Thursday, the provincial government announced they are taking the next steps in exploring hydrogen-powered trains, or “hydrail” as a more sustainable alternative to electric trains.
A study was released saying it was feasible to build and operated electrified rail service on both GO Transit and the UP Express with hydrogen-powered trains. This change will be a comparable cost to conventional electrification, which uses overhead wiring.
“The potential benefit of hydrogen fuel cells compared to overhead wires makes exploring hydrogen rail technology worthwhile,” said Ontario Minister of Transportation, Kathryn McGarry. “Our government is taking the next step in assessing how this important technology could work for our own transit system.”
Concept designs are being produced by manufacturers Alstom and Siemens.
What is a hydrogen-powered train? Energy is created when hydrogen, which is stored at the top of the train, is combined with oxygen. That energy is then converted using fuel cells, which charges batteries stored below the train. This creates electricity to run the train. Additionally, extra unused energy is stored in lithium batteries and allows the train to be more efficient because it doesn’t have any waste energy.
The hydrail is considered carbon neutral. because it takes hydrogen already in the environment and re-uses it. Though electrification doesn’t have any carbon output, hydrogen fuel cells are able to provide more flexibility in hard-to-reach places because they don’t require a lot of infrastructure to build, a common issue on train routes.
The first hydrogen-powered passenger train was revealed in December 2017 in Germany.
GO Transit will also be testing wireless Internet on two of their GO trains and four GO busses. While most GO stations and terminals have free Wi-Fi, none of the trains do. That is something Metrolinx, the transit agency responsible for GO Transit, wants to change.
“We are committed to making the entire GO experience even better for people. These enhancements are an example of how we are modernizing GO Transit and enhancing services for people across Ontario,” McGarry said in a statement.
Information will be gathered from commuters about the wireless internet and quality will be examined before it is installed in all trains.
Both of these revitalizations are part of a $21.3 billion investment in GO Transit made by the Ontario government.
The Paris Agreement has been making headlines worldwide after the Trump administration removed themselves from the Paris Climate Agreement and ignited world-wide criticism. Though the United States seems to be doomed to a coal-filled future, where does Canada stand when it comes to Paris Agreement goals?
As it turns out, Canada has a lot of work to do in order to achieve the objectives set out in the Paris Agreement, but remains dedicated to the accord. When the U.S. dropped out of the Paris Agreement, not one other country followed suit and Prime Minister Trudeau went as far to release a statement criticizing President Trump’s decision: “We are deeply disappointed that the United States federal government has decided to withdraw from the Paris agreement,” Trudeau said. “Canada is unwavering in our commitment to fight climate change and support clean economic growth. Canadians know we need to take decisive and collective action to tackle the many harsh realities of our changing climate.”
It appears the Canadian government understands climate change is an important issue, but is this country doing enough to combat the devastating effects of carbon emissions? The Columbia Institute, a non-profit dedicated to research and building sustainable communities, released a report card assessing the federal government’s climate change achievements and outlining which areas need improvement. According to the report, entitled Top Asks for Climate Action report, as of 2015, Canada ranked 58 out of 61 countries for climate protection performance. The government has met certain climate change goals by implementing a national price on carbon, establishing a national transportation strategy, and offering dedicated funding to public transit in its municipalities. Alternatively, things Canada needs to work include setting greenhouse gas targets that would meet the requirements of the Paris Agreement, eliminating subsidies to fossil fuel industries, and moving towards renewable energy instead of locking the economy into a high carbon path.
The next step would be for Canada to adopt science-led and legally binding greenhouse reduction targets and follow best practices of countries like Finland, Denmark, the United Kingdom and Mexico. As a part of the Paris Agreement, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC) mandates nationally determined commitments by 2020. Canada’s current targets do not meet the Paris Agreement standards, and these new objectives would need to be set at 50 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 from the current standing goal of 30 per cent.
South of the border, the Trump government announced on June 1 the United States wouldn’t remain in the Paris Climate Agreement, citing the accord as ‘unfair’. Ignoring the pleas of many U.S. stakeholders, Trump instead offered to renegotiate the terms. The European Union outright refused to engage in negotiations. Instead, the EU plans to bypass the federal government and work directly with U.S. businesses, governors, and mayors to keep up with the climate change commitments.
