What if Kingston…

Green RoofsLast summer I wrote about the 1,000 Solar Rooftops Challenge, a project which endeavoured to make the Limestone City the first community of its size to reach 1,000 solar installations by the end of 2011. Five months into 2011, Switch reported that there were a total of 127 brave, sun worshipping participants, and while that is a decent start, it hardly demonstrates that Kingston is a leader in terms of harnessing renewable energy. Unfortunately the total number of rooftop solar installations barely budged throughout the remainder of the year, as it stalled at 134 photovoltaic (PV) and solar hot water systems.  As someone who was genuinely interested in becoming a solar farmer, the biggest deterrent for our household, and I suspect was the case for many others, was the steep cost which ranged from $8,000 to $15,000.

Ultimately it’s going to take Kingston much longer than a single year to reach the goal of 1,000 solar rooftops, and at this rate we can realistically expect to get there by 2020. In the meantime, those of us who have abandoned our expensive solar dreams can still utilize our rooftops to help reduce our greenhouse emissions, improve air quality, and enhance stormwater management. With the sustainable potential of rooftops that have yet to receive the solar treatment in mind, what if Kingston embraced a 1,000 green rooftops initiative?

Green rooftops, otherwise referred to as rain or rooftop gardens, consist of roofs that have been covered with greenery, edible vegetation and irrigation systems. The main benefit of living roofs is that they reduce the urban heat island effect, which makes a built-up area significantly warmer than its surroundings, while they also serve as a naturalized sinks for absorbing and cleansing rainwater.

Green roofs can significantly reduce the surface run off volumes and rates of rainfall leaving roofs. As a source control mechanism in the Sustainable Urban Drainage System green roofs can help reduce flash floods as a consequence of intense rainfall events. This will become increasingly important as a consequence of climate change. Green roofs also improve the quality of water and although the amount of water is reduced it is possible to rainfall harvest from roofs that have been greened.

Soaking up all that sun and rainwater, green roofs are ideal for growing produce, which would not only reduce one’s monthly grocery bill, but it could even create a few jobs for urban farmers and rooftop garden designers.  Further, rooftop land would add a little bit of diversity to the local ecosystem by attracting and sustaining more feathered wildlife, bugs and even beekeeping.  And to top it off, unlike solar panels, rooftop gardens don’t cost an arm and a leg to setup or maintain, so virtually anyone can jump on board so long as they have an appropriate rooftop.  In fact, rooftop gardens can be setup for a little as $9 per square foot.

The only question that remains is how do we get Kingstonians on board? The big lure for solar installations is that they can reduce your energy bill, and generate revenue over the long term.  Perhaps the financial aspect of lowtech green roofs needs to be investigated a bit more and so that they can be marketed to Kingstonians.  Further, City Hall could help by encouraging developers to incorporate green rooftops is all new commercial and residential development with the aid of environmental grants.  Of course, identification of existing rooftops that would be ideal for this sort of treatment would also contribute towards our sustainability efforts.

What do you think?  Would a 1,000 green rooftop challenge be more successful than the solar rooftop challenge?  Would you jump on the green rooftop bandwagon if there was local know-how and support to get you there?

Thanks to oshokim for today’s rooftop photo.

Harvey Kirkpatrick

Harvey Kirkpatrick is Kingstonist's Co-Founder. His features curiously explore urban planning, what if scenarios, the local food scene and notable Kingstonians. Loves playing tourist and listening to rap music. Learn more about Harvey...

7 thoughts on “What if Kingston…

  • I think it is a fantastic idea. I would love to see businesses the Kingston area embracing rooftop gardens. The harvested food could be donated to families in need of fresh produce. Or perhaps sold at the Farmers market, and the money raised be targeted at improving Kingston.

  • I personally it is a great concept, but the cost associated with is restricting the people to install solar rooftop. A 1000 Green rooftop challenge sounds more achievable. As the cost associated with the same is very less compared to solar rooftops. Hydroponic rooftops look like a better option, with the easy availability of hydroponic nutrients. A good way to lure about installing hydroponic green rooftops is, people can grow vegetables like tomatoes, carrots and many more with the help of it thus reducing their food bills and also avoid eating contaminated vegetables that we get in the super markets. People can start off with it on a small scale using products root shooters from advancednutrients. http://advancednutrients.com/hydroponics/products

  • 1,000 roof top challenge, We have a world expert in solar hot water heating at Queen's University in Dr Stephen Harrison, yet the University does not have a single solar thermal installation, outside of the collectors on his roof-top laboratory. Simply put solar thermal is the most energy efficient and cost effective technology and can be installed in most homes for just over $7,000, and while everyone focuses on making money by installing solar collectors that generate electricity the installation of solar hot water systems stagnates. Maybe you should provide some education to your readers, interview Dr Harrison, put it on UTUBE, whatever it takes to make a difference.

    • I'd be interested to see some math comparing SHW to PV. Don't get me wrong, i think domestic solar hot water is a great idea, but I fail to see how it can trump the current economics of solar PV for a water-conscious household.

      In my experience, if you look at the cost effectiveness assuming 250L/capita/day (a historic & very outdated number), and assume 1/2 is heated water, maybe the numbers come out OK. But, if you consider an even reasonably water-conscious household, those numbers are far reduced to 1/2 or 1/4 even of that. When I do the math with those numbers, I just don't see it. My household, 4 people – 2 adults + 2 kids, use 250-300L/d total. We don't have ultra low water appliances either, but reasonable. Kids get a bath every couple of days, lots of laundry, and our daily use is still way shy of a break even point, even looking at a 20 year horizon, assuming we pay off the system in 10yrs (and we even got the $2,500 Eco-Energy Grant when it existed).

      We had our SHW system installed before the micro-fit program was initiated. If I could, I would replace that SHW with a PV system. I think the fundamental shortcoming of SHW, versus PV, is that there is no where to put the excess hot water that is produced. If I could sell that excess to a 'grid', i.e. neighbours, I'd be off to the races because it produces way more than what we need (between May to Sept anyway)… or maybe somehow in the shoulder seasons (Apr+May, Oct+Nov) it could be used to assist with home heating in some fashion.

      Anyway, I'm not saying SHW is useless, but be sure to run legitimate water-use numbers from your own water bill when figuring out whether or not it is worth it for your home. I over-estimated our hotwater needs, now I am paying for it.

  • Great idea but sadly I don't see it being successful. Solar has two major advantages compared to green roofs: the media factor and the promised financial returns. Solar is something that everyone knows about, its in the media, its 'main stream' in comparison to green roof programs which garner far less attention. Stores which install solar or corporations which promise to turn empty factory rooftops into solar farms get far more attention than those who opt to install green roof technology on their buildings. Solar also offers up the opportunity for individuals to see their green energy investment as just that, an investment. The promised rates of return for solar panels often convince people of taking the plunge, sadly green roofs don't offer the same financial incentives, at least not to the average person who likely wouldn't undertake any full-scale gardening on their rooftop.

    I wish Kingston would reach well over 1000 in each of these categories, but if solar can't make it in a city that claims to want to be 'Canada's greenest city' then I don't think green roofs have a chance. If our local politicians were interested in actually pursuing this goal there needs to be a lot more work done inside City Hall.

  • Solar energy generation is a great economic initiative for the future growth and longevity of our economy. Profits being brought into the Kingston community via a renewable resource is an excellent use of household capital. The primary problem many investors see with these initiatives is that the "guarunteed" returns are suceptible to government interference and changes in provincial leadership. Ideally, returns could be predicted and the feed-in-tariff program could be relied upon with more certainty. But contracts guarunteed by governments and energy initiatives have been cancelled before.

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