The Evolving Energy Landscape of Canada
By Aissam Souidi*
*This article was written by Aissam Souidi, and selected as the winning essay for the EnergyRates.Ca College Scholarship 2020. Souidi is an Engineering (Chemical) student at McGill University.
Fossil fuels have helped humans revolutionize industries since the mid-1700s. For a very long time, our societies relied on the linear economy model where more energy was used to scale production capability while ignoring potential consequences on the environment. However, as greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions continue to rise, the transition towards more renewable sources of energy has become inevitable to mitigate the current climate crisis. Furthermore, as part of the Paris agreement on climate change, the Canadian Government submitted its intended national determined contribution (INDC) goal which will allow to reduce the GHG emission by 30% below the 2005 levels by 2030 (Wiseman, 2015).
One of the most promising renewable energy sources in Canada is Hydropower. In fact, the abundance of hydropower allