Sustainable Energy Pioneers

Using Manure to Generate Electricity

Paul Klaesi and cows

Paul Klaesi with cows - Photo credit: Neil Etienne

In working to make our world "cleaner and greener," qualities such as intelligence, innovation, boldness, persistence, common sense, ingenuity - and a regard for small rather than grandiose projects - are needed. Brothers Fritz and Paul Klaesi of Fepro Farms near Cobden have demonstrated all these qualities in spades.

I first learned about their unique operation in the CBC Fifth Estate episode "The Gospel of Green," and was fascinated to learn about this innovative project in our area. The day I visited the farm to chat with Paul Klaesi was the very one that their Hydro hook-up finally went "live" - so now Fepro farm is selling energy created on-site, to Hydro One.

The farm has 300 Holstein cattle, and what the Swiss-born brothers have done is create a manure digester and methane-powered generator to take the "poop" and turn it into enough energy to power 300 homes. Grease (not French fry oil) from grease traps in restaurants in Ottawa and Toronto is now also added to their energy mix.

The two brothers have been working on this innovative technology for 10 years now. The road to becoming an independent producer of electricity hasn't been smooth, exactly, but Paul Klaesi, who has a masters degree in high voltage application and a Swiss high voltage inspections degree, has always been confident of their project's soundness.

In chatting with Mr. Klaesi, I learned that, although the two brothers have had to face down daunting bureaucratic and regulatory mazes, they chose to persist and to navigate their way through these many challenges. Along the way, Paul helped co-found the AgriEnergy Producers'Association of Ontario, a group for farmers involved in producing energy. Cooperation among APAO members has helped streamline the process of having farms connect to the Hydro grid. In future, farmers who set out to do what's been done at Fepro Farms will find inter-connection issues considerably more straightforward.

The Klaesi brothers have had quite a bit of support along the way from OMAFRA - the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. In 2007, they won a Premier's Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence - including a $50,000 cash prize. Clearly, their efforts have been noticed and supported in "high places."

When I asked Paul Klaesi why he thinks there is so much more energy-related innovation in Europe than in Canada, he replied that in North America there seems to be an obsession with bigness. Europeans seem more inclined to recognize the power of many small things adding up incrementally to a large contribution. He cited the presence of solar panels on barn roofs in Switzerland and Germany, and the fact that many homes in Germany have solar panels on their roofs. He's a big believer that smallness rather than bigness is what's needed, and he also believes firmly that dealing properly with energy "streams" such as manure and grease is a necessity.

Asked to give advice to would-be innovators, Paul Klaesi is liable to say, "Just take the plunge."

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Do not follow where the path may lead...go instead where there is no path, and leave a trail." The Klaesi brothers are definitely local trailblazers!

Dorothy Allemang of Arnprior

Window quilts are one very effective type of insulated window covering. They usually consist of layers of fabric, insulation, mylar, and lining quilted together and made into attractive Roman shades. When made to cover a window opening and fitted with magnetic tape or wooden strips on hinges to seal them shut when they are lowered, they can increase the insulating value of a window from four to five times over that of a double-pane glass window!

    • Heat loss through windows can account for as much as 25% of the average fuel bill, according to the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs. Window quilts offer effective insulation and an attractive window covering.

    • Window quilts usually consist of layers of fabric, insulation, Mylar, and lining sewn together and made into Roman shades.

    • Magnetic tape or wooden strips on hinges are used to seal the shades tight to the window frame when they are lowered. This can increase the insulating value of a window from four to five times over that of a double-pane glass window.

    • Window quilts increase the comfort level of a room in both summer and winter. In summer they keep the radiant heat out and in winter they keep the radiant heat in. They also block air currents.

    • "Window quilts are an ideal do-it-yourself project for someone who sews," says Dorothy Allemang of Arnprior. They are not overly complicated to make. A complete guide to making them, called “Shades for Comfort” can be downloaded free from the internet at

Steve Anderson of Arnprior

        • Sustainable energy pioneer Steve Anderson makes biodiesel fuel

        • Over 40 people came out to a workshop to hear Steve Anderson of Arnprior share his knowledge of how to convert waste cooking oil from restaurant deep fryers into fuel for a diesel engine. Fuel from waste cooking oil is called “biodiesel” and it can be made from vegetable oils and animal fats. Steve prefers canola oil.

          • The fairly simple process involves several steps. The oil is filtered, warmed, stirred, and then mixed with lye dissolved in wood alcohol.

          • Steve estimates that the biodiesel he makes costs 75 cents per litre compared with about $1 per litre for petroleum diesel fuel, or “dino”diesel as he likes to call it.

          • Steve has fueled his truck and another family vehicle with straight biodiesel for the past two years, except in the coldest months of the year when he mixes in 50% regular diesel. Biodiesel gels at a higher temperature than its fossil fuel relation.

          • In Canada, several municipalities have experimented with mixing up to 20% biodiesel with regular diesel for fueling bus and truck fleets, with excellent results.

