When you ask people to envision the clean energy economy in Canada, most will envision spinning wind turbines, fields enclosed by a rushing dam or lots of solar panels.
Actually, the clean-energy sector is vast and significant. It involves the people who make our homes waste less energy: HVAC operators and insulators. It includes individuals who manufacture electric buses and cars. If you are interested in the breadth and depth of this Canadian clean-energy economy, our report from May paints the complete picture.
But what about these wind turbines, those hydro dams, those solar arrays? Our readers want to know just what the government is currently doing in the fight of our lifetimes — that is, the fight on climate change.
So far, we know that the federal government has employed to support electric vehicles. We have talked about energy efficiency. We have talked about a couple of distinct, hugely significant climate policies that don’t get enough news coverage.
We intentionally did not discuss carbon dioxide for the opposite reason (it has covered to death), but here’s a solid read on that too. But the one area we need to talk about is the one we so often imagine when we hear the term “clean energy economy.”
The Electricity That Powers Our Nation
Not only that, but it is the power that will power much of the transition to a carbon-free future. Those policies we just discussed? All of them incentivize securing more stuff — from our vehicles to our houses — into our electricity network. This electrification of buildings, businesses, and transport will help cut pollution and displace fossil fuels. And the cleaner the electricity, the higher the benefit.
Relative to most countries, we have a head start: the electricity grid of Canada is 81 percent non-emitting. Some of that is atomic, but most are renewable power, mainly hydro, which is rich in provinces like Manitoba and Quebec, B.C. More recently, solar and wind have been added to the grid across Canada as costs for these technologies are becoming extremely competitive.
Actually, Canada has among the cleanest electricity grids in the world and make no mistake: it is an underappreciated financial asset. Our comparatively clean grid signifies the things we build on Canadian soil have a reduced carbon footprint than they might anywhere else. With an international market mainly factoring in the carbon footprint of what it purchases, this makes Canadian-made goods more valuable— a clean premium, if you will. It’s something we’d do good to market to the world.
But while a fantastic place to begin, 81% isn’t a good enough place to end. Canada has a strategy to reach 90% non-emitting electricity by 2030, and finally, there’s nothing stopping us from obtaining 100 percent in the following years. So what is the federal government currently doing to help us reach there?
Phasing Out Coal
In terms of emissions reductions, that nine percent change by 2030 is larger than it sounds. The reason? Canada has also committed to phasing out coal from that same date, a central plank in the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.
Coal Phaseouts lead to dramatic and abrupt reductions in carbon pollution. This past year, when Alberta decreased its coal-fired power generation from 59 percent to 47 percent over only one year, the emissions fall was equivalent to carrying 1.5 million cars off the street. Likewise, Ontario decreased its coal-fired power generation from 25 percent in 2007 to zero seven years later and saw that pollution cut equivalent to taking seven million cars off the street. It also less or more marked the end of Ontario’s smog days (where there were 53 in 2005).
Fairness Matters, too, usually. The authorities analyze the overall economic and employment effects of the phaseout, investing $35 million in skills training for workers and financial diversification in regions around coal mines and plants. With this came transition centers to help communities and workers take their further steps.
Finally, the Feds have partnered with the U.K. to create an international network of national, provincial, state and city authorities — the Powering Past Coal Alliance — who recognize the need to shift away from coal power.
Making Renewables Preferable To Natural Gas
The federal authorities recently upgraded its output-based pricing platform for new natural gas plants to discourage the electricity industry, which may otherwise build them. New natural gas plants will need to pay the price on their emissions over a certain threshold. That cap will be reduced until it hits zero, meaning they pay the price on all of their emissions. What does this boil down to? Basically, renewable power options — rather than natural gas ones — will be the clean electricity investment of choice.
Planned Investments In Cleaning Up Government Practices, Advancements, And Off-Grid Communities
Included in its Greening Government Plan, the federal government dedicated to procuring 100 percent clean electricity by 2025. The Feds have already made an improvement, obtaining new stocks of the renewable energy economy in Alberta and Nova Scotia, signing agreements to purchase renewable energy from new projects. The authorities will use procedures such as Renewable Electricity Credits to offset emissions where renewable options are currently unavailable.
Additionally, The national government has allocated $200 million toward the Emerging Renewable Power Program, financing to assist utilities with the installation of new renewable energy technologies (think offshore wind and geothermal). They have also invested $220 million to support clean-energy eonomy infrastructure projects that reduce reliance on diesel in off-grid, remote and rural communities in addition to industrial sites. And another $100 million will support smart grids, which can be better at taking advantage of renewable energy sources (which could be variable with changes in daytime and wind).
