Can you green your workshop?

From the tools to your timbers, discover the options for the eco-friendly workshopper

By Jay Somerset


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High fuel costs and a desire to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions have driven many of us out of our cobwebby ways; we’re recycling, installing energy-efficient windows and doors, and generally taking up the green torch of conservation through renewable energies, such as photovoltaic, or electric solar power, which has become much more affordable in the last three years, thanks in part to government funding.

So you’d think solar-powered tools would be hitting store shelves in droves. After all, we’ve been using solar calculators for decades; surely a solar drill isn’t far off. Unfortunately, cost-effective, mass-produced, solar-powered tools aren’t yet a reality. “Things may change in the next 10 years, but I doubt it,” says Sean Twomey, co-owner of Arbour Environmental Shoppe in Ottawa, which has been selling green-minded goods since 1990. “Besides, rechargeable battery technology has improved so much with lithium-ion, there’s no real demand.”

OK, so solar tools are still in the Jetson stage. But what about the workshop itself–can I power my shop with solar energy? “Unless you’re off the grid or already have an electric solar system installed for your house, the economics will be against you,” Twomey says. “I had a guy who wanted to power his woodshop with solar, and after doing the load analysis and factoring in power needs, he was up above $10,000.”

“Small-building solar is a tough sell economically, unless you’re off grid,” Twomey says. “You’re better off spending money making your shop as energy efficient as possible.” Canadian Tire sells off-grid solar systems for weekend use; the idea is that the system powers up batteries during the week, which you then use during the weekend. These systems cost $2,500 to $15,000, depending on the size.

So we’re not quite there with solar workshopping. Too bad, but we can wait. In the meantime, you can treat yourself-and the planet-to Husqvarna’s Automower, a solar-powered lawnmower that not only runs on renewable energy, but also runs by itself (thanks to an invisible fence system). It even drives itself to the recharging station when it senses a low battery. Not bad. Less grass cutting and more wood cutting, now that’s progress.

Solar sites

Here are some useful solar energy resources:

Advance Green Renewable Energy

Hardware stalwart Canadian Tire’s renewable energy site is a great starting point for information on solar- and wind-powered energy systems. A “renewable energy calculator” lets you estimate your power needs and cost/return on investment.

CMHC’s Solar Power Page

Everything you ever wanted to know about photovoltaic solar power, including a useful buyer’s guide.

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