          • Biodiesel is versatile, readily biodegradable in water, and it produces fewer emissions than petroleum fuel when burned. There are also engine benefits associated with biodiesel use since it is a very good lubricant.


EcoPerth installs solar water heaters

              • The small town of Perth, in the south-west corner of the Ottawa River watershed, is home to an organization that "has set out to show how a small town in central Canada can respond to the issues of climate change". The organization is called EcoPerth and one of its most innovative projects is aimed at increasing the use of solar energy for hot water heating.

                • 74 percent of homes in Perth were found to be suitable places for installing solar water heaters.

                • Solar water heaters can meet about half of the water heating needs of a family of four.

                • 25 systems have been installed as of April 2006, and another 30 are planned for the next year.

                • The systems cost $2,000 to $3,00 to install. Typical annual savings are between $250 and $350.

Peter Saffery of Micksburg

Peter Saffery of Micksburg heats and cools his home with earth energy

"Over two thirds of the energy needed to heat and cool your home is available right beneath your feet." Natural Resources Canada's Canadian Renewable Energy Network (CANREN Even more surprising is the fact that the technology to heat and cool buildings with earth energy (called "geothermal heating", "earth energy systems", and "ground-source heat pumps") is well-developed and already in use in over 30,000 houses and commercial buildings across Canada.

    • Geothermal heating systems consist of open or closed loops of circulating water or glycol that picks up heat from the ground. The heat is then "stepped up" by a heat pump inside the building. Electricity is used to operate the circulation pump and the heat pump.

    • One of the early adopters of geothermal heating in the Ottawa Valley, Peter Saffery installed a geothermal system at his home in Micksburg back in 1988.

    • According to Peter, geothermal systems provide heating, cooling and domestic hot water for about one-third of the cost of heating a home with electricity.

    • The cost to install a geothermal heating system can vary a great deal depending on the type of system, size of house, and other factors. The average cost for a 1200 square-foot home is in the neighbourhood of $8,000.

    • The buried circulation loops of a geothermal heating system are generally made out of high density polyethylene and are expected to last 50 years or more. It is worth noting that when they do need replacing, polyethylene is likely to be extremely expensive as it made from oil. Fifty years from now there will be much less oil available and what is available will be extremely expensive. So while this technology is very efficient and attractive at present, it probably is not sustainable in the long term.

Dave Gerwing of Ottawa

'Power Spars'

During the ice storm, Ottawa engineer Dave Gerwing, his wife and infant son spent 12 days without heat or electricity after up to ten centimeters of freezing rain downed power lines all over Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec. Dave was motivated by this experience to develop a method of providing heat and electricity, independent of the electrical grid.

    • Traditional flat solar panels capture only about 10-15 percent of the energy available. Their efficiency has been steadily increasing in recent years but even the most efficient ones available today capture only 30 percent of the energy that shines on them.

    • Dave's innovation, the Power- Spar, incorporates an absorptive surface in a concave, reflector that focuses the sun on a small area; thus it becomes possible to capture up to 80 percent of the sun's power, of which 4 parts are thermal and one part electrical!

    • Two 39' Spars can produce heat and electricity for an average 2000 square foot home. The Power- Spar system can be connected to forced air, radiant baseboard, and in-floor heating systems.

    • If the units are being used for heat, the system will also include a heat exchanger, a storage tank, and hot water radiant baseboards or another heat exchanger for heating air. If the system is for generating electricity, the complete system will also include a grid tie inverter and optionally batteries .

    • Parts for these systems are now manufactured in Toronto, but the assembly is done locally using local tradespeople. Dave believes it is important to keep money and jobs in the local economy. Dave's company, Menova Energy Inc., is based in Kanata. More information on Power Spars is available at

Audrey and Richard Copeland of Matawatchan

      • Living comfortably using renewable energy

      • Audrey and Richard Copeland escaped from the rat-race in Southern Ontario a few years back and built themselves a beautiful home in the Madawaska Highlands, near Matawatchan. The prohibitive cost of bringing hydro to their property tipped the economics in favour of off-grid generation of household electricity from renewables, and they have done an inspiring job of it.

        • Their home is powered by 4 of 400-watt wind turbines and 3 five-panel solar arrays, the solar totaling 1.8KWp. A backup gas generator is used infrequently, consuming about 170-200 Litres of gasoline per year over the past few years.

        • They use energy-efficient lighting (mostly compact fluorescent bulbs & recently LEDs), and an energy-efficient refrigerator and washing machine. A dishwasher has been added, used primarily when excess energy is available and a gas-fired clothes dryer has recently been disconnected due to non use over the past 4 years.

        • The Copelands heat their home with wood and use a wood cook stove and a propane cook top for cooking. Their hot water is heated by a combination of a roof-mounted solar pre-heater and the woodstove.

        • One of Richard's inventions that uses free energy from the sun is a three-season, outdoor solar shower. The shower will provide 4-6 showers per day (except when used by teenaged girls with long hair). Visitors line up to use it, and there is exhilaration in looking at mountains and sky, or talking with your friends while enjoying a refreshing shower in the great outdoors.