Though this decision is devastating from an environmental perspective, it opens up key opportunities for Canada. If the U.S. is solely dedicated to promoting fossil fuels, the clean technology sector is ripe for the taking and Canada has the option to become a leader in renewable energy. Since there are only three countries in the world that haven’t signed the Paris Agreement (Syria, Saudi Arabia, U.S.), there are a lot of stakeholders looking for ways to implement clean technology and the green economy will only grow from here.
Though the U.S. has made a critically bad decision to leave the Paris Agreement, Canada and the rest of the world remains dedicated to slowing climate change and saving planet earth. Trudeau is leading the country towards becoming one of the more sustainable places to live in the world, but a lot of work remains. If Canada does set concrete greenhouse reduction goals that match targets set in the Paris Agreement and then actually implements them, the country will be well on its way to trying to combat the inevitable pollution caused by our climate-change-denying-neighbour down south.
The environmental sector is often thought of as progressive and forward-thinking, but when it comes to gender diversity in low-carbon economies, is it truly equal?
At the Ontario Climate Symposium hosted on Friday May 12, York University environmental studies professor Christina Hoicka facilitated a panel that discussed gender diversity and how women experts are leading the way on energy research. Part of Hoicka’s research focuses on discovering which women academics are influencing the field of energy research, and whether or not enough is being done to encourage women to be a part of the renewable energy (RE) industry.
Women make up less than 20 per cent of the renewable energy sector workforce. Jobs are opening up in this sector thanks to the the growing popularity in green technologies, which means it’s the perfect opportunity to close the gender gap in STEM fields.
Canada Research Chair in global women’s issues at Western University, Dr. Bipasha Baruah, was one of the panelists and explained that because there are so few women leaders in clean technology, she feels she actually gets more attention in her role. “Sometimes I feel hyper-visible. Part of that is that you can check so many boxes with me. Even if you are acknowledged, you can still be tokenized,” Baruah says.
Women are clearly under-represented in the green sector in Canada, representing only 20 per cent of jobs, but 50 per cent of university graduates. Most women within the industry are found in sales, administrative roles, and technology positions. For women that are in STEM jobs, the wage gap is smaller, with women earning 14 per cent less than men compared to 21 per cent in other fields. But, they are still massively underrepresented. According to Baruah, women are often discouraged from entering engineering and technology fields because of the misperceptions of the ‘dirty work’ involved and that they typically feel inadequate in the technological aspects of certain occupations.
Baruah’s research did emphasize that Canadian women are increasingly becoming leading entrepreneurs. She interviewed Women in Renewable Energy (WiRE) CEO Rebecca Black, who pointed out that of the membership base of 1000 women in the province of Ontario, at least 20 per cent were entrepreneurs in RE. Women are often more community-based leaders and renewables thrive off a grassroots cooperative business model.
Julie MacArthur, Professor at University of Auckland, reinforced this idea through her study of the evolving socio-technical community-based approach in the renewables sector. In the wake of moving away from large fossil fuel corporations, several renewable community-based organizations have popped up that focus on alternative energy sources. Many of these grassroots organizations are spearheaded by women, who are essential to this movement of cooperation and community-based growth. MacArthur explains that ‘energy democracy’ is growing and there is a changing socio-political focus that is happening right now, as the environment grows as a central concern in the Canadian economy. Obviously, women have a key role to play in this change.
Including women in the move from a brown to green economy will only make RE more diverse and versatile. Being able to provide even more data about women in clean technology helps society to understand where we stand in regards to gender diversity and how we can better accommodate women looking to enter these fields. It is important to provide a discursive research space and more panels to educate women invested in an environmental career, and Women’s Post hopes to learn more as amazing women researchers grow and learn in green technology.
One of the best ways to effect change is to make it happen from the inside out — instead of waiting for the world to change, why not do it yourself? Jen Aitchison, Vice President of Sustainable Energy Insurance at Jones Brown Inc., embraces this concept, offering risk management solutions for companies invested in renewable energy, giving green technology a competitive edge in the business world.
Upon meeting Aitchison, she exudes a strong, confident demeanour. Hanging around her neck is a pendant that says, ‘Fearless’. The necklace was given to her by a family member, and is one of Aitchison’s life mantras. “When I first started down this route, I was terrified of walking into a room full of people and shaking their hands. The best thing I can tell women is eat the fear,” Aitchison says. “Shaking one person’s hand at that event is a success because you can build on it and you realize it isn’t scary.”