Transition To A Clean Power Grid
For one, it will create opportunities and careers. Of the 298,000 jobs in the clean-energy industry in Canada today, already around 60,000 are in clean power supply, while the other 47,000 are in energy storage and grid infrastructure. These numbers will increase as the grid keeps getting cleaner and grows to meet with more of Canadians’ energy requirements.
Indeed, if we are to hit our climate goals and decarbonize Canada by 2050, we will need more electricity. After all, electrification — that is, getting everything onto our growing clean power grid — is the thread that ties all of our climate efforts together.
Electric cars are the most simple example, powered by electricity rather than fossil fuels, but heating is a big one, also. Buildings serve a large if sometimes talked about, the origin of carbon pollution, and many are heated by natural gas. It all requires to transition to electricity — and it needs to be clean electricity.
In the era of electrification, the power grid of Canada could not be more connected to our future.
Building A New Economy After COVID-19
For people who grew up in the ’80s, the three Rs — reduce, reuse and recycle — are seared into our minds. Grocery shops suddenly had bulk containers to decrease wasteful packaging. Art and crafts time were about reusing things destined for the garbage bin.
In the face of an economic jolt, unlike anything modern society has experienced, it is time for the three Rs: resilience, recovery, and relief.
The first thing Canadians need? Relief. But what about those next steps, resilience, and recovery?
While it may be fascinating to attempt and rebuild history, we have to be sensible and build for today and the future. Since Tom Rand, a clean-tech investor, addresses in his new book, The Case for Climate Capitalism,” seeing in the rearview mirror isn’t the best way to judge where you are going.”
A case in point is the role that it plays in our economy and the question of how we produce and consume energy. While certain politicians and pundits have contended that the coronavirus is a reason to slow down our energy transition (remarks they held before the pandemic), the reverse is true.
The stark reality is that Canadian traditionally strong oil and gas industry faced both structural and cyclical change. It won’t ever return to its halcyon boom times of the late 2000s. We will need to switch from a motto of “no barrel left behind” to one where no oil worker or area is left behind. And we will need to reorient and refurbish our energy industry with a focus on clean energy.
The good news? This may be done in a way that leverages the oilpatch’s core competencies (petrochemistry, drilling) toward new products, from carbon fiber to lithium to hydrogen.
Since the executive director of International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol, lately said, “instead of compounding the (coronavirus) outbreak by enabling it to hinder clean energy developments, we will need to grab the chance to help stimulate them.”
In other words, governments should target stimulus in the economy they need: one with more resilience and less pollution.
To that end, non-profit and industry leaders serving Canada’s clean energy industry –including renewable energy, energy efficiency, clean-tech, innovative biofuels, and electrical transportation–have submitted an open letter to Prime Minister Trudeau calling on the federal government to present clean-energy-focused stimulation to be able to build a better, more resilient economy.
Canada’s Clean energy industry is already part of our economic engine, employing 300,000 citizens of Canada in 2017. Federal and provincial climate and clean energy policies, if followed, stand to swell that number into 560,000 jobs by 2030 — jobs insulation houses, manufacturing electrical buses, operating hydro dams, building and maintaining wind farms.
And it’s a number that might be even higher. The shift to clean energy is where the growth possibility lies — and this growth could increase in scope and scale with government stimulus. So, where to direct it?
To begin, renewable power sources, transmission lines, and energy storage. More public transit, bicycle lanes, and walking trails. Renewable gas plants and clean fuel which draw on waste flows from municipal garbage, agriculture, and forestry. Electric vehicle charging stations and a national zero-emission transportation industry that spans trucks, buses, cars, and ferries. Energy-efficient buildings, factories, and homes.
And for all this building, let’s use Canadian-made, sustainably produced mass timber or low-carbon concrete and steel. Let’s use the minerals and metals abundant in Canada in those solar panels, wind turbines, and batteries.
To build this workforce, we want support for retraining and training Canadians whose previous jobs might not return. Many of these programs can and should start while unemployed people are sitting at home.
Investing in projects and people that advance the clean energy transition is the way we build a resilient economy. It’s the way we build the economy we want.
There’s another R word we would do good to remind: reactive. The world is wondering what could have happened if we took proactive steps to stem the coronavirus.
There’s a lesson here. For our energy system and the economy that fuels it, planning for change, instead of reacting to it, will leave us all better off.