Market based systems are based on the assumption that consumers will modify their behaviour in response to price signals. Unfortunately, the aggregate evidence in supper of that position hides the plight of the groups who are unable to respond to market signals.  A market-based policy to which consumers cannot respond is one that only raises funds and fails to achieve the desired objective of energy conservation and GHG mitigation. This research theme aims to address the growing gap between the dogma of market-based policies and the reality of consumers with severely constrained options.

In Collaboration with: Musqueam and Tsay Keh Dene
Funding from: The Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Study

Theme 2: Greening the Energy Infrastructure (with Thor Jensen)

How can we take advantage of the enormous amounts of low-grade energy in the urban environment?

Municipal governments enjoy an enviable advantage as an energy utility. They have access to land and enjoy endless waste streams all of which can be used for low GHG energy systems via heat pumps and production of energy from waste.  For a variety of reasons (legal, financial, institutional, …) the potential for realizing this path for meeting space conditioning loads has been unexplored.  Heat pumps, when utilized appropriately, promise energy savings in excess of 70%.  This research theme identifies the barriers and proposes solutions for unleashing the pent up potential of municipal scale energy systems.  Thor also studied if incentives lead to more investment in renewable energy technologies.  He found that if the technology is modular, the incentive can lead to more investment (e.g., Solar PV, Solar Thermal).  However, if the technology is customized for each application (e.g., ground source heat pumps) the incentives are swallowed up by inflated fees charged by installers.

Thor completed his PhD in 2015 and is now working on developing a green infrastructure fund (see theme 3) with VanCity.

In Collaboration with: Metro Vancouver and the City of Surrey
Funding from: The Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions.

Theme 3: Would divestment lead to decarbonization? (with Justin Ritchie)

Evolution of the economy towards dematerialization and decarbonization has, for some time, been regarded as a measure of progress towards greater sustainability.  There are a number of challenges in knowing if we have characterized and measured dematerialization correctly.  This is a project to better understand what we have been measuring and whether it can be used as a reliable indicator towards a more sustainable economy.  Justin published four papers from this work with the broad conclusion being that the divested funds would only work towards decarbonization if they could be invested in vehicles that green infrastructure and lead to structural decarbonization.

Funding from: The Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions and US National Science Foundation.

Justin has been awarded a Vanier Scholarship for her work on this thesis.

Theme 4: Cumulative Impact Assessment (with Jackie Lerner)

Cumulative Effects Assessment, or CEA, is the assessment of the environmental changes resulting from the interactions of multiple human activities.  The concept of CEA acknowledges that while a single activity or development may not be the sole cause of a serious environmental impact, its effects may combine with those of other developments to produce a significant collective impact. CEA is required as part of the federal regulatory permitting process for large-scale resource development projects in Canada. However, the responsibility for permitting is increasingly being delegated to provincial agencies, and there is no mandatory requirement for CEA under British Columbia regulations.

Since the introduction of the environmental assessment process in British Columbia in 1994, most assessments have been conducted at the project level, meaning that assessments describe and analyze the effect of a specific project (for example, the building of a new transmission line) on the receiving environment. The project’s individual contributions to areas such as water pollution, de-vegetation, and local economic opportunities are discussed in detail. More than 50% of current assessment do not include cumulative effects.

Evaluating a new project as though it were being constructed in a vacuum or at a frozen point in time is surely of questionable usefulness. A thorough study of how the project will interact with existing and future human activities is necessary to assess whether its environmental effects are worthy of concern.

The purpose of this research will be to augment current knowledge of the guiding framework required to support a more robust CEA process for resource development projects in British Columbia.

Jackie has been awarded a Vanier Scholarship for her work on this thesis.

Theme 5: Low Carbon Transportation & transportation services (with Michiko Namazu, Rainer Lempert & Nima Jamshidi)

Electric mobility has been the darling of the sustainability community for the past decade.  However, much like the challenges revealed by a full life-cycle analysis of biofuels, electric power mobility has significant externalities which need to be considered before it is broadly adopted.  The research under this theme identifies and addresses key questions in this area.  Michiko has already published two papers on this work showing that carsharing alone can lead to ~30% GHG emission reductions.  She also showed which types of carsharing lead to reductions in car ownership (Modo) cf. adding another mode of transportation (car2go) car ownership, as well as how to improve the responsible behaviour of car users.

In Collaboration with: Metro Vancouver, Modo and Evo.
Funding from: Auto21 NCE and US National Science Foundation.

Theme 6: Information flows within and between health services and research organizations (with Krista English)

Public health organizations depend on research organizations for innovations in health interventions. These fall into two main categories: a) on-going research to improve understanding of how best to improve quality and longevity of life; and, b) short-term research to find appropriate responses to an emerging disease.  The networks of knowledge creation and flow within and between organizations are key to more effective research. This project, co-supervised with Prof Babak Pourbohloul is focused on developing methods to map and understand how these networks operate.