Aitchison is one of the first insurance brokers in Toronto to start a sustainable energy insurance practice, and over the last eight years she has helped several companies in solar and wind energy navigate their way through the complexities of risk management solutions in an emerging industry where no standard existed before. Aitchison initially brought the idea of sustainable energy insurance to Jones Brown as a side project. “I asked myself how can I use my eight years of experience in the insurance industry and couple that with my environment and sustainability passions? Maybe there is a way to work from the inside out, this being a bit of a capitalistic environment and a bit of an old boys club here,” Aitchison says. “When I first pitched the guys, they were like that is so cute. They said that I could pursue that pet project on the side, but also asked that I don’t let my normal day job slip.”
Aitchison began researching sustainable energy insurance and visiting various renewables companies. She quickly discovered there was a large gap in the renewables industries when it came to insurance and over the course of six years, worked hard to create a sustainable energy insurance practice. Within the practice, she focuses largely on product development of integral financial instruments such as performance guarantees, educating industry members on risk management specifics for renewables and an annual sales budget exceeding $150,000. After being promoted to partner at Jones Brown six years ago, Aitchison is one of the leaders of insurance for renewables and a leader for women and the environment in the insurance sector.
“That’s how I made insurance not suck, for a lack of a better term. I ended up working both sides, teaching insurance companies what some of the emerging technologies were, what challenges were being faced and what some of the solutions we needed,” Aitchison says. “At the same time, I was teaching the renewable energy sector about insurance and some of the things they should consider when setting up their projects.”
Though Aitchison has achieved great success at Jones Brown, it wasn’t always smooth sailing. Being a woman with an environmental agenda in the insurance industry had its struggles and Aitchison had to fight for pay equity as recently as 2015. “I didn’t get pay equity until November of last year and it was a 30 per cent difference. I threatened to leave,” Aitchison recalls. “It was shocking. It is important to talk about that still happening.”
Alongside becoming one of leading environmentalists sporting an insurance portfolio and fighting for her rights as a woman in a leading role, Aitchison also won the 2015 Canadian Solar Industry Association President’s award because of her work as the Fire Safety Committee Chair for the Canadian Solar Industries Association (CanSIA). Aitchison helped create a PV Fire Safety handbook to keep firefighters safe in case they encounter electrified solar panels during a fire.
Aitchison is also a founding committee member of Women in Renewable Energy (WiRE), a group that brings women together across various renewables industries. Aitchison is in charge of field trips to various renewables companies, support on networking and awards, and overall direction of the group with the other committee members. WiRE began in 2013 when the initial founding members met at Women of Wind Energy (WoWE), a group supporting women invested in wind energy. “We were talking about being from different backgrounds and that there wasn’t a group that encompassed all types of renewable energy,” she says. “We were frustrated that wind and solar were all fighting for the same piece of the pie. We didn’t want that and wanted to break those barriers down. That’s the type of women we are at WiRE. We see barriers, and we rip them down.”
She also emphasizes it was important to the committee that WiRE was not a ‘hen’s club’ or ‘a clique’ and is a very opening group of women professionals. There is also a mentorship aspect to the group that brings young women and professionals together to collaborate and network. “In the WiRE environment, we connect women with women,” She says. “We also run a speed mentoring event. It is so great to see them succeed and get out of their shell.”
Aitchison is a single mom of two kids, ages 11 and 17, and manages to balance her work life while being an inspiring parent as well. She is currently reading “Bet on Me: Leading and Succeeding in Business and in Life” by Annette Verschuren. In her rare spare time, she likes to play guitar, cycle, draw, snowboard, hike and kayak with her kids. She also builds shelves and other odds and ends on the side, confessing “I’m a bit of a junkie for making things out of nothing.”
Aitchison is a born mentor; she is fierce, empowered, kind-hearted and patient. Her own passions and experience have given her a credibility in the renewables sector that cannot be ignored and yet she is modest and sincere about her successes. If more women like Aitchison join the fight to change the world to a more environmental one from the outside in, sustainability and women leadership will certainly stand a chance to rise out on top.