Andreas and Petra Vornweg of Killaloe

Microhydro installation

Andreas and Petra Vornweg and their two daughters live in a very unusual house. A creek runs through their home in Killaloe, Ontario and a small turbine captures enough energy from the gently flowing water to power 3 or 4 nearby homes besides their own.

    • year-round average production level is 20 to 25 kilowatts enough to power 3-4 houses in Canada or 10-15 houses in Germany

    • They get paid by Ontario Power Generation for everything they produce and get a bill for what they use.

    • This scale of power generation from falling water is called "micro hydro" and it is underutilized in Canada at present.

    • There is a lot of potential for increased use of microhydro in Ontario.

John Bateson and Peggy Patterson of Pembroke

      • Putting a magical bright red "blower" door to good use in Pembroke

      • Did you know that it is possible to get an EnerGuide rating for your house? And that it will tell you how energy-efficient your house is compared to others the same size and age in your climate zone? Well it is and it does, and it's all part of a program from Natural Resources Canada called EnerGuide for Houses. Even better, the program provides funding to partly reimburse participants for any improvements they make to their home's "energy performance".

        • Air is sucked out of the house by the blower door. Then the technician walks around the house to find air leaks, as the suction creates quite a draft.

        • Air leakage was reduced by 30% by putting calking in just the right places.

        • Gas consumption decreased by about 40 percent after adding the extra insulation.

        • About 30% of the cost of upgrades was recovered through rebates. The amount of the rebate is based on how much the Energuide rating improves.

Bob Dobson of Cobden

      • Sustainable energy pioneer Bob Dobson's solar water pumping system

      • One of the most important and least considered uses of electricity is for pumping water. This is especially true in rural areas where homeowners rely on wells and farmers pump large quantities of water for their livestock…. Bob Dobson, of Snake River near Cobden, has been using solar energy to pump water for his cow-calf farm for the past ten years

        • The system is powered by two 75-watt solar panels which capture the energy from the sun and store it in two 12-volt deep cell marine batteries; these in turn send power to the 24-volt floating pump.

        • The water for the system comes from a man-made, spring-fed pond.

        • A watering trough for the cattle is 600 feet away and slightly elevated from the location of the pump. Water is pumped 15 feet vertically and 600 feet horizontally.

        • The system operates without any human intervention at temperatures as low as minus 10 degrees C. Below minus 10, it requires minimal management, for example breaking ice on the surface of the water in the trough.

        • The system cost about $5500 to install. Half of the cost was recovered by a federal-provincial funding program for environmental protection on farms.

Frank Tettemer and Cheryl Keetch of Killaloe

          • Energy efficient houses by Frank Tettemer and Cheryl Keetch of Living Sol Building and Design

          • Here in the Ottawa River watershed, we live in a pretty cold climate. Ottawa is the second-coldest national capital in the world after Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. This presents us with the significant challenge of heating our living spaces for up to six months of the year.

            • Frank Tettemer and Cheryl Keetch of Living Sol Building and Design in Killaloe have perfected the art of building beautiful homes that require smaller than average amounts of heating fuel in winter.

            • The average owner of a 1200-square-foot home in Ontario spends between $1500 and $2300 on heating each year. It is possible to reduce this to as little as $500 by using energy efficient building and design techniques.

            • Living Sol's energy-efficient homes, cottages and additions incorporate such features as super-insulation, passive solar design principles and energy-efficient heating systems.

            • Other services offered through Living Sol Building and Design include design and installation of alternative water heating systems, solar and alternative energy systems, water catchment systems, and home and cottage design and consultation services.

            • See for inspiring photos of a number of energy-efficient homes that have been thoughtfully-designed with the Ottawa Valley's six month heating season in mind.

David Delaney of Ottawa

          • David Delaney shares compelling reasons to use simple solar technology

          • Retired electrical engineer David Delaney of Ottawa is a big believer in low-technology applications of solar energy that everyone can build and use.

            • While researching the use of solar cookers for use in developing countries, David came across a comment about how unfortunate it was that rural poor in developing countries were just switching to kerosene in time for it to become a scarce and expensive commodity.

            • That statement prompted further research and the astonishing realization that the world's supplies of oil and gas are likely to begin to decline soon, causing fossil fuels themselves and all products made from them or using them (basically everything!) to become increasingly scarce and expensive.

            • David believes that keeping warm in Ontario winters will become a significant challenge. He has identified some simple, low-technology solar applications that can help with space and water heating.

            • A sunspace air heater is essentially a greenhouse attached to the south side of the house. It gets hot when the sun is shining (even in January), and cold at night. When the sun is shining, hot air flows by natural convection from the sunspace through vents or windows into the house. When the air in the sunspace is cooler than the air in the house, passive dampers made of light plastic film close the vents automatically (or the home owner closes the windows).

            • A batch water heater consists of a black water tank in a large insulated box with a reflective interior and a glass cover (a glazing unit from an old patio door makes an ideal cover). The water in the tank heats up whenever the sun is shines through the glass, pre-warming the water for a heater that uses purchased energy, or providing almost all hot water needed during the height of the summer.

            • See David's web site: