Exploring Canada’s Clean Energy Transition
Last Updated on January 29, 2021
Time For Change
Since 1980 the global demand for energy has effectively doubled! Unfortunately, as energy needs increased, so too did harmful CO2 emissions. Indeed, global CO2 emissions have risen substantially, pretty much since the 1950s.
In reality, carbon emissions have been climbing since the Industrial Revolution. We have fossil fuels to thank for that. What’s especially alarming however is the magnitude of the increase in just the last 30 years.
Much like with Covid-19 contagion, we really need to flatten the (emissions) curve! Although our carbon emissions graphs actually look more like a hockey stick than a curve.
The data is crystal clear. The Earth’s climate is changing as a direct result of all our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It’s a truly menacing global problem. One that is further perpetuated by our continued dependence on fossil fuels.
The Canadian Equation
Unsurprisingly, Canada is no exception in contributing to the rise of harmful emissions. In fact, Canada is one of the highest energy consumers and emission emitters in the world. Pretty painful revelation, eh?!
Our national GHG emissions have actually increased by 33% since 1980. Clearly, Canada must now rapidly transition to clean energy alternatives and finally make the leap to renewables.
Hope is not lost
To that effect, Canada is actively moving towards a low-carbon economy. The plan is to get there with new technology, regulations, and genuine sustainability thinking. As a target, Canada is aiming to reduce its emissions to 30 percent below 2005 records by the year 2030 (CBC).
Achieving this clean energy revolution and transitioning to a low-carbon economy will hinge on three key areas.
1) Decarbonizing the Electricity Grid
The Good 👍
Nationally, 80% of our electricity generation is already non-carbon emitting. Clean hydroelectricity dominates Yukon, British Columbia, Manitoba, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Ontario.
The Bad 👎
Other provinces, including Alberta, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick, generate a large amount of their electricity from the combustion of fossil fuels.
Together, these provinces generate 93% of Canada’s GHG emissions from electricity, while generating only 20% of Canada’s electricity.
The Hope 💫
Renewables are on the rise! Both Alberta and Saskatchewan have seen an uptake in renewable technology for clean energy generation.
Alberta’s total generation from wind increased from 1.1% in 2005 to 5.4% in 2017, and Saskatchewan followed suit, increasing wind from 0.5 to 3.8%.
And there’s more good news!
The price of solar technology has dropped over 80% in the last decade, making it an even more appealing option. Especially for places like the Alberta and Saskatchewan. Our prairie provinces have some of the greatest potential for solar power!
2) Transforming the Transportation Sector
The Good 👍
Nearly the entire transportation sector runs on heavy emitting petroleum products like gasoline and diesel.
Sounds bad right?
However, it also means that the transportation sector has the most potential for reducing their GHG emissions. They can help achieve this through greater electrification and conversion to biofuels.
The Bad 👎
We have a long road ahead of us.
The transportation sector in Canada is the second largest emissions producer and accounts for roughly one-quarter of Canada’s total emissions.
These emissions mostly come from trucking, an industry that has increased dramatically thanks to new delivery expectations (we are looking at you Amazon Prime).
The Hope 💫
Electric vehicle purchases are climbing steadily in Canada.
Last year (yes something good happened in 2020), the government created new emissions reduction regulations on heavy duty vehicles. They’re now required to have fuel-saving devices.
There are also more regulations on the horizon. With these new policy measures comes the hope that Canada will drastically reduce its annual transportation emissions by 2030.
3) Increasing Energy Efficiency Through Behavioral and Technological Changes
The Good 👍
One third of Canada’s TOTAL emissions commitment, as outlined in the Paris Climate Agreement, could be achieved by simply improving our energy efficiency!
The Bad 👎
The industrial sector is considered the backbone of the Canadian economy. It contributes 28% to our national GDP. Unfortunately, as of 2016 this sector also accounts for 52% of Canada’s energy demand.
By far the greatest contributor for this demand is Canada’s large mining, oil, and gas sector. In 2016, mining, oil, and gas accounted for 35% of energy consumed and 44% of the GHGs emitted.
To add salt to the wound, another new study found that, “fossil fuels create less than 1% of Canadian jobs,” (The Energy Mix). Renewable energy jobs on the other hand are expected to grow big!
An analysis from Clean Energy Canada projects that “Canada’s clean energy sector will employ 559,400 Canadians by 2030.” Plenty of opportunity for climate leadership.
The Hope 💫
On a positive note, Canada has committed to reducing emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40-45% by 2025. It’s not enough, but it’s a start!
Other good news…
In 2020 also Canada started developing stricter environmental building codes. The goal being to achieve Net-Zero Energy building codes for all provinces and territories by 2030.
As technology advances, we’ve also witnessed improvements in energy efficiency. For example, our homes have benefited significantly from high efficiency products. In 1990 high efficiency furnaces only accounted for 2% of household units. In 2016 that number shot up to 62%.
Developments in lighting technology also provide another notable example of improved energy efficiency. Compact fluorescent lights (CFL) and light-emitting diode (LED) lights consume 80-85% less energy when compared to traditional incandescent bulbs.
Looking Ahead To Clean Energy
In many ways, the future of Canada’s clean energy transition is still unpredictable. We’re likely to see a mix of renewable options as well as improved versions of traditional methods.
Although we don’t know for sure what’ll happen, there’s plenty to be excited about. Indeed, the tech side of clean energy is certainly fascinating and inspiring! Rather, what we really lack is political will. Why it’s so important to have decisions-makers who respect the science.
Unless we continue to generate pressure on our elected leaders, fossil fuels will continue to play a role in Canada for years to come. That really would be terrifying!
In fact, yet another distressing climate science report was released just this week. It highlighted that global ice melts are accelerating at a rate that match our worst case climate scenario. We’ve had ample warning.
Clearly we need to decarbonize as quickly as possible. At the very least, our current fossil fuel consumption should be optimized and under more stringent regulation.
Thankfully, new clean energy sources are on the way and will become more common in our daily lives. It’s clear that the sustainability transition has already begun. We now need to help it along as best we can!
Editing by Marc-Antoni Tarondo.