By Tom Rand

When the long-abandoned building at 357 College went up for sale, Anthony Aarts, my business partner and old college friend, saw a chance to build Toronto’s greatest hostel. When he approached me as financial backer, I saw a chance to build North America’s greenest hostel. The two visions came together as “Planet Traveler.”

Planet Traveler incorporates a half-dozen technologies (geothermal, solar thermal, solar PV, drain water heat recovery, efficient lighting, and smart thermostats). In total, we were able to cut our carbon emissions by three-quarters, at a profit. The workhorse is the geothermal heating and cooling system, responsible for half the energy savings.

Since the building takes up the entire footprint of the property, we asked the City of Toronto for permission to bury the mile-long piping in the City-owned laneway that runs alongside the building. As a result of our request, the City has opened up all City property – including parks – to geothermal. As far as I know, this is a world first.

The rest is simple. Canadian solar thermal panels pre-heat our hot water, and passive
copper heat-exchangers called “Powerpipes” grab heat for reuse in heating supply water. The LED lighting is so efficient, we can light up the entire building – inside and out – with less energy than is used by a four-slice toaster. Solar photovoltaic panels were installed under the FIT program, representing the only subsidy we’ve received.
On hot summer days, when we’re at our maximum output, we’re reducing the demand on the overloaded transmission system feeding the downtown core. The spot price the City pays for electricity on those hot afternoons is well over the FIT rate. While some argue FIT for Solar’s economics, I beg to differ. We’ve shown that by leveraging just 5% of a building’s value, carbon emissions can be lowered by 75%, at a profit.

This rough rule-of¬thumb scales from a building our size right up to the TD towers downtown. It seems Canada could have met its Kyoto commitments just by retrofitting our building stock with Canadian engi¬neering, Canadian technology, Canadian labour and community power.

There’s a worthwhile economic stimulus!