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In an age where technology seems to be getting smaller and sleeker, renewable energy is lagging behind. Even though people are constantly encouraged to live green, no one wants to see giant windmills in their parks or have metal panels on top of their roofs.
Limited resources and cost restraints in North America have created challenges for architects, engineers, and even artists in the design of sustainable buildings.
“Solar in North America often looks ugly, and then people reject renewable energy,” Toronto artist Sarah Hall says. “We have to start using as many renewables as possible, and I thought ‘well, if it’s beautiful, we can change people’s minds and help transform the industry as well’.”
Hall is one of the few innovators incorporating renewable energy into artwork. One of her most notable pieces is “Waterglass”, a stained glass piece that can be found wrapped around the Enwave Theatre at Harbourfront in Toronto. While seemingly unnoticeable during the day, the piece comes alive at night. LED lights powered by the sun reveal 360 archived photographs of Lake Ontario, all stunningly preserved on di-chroic glass, the most expensive glass in the world at $1,000 per square foot.
The piece will create 1,750 kilowatt hours worth of electricity annually, enough to power the plug outlets within the building, according to Livio Nichilo, an engineering manager at Interenat Energy Solutions Canada. Nichilo consulted on “Waterglass” and analyzed the environmental impact of the project. He said that one of the biggest challenges was not to compromise artistic vision or technical efficiencies.
“The glass we designed for this project is the first of its kind in the world and we had to incorporate many technologies at once,” Nichilo says. “From my knowledge it hasn’t been done yet.”
“Waterglass” is one of six pieces Hall has created in North America using photovoltaic cells, which convert the sun’s rays into electric voltage. Each piece is connected into the power distribution of the building. For example, her piece “Leaves of Light” can be found outside the Life Sciences Building at York University illuminating the entranceway. Solar panels allow energy to be collected from the sun, which powers the LED lights that were placed between two beautifully painted pieces of glass.
Hall is also experimenting with bird-friendly glass that, in addition to collecting solar energy, will alter the reflections on large buildings in an effort to decrease the number of bird deaths in Canada.
About 10 million birds die in Toronto because they fly into glass buildings, particularly high-rise condominiums that are reflective and transparent. “I was astounded by that information and thought I may be able to do something in that direction and began thinking of al the technologies I’ve worked in and I knew these organic solar things were being done in the labs and I’ve never thought of using them”
The challenge is to make the glass transparent enough for people to see out of, but still opaque enough that birds won’t be tricked into flying towards it. Hall will be using organic photovoltaic cells used for this project — a relatively new technology developed by Oxford Photovoltaics in London. Once the prototype is complete, it will be tested at the American Bird Conservancy in New York before Hall can start to create proposals; although she has already provided a few sample designs.
Hall fell in love with glasswork at the age of nine. She studied in Canada, as well as in the United Kingdom and Jerusalem, and ended up opening a studio in Germany. It was there that an engineer named Christof Erban approached her with a way to integrate photovoltaic cells into glasswork. While other artists in the studio believed this would hinder their artistic abilities, Hall saw it as a challenge.
“All those guys said no. They said it would be an imposition to have a grid on their work, but I liked the idea of trying to work with that grid of technology in art and trying to change people’s mind about solar,” Hall says.
The challenge with using photovoltaic cells in art is that the designs have to be geometrical. Solar cells are square and require the use of wiring, which can hinder creative freedom.
“My artwork for many years was always geometry and organic, naturalistic work. To combine this geometry wasn’t as hard as another artist.”
Before she begins a design, Hall has to consult engineers and ensure that the electrical wires are properly introduced into the building’s systems and that they adhere to city codes. The traveling can also be tedious, as most of the work has to be done overseas. Hall’s main studio is in Germany. She had to move from Toronto because her studio on Dupont St. just wasn’t big enough for the scale of glasswork she wanted to complete.
“Germany and Austria was where the work had to be done,” Nichilo explains. “The biggest challenge was that what we were asking to do in terms of design couldn’t be completed here locally. We didn’t have the skill or equipment needed to do it.”
