Kirk Brown Takes Us Back to the Future in this Week’s Lecture
[slideshow] Kirk Brown’s career spans the energy crisis of the 1970s when it seemed we might run out of oil and we were looking for alternative energy sources to now when we are seeking newer and cleaner energies. He worked with Exxon in the US and then moved on to the Ontario Research Institute and later Ontario Ministry of Energy. One day he saw an advertisement in the Globe and Mail where the newly formed Institute of Man and Resources in Prince Edward Island was looking for a Director of Research. He said the advertisement seemed to fit what he wanted perfectly, so he applied and out of 100 applicants, he got the job.
On April 1, 1977, Kirk and his wife J’Nan moved to Prince Edward Island. They first lived in a home that featured early generation solar panels in Lewis Point Park, but Kirk was keen to buy a farm. When he was a young teenager, he worked one summer on a farm in Ontario and he said it was his favourite job. So combining his two interests, the Browns purchased the MacNeill farm in Clyde River and we are glad they did.
The Institute of Man and Resources was directed by Andy Wells during Alex Campbell’s time as premier in Prince Edward Island. Campbell wanted to take a leadership role in Canada on responding to the energy crisis when the price of oil had quadrupled. Kirk said that Prince Edward Island had historically embraced wood burning energy, but to return to wood and other energies the Institute worked to develop a Canada-PEI agreement (The Agreement) to research improved wood burning systems and to look at solar and wind energies and demonstrate more efficient use of energy as a means of reducing Island household heating costs.
The Ark project in eastern Prince Edward Island is often connected to the Institute. It was a dream inspired by John Todd and the New Alchemy Institute in New England and was funded as a separate part of the Agreement to be operated by the New Alchemists. The Ark was planned to demonstrate a fully self-sustainable lifestyle. Kirk said that it turned out to be more expensive than anticipated because they were trying to integrate many new unproven technologies all at once. The Institute was asked to become the Ark project manager but eventually had to close down the operation due to lack of funding. However, there were aspects of technologies adopted there that later spawned future opportunities in PEI and elsewhere.
Shortly after starting work at the Institute Kirk was approached when plans were underway to build the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. The QEH project manager wished to use something other than heavy fuel oil for heating. Kirk and the manager decided to investigate the use of municipal waste. Later Kirk went on to work at the PEI Energy Corporation, where they focused on energy strategies for public institutions. There the idea of using waste led to the Energy From Waste plant for heating the QEH. The District Heating System in Charlottetown was born out of the EFW plant. This underground system now pipes heat to many public buildings throughout Charlottetown.
The other legacy that the early work of the Institute and the PEI Energy Corporation established was wind energy. Prince Edward Island is now home of the Wind Energy Institute of Canada, and energy produced from wind turbines in PEI contributes to local energy needs and has become a valuable energy export for the Province. PEI has an excellent wind regime and was one of the early innovating regions.
Kirk’s concern these days is still on alternative energies. The Browns use solar panels to generate hot water, and wood heats their house. But more so, Kirk is unwavering in his opinion that we need to move toward energy strategies that will minimize climate change problems and the cost that it places on our environment and quality of life for future generations.
The audience had many questions for Kirk, and his breadth of knowledge was evident as he helped us to understand the economic and political winds that drive alternative energy policies and development and how important it is to keep viable energy strategies top of mind. As a community, we are so pleased to have such a valuable resource in our midst. Thanks Kirk.
We include here a video interview that Peter Rukavina had with Kirk and featured on a site discussing Climate Change, “Think About it – Climate Change.”
[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/7417831 w=549&h=309]