Theme 7: How effective are Environmental Impact Assessments in managing risks from new projects? (with Allison Franko)

Currently, the process of obtaining an Environmental Assessment certificate and follow-up self-policing are considered sufficient to achieve environmental protection in British Columbia.  An equivalent argument would be that obtaining a drivers license is sufficient to eliminate auto accidents. The proposed research will focus on improvements to the Environmental Assessment process in British Columbia.  These will include: prediction of impacts and follow-up programs for approved projects. This research can make a significant contribution to environmental stewardship by combining: environmental science, engineering, monitoring and information technologies, risk and resource management. The specifics of the research to be undertaken and the contributions to the natural sciences and engineering (NSE) are outlined below.

Allison completed her degree in 2016.  Her research highlighted how standardization of inspection reports, coordination of data gathering on each project and application of a risk based inspection model can improve environmental protection in BC.

This project was made possible through extensive collaboration with the Environmental Assessment Office of BC.
Allison was supported by an NSERC Industrial Scholarship co-funded by Stantec

Theme 8: What leads to the gap between planned and actual energy performance in advanced buildings? (with Ghazal Ebrahimi)

Ghazal has a degree in architecture and is working towards her PhD.  The core question she is asking revolves around how we can accelerate the process of reducing the footprint of new buildings while improving their functionality and occupant comfort.  Programs like LEAD have garnered a great deal of interest, cost developers more money, but have failed to deliver energy savings.

In a typical building project, there has been few if any mechanism to enforce collective responsibility for the performance of the building.  Integrated Project Delivery is a new contracting approach in which all stakeholders are collectively responsible for the building from conception to delivery and post-occupancy.  Ghazal is studying actual experience with this approach to buildings with a special focus on: meeting client expectations and introduction of new technologies.

Funding from: The US National Science Foundation.

Theme 9: Can Vancouver meet its zero emission objective or is it all hot air? (with Michaela Neuberger) 

The City of Vancouver is famous for its aspirational proclamations.  Their most ambitious plan, to date, is to have zero GHG emissions by 2050.  Is this technically feasible?  What will it mean for energy costs in the region? Michaela is working with the climate office in the City of Vancouver to assess the techno-economic feasibility of this bold vision and the legal mechanisms that will be needed to realize this objective.

Funding from: The US National Science Foundation.

Theme 10: How can we make residents of coastal BC more resilient to disruptions in marine transport (with Xuesi Shen)

All coastal communities in BC rely on marine transport for their essential supplies.  A disruption to this service, due to natural or other events will place them at risk. For the first half of her thesis, Xuesi had developed a simulation model to study fuel supply management for Powell River, exploring how they may maximize their access to diesel and gasoline in the event of a local or supply chain disruption.   For the second half of her thesis, Xuesi will explore how Vancouver Island residents can address their just-in-time-delivery problem with food supplies on the island.

Funding from: The MEOPAR Network of Centres of Excellence.

Theme 11: Are baseline GHG emissions scenarios used in climate studies using accurate representations of fossil resources and reserves? (with Justin Ritchie)

Contributions to climate studies rely on scenarios of GHG emissions and climate change for their impact studies in the absence of any climate motivated policies.  This research explores the baseline emission profiles and the level and mix of fossil fuel shares needed to achieve such emission trajectories.  The findings point to a high likelihood that high emission scenarios are unlikely given the recent declines in and high cost of coal reserves.  These trends suggest that renewable and lower carbon content fuels will garner a larger share of energy supply — even in the absence of any climate policies directed and GHG reductions.

Theme 12: How are intergenerational generational transfers viewed by different cultures? (with Kyoko Adachi)

Justice negotiations for climate change, as with other multi-generational issues, have been challenging. Parties in such negotiations clash on how to treat outcomes of past actions. Two challenges often emerge: 1) how to treat positive legacies and recompense for negative legacies, and 2) whether to differentiate between actions leading to known harms and those with unintended outcomes. Although scarce, literature hints at cultural differences in the norms of obligation associated with legacies, and of the relative importance of intent vs. outcome when judging an action. We aimed to shed light on these two challenges via a cross-cultural lens. Specifically, we operationalized legacies in inheritance of riches and debt and collected reasoned responses from participants in Canada and Japan on whether and under what conditions they would accept inheritance, consider the relevance of how the inheritance was generated, treat inherited debts/obligations, and settle debts. The following results emerged: a) Canadians were more likely to accept inheritance than Japanese, regardless of who it was from and whether the wealth was associated with positive or negative externalities; b) intent did not matter; c) Japanese were more likely than Canadians to decline an inheritance when debts were attached; d) once an inheritance was accepted, Japanese were more likely to settle a greater fraction of the attached debt regardless of the type of creditor; e) a greater fraction of debts were settled by younger, female, and non-Judeo-Christian participant; and f) Canadian participants were less likely to settle a debt to environmental causes, compared to debts to employees, banks, or taxes. These findings highlight strong influences of culture, gender, and age on accepting responsibilities for historic actions and willingness to provide compensation. They also support abandoning the debates on intentionality and framing compensation in terms of livelihoods to maximize potential transfers to adversely impacted communities.

Funding from: The US National Science Foundation.

Other ideas …

  • How can the energy system be reconfigured to transition from the supply of commodities to provision of energy services?
  • What are the short, medium and long-term impacts of shale-gas on the adoption of renewable energy?
  • How does the greater adoption of renewable energy sources impact power system stability?
  • What are the skills to navigate unfamiliar territories?