Unfortunately, it’s been up to artists like Sarah Hall to ensure that the architectural field is aware of its options and doesn’t shy away from using renewable energy for fear it will interfere with the functionality of a building. But at the same time, Hall is simply an artist, and above else she just wants to be creative and
“At first, there was quite a bit of scepticism taking something traditional like stained glass and moving it into an environmental positioning,” Hall says. “I also hope that other companies will get interested and figure this stuff out for themselves. As an artist … the commercial aspect isn’t the reason why I do it, but I hope that others will do it commercially — and I think they will.”
Toronto and the rest of the province is avidly working towards embracing clean energy, but it has a long road ahead to catch up to other cities such as Reykjavik, Iceland, who leads the world in clean electricity through their use of geothermal and hydro energy.
Toronto produced 20,313,061 metric tonnes of CO2 last year. The city is involved in lowering greenhouse emissions, and the Ontario Green Energy Act (GEA) will help towards this goal. According to a report published by the Carbon Disclosure Project, a partner of AECOM, cities worldwide produce 78 per cent of energy emissions. But, the easiest way to reduce carbon emissions is by reducing your personal energy consumption.
Since the province decided to draw away from electricity fuelled by coal, other forms of energy have increased in Toronto that are more green and sustainable — also known as clean energy. Nuclear energy produces 53 per cent of Toronto’s electricity, followed by Hydro at 26 per cent. Wind power only produces 11 per cent of the city’s energy, and solar power and biomass yield less than one per cent. Currently, the total capacity of renewable electricity is 40 MW, which generates 23,816 MWh annually. The City of Toronto is working towards incorporating more renewable energy into the grid through solar photovoltaic, wind and bioenergy in various programs such as green roofs.
Though nuclear energy is not officially considered a renewable energy resource, nuclear fusion could be considered sustainable if it were harnessed and used safely. We use nuclear fission, a secondary process of nuclear that produces mass amounts of energy and synthesizes easily with other renewable energy sources. On the other hand, nuclear fusion is replete with issues because if it isn’t harnessed correctly, it could be catastrophic (as exemplified in Chernobyl). If there was a way to use nuclear fusion with no threat of harming people or the planet, it could become the primary renewable energy source because its energy potential is limitless.
Another kind of renewable energy is biomass, which is created by burning left-over scraps taken from forests and agricultural operations and capturing the carbon energy that is released as an energy source. Though burning has faced criticism as a clean energy source, it helps use left-over materials to produce fuels that can power vehicles.
Ontario doesn’t use coal because it is unsustainable and produces high levels of carbon emissions. Two of these coal plants were transferred into biomass fuel plants and have been quite successful at producing energy. Atikokan and Thunderbay Generating Stations have been converted to biomass plants because the process requires a similar fuel storage and handling system to coal, and it allowed people to keep their jobs supporting a more sustainable energy source.
Many people in Ontario have been complaining about their rising hydro costs, but what they need to realize is they are paying into the future. The Clean Energy Act is paving the way for Ontario to successfully meet climate change targets, and there is a cost to going green. But, there is still so much to do! Ontario should be providing strong incentive programs for people who are struggling to pay their hydro bills. Currently aid programs exist for low-income residents, but more substantial incentives and education could help Ontario residents hop on board the green road to clean energy.
As Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX took the stage at the recent Model 3 unveiling, the world watched what many people claimed to be Tesla and Mr. Musk’s defining moment. They’d been building towards that moment since their inception; a relatively affordable, fully electric car that appeals to the masses. And they did not disappoint. The Model 3, like all of Tesla’s vehicles, appears beautiful and sleek, while promising to go far and fast on a single charge.
Musk, perhaps better than anyone, understands what it takes to get us to a future without the burning of fossil fuels and into the brave new world of sustainable transportation: people like nice things. That is a fact and not necessarily one we should stick our noses up at; it’s just the way we are. And Musk knows it: to have any chance at all of transforming an industry, a mindset and an utterly unsustainable addiction to fossil fuels, we need to appeal to the vanity that’s so innately baked into human nature.
This line of thinking should extend into all areas of renewable tech. The design process should encompass not just the visual appeal of things, but the function and usability as well. Tesla’s cars, while beautiful, are just as much about the entire experience. From handling to speed to software updates that help drivers avoid the costly regular maintenance found in traditional dealership models, they offer consumers the first real end-to-end all-electric experience that is actually exciting.
It’s as much an exercise in branding, communications, and marketing strategy as it is about the vehicles. They present themselves with all the appeal of a luxury car maker with the added benefit of sustainability. In fact, unlike other electric cars which sacrifice certain benefits such as speed and power, Tesla positions themselves as a contemporary to traditional luxury brands like Porsche, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW.
For other renewable energy sources to find success they must learn from Tesla’s approach. While the heart of any sustainable product needs to centre around its technology and environmental benefits, it still needs to appeal to consumers. And as they know, that appeal must drive straight into the heart of people’s vanity.
Here are a two other renewable products doing just that:
Solar Shingles: These shingles combine thin-film PV (photovoltaic, i.e. solar panels) cells with modules based on flexible CIGS (Copper Indium/Gallium di-Selenide) technology. Dow Solar’s version is designed to integrate inline with composition asphalt shingles, laminated architectural shingles, concrete and clay tile, cedar shake, polymer and traditional slate. Instead of attaching the shingles to a thermoplastic base with messy adhesives, Dow’s version features a mechanical interlock system to link the shingle-modules to each other. The system not only lowers installation costs, but also makes it easier to repair or replace a damaged module while integrating in a more visually appealing way to the over design of a home. Say goodbye to those traditional clunky solar panels.
Trinity Wind Turbine: this portable turbine converts into a three-blade, horizontal type wind turbine that comes in four sizes – the Trinity 50, 400, 1000 and 2500. These are basically larger versions with increasing size and levels of power generation, and which also convert from horizontal to vertical axis turbines. The Trinity 50, costing around $400, provides 50-watt generation and is only twelve inches high when folded. The minimum speed for the Trinity to work is 4 mph (6.5 km/h). Once speeds reach 25 mph (40 km/h), the turbine can be converted to the vertical setting. The Trinity also comes with a smartphone app, which allow users to monitor the battery level, turn the blades on or off, see how much electricity is being generated as well as the historical data of wind and energy generated. How cool it would be to have a wind turbine you can carry with one hand.
What do you think? Is vanity the key to a successful renewable energy technology? Let us know in the comments below!
Could you imagine all of the buildings in Canada producing as much energy as they create? It might yet be possible with the net zero building strategy gaining ground.
Net zero buildings are gaining worldwide attention in the face of the blatant climate crisis. The ideas is that a house or building would produce as much energy as it uses over the course of one year. This is a rigorous and difficult standard to meet; but it does pose an important challenge to developers and architects.
The challenge: to transform how we think about design and construction. Net zero requires the building produces as much as it uses in a year through renewable energy resources without the use of on-site combustion, or any carbon-creating materials. Developers looking to adhere to net zero standards must look towards the International Living Future Institute, who created the Net Zero Energy Building Certification (NZEP), the worldwide standard for sustainable building. Their report, Living Building Challenge 3.0, explains, “the challenge aims to transform how we think about every single act of design and construction as an opportunity to positively impact the greater community of life and the cultural fabric of our human communities.”
There are many ways for buildings to reach net zero standards through heating, cooling, electrical needs, energy conservation, and on-site renewable generation. Some examples of net zero resources include solar panels, wind energy, geothermal technologies, and adjustable windows for natural cooling.
Energy consumption of commercial and institutional buildings in Canada accounts for 12 per cent of the country’s secondary energy use and produces 11 per cent of the national Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Without a dedication to producing sustainable buildings, these numbers will only increase. The challenge remains how to create net zero infrastructure that will keep Canadians warm during the sometimes harsh winters they face. The Canadian government has funded a strategic research network that gathers 29 researchers from 15 universities nation-wide to look into how to implement net zero infrastructure in a country where the climate is so precarious.
Photovoltaics has emerged as a potential heating source for residential and commercial net zero buildings. This energy source converts solar energy into direct current electricity and produces a photovoltaic effect. The first commercial net zero building in Canada, the Mosaic Centre for Conscious Community and Commerce, used this energy source to heat their state-of-the-art commercial building successfully in chilly Edmonton. The first residential net zero building was established in Guelph, Ont. with the grand opening in September 2015.
Imagine a city full of buildings that create their own energy! Of course, this dream won’t become a reality for at least a decade, but we can at least start to work towards it. How else are we going to reduce our carbon footprint enough to actually make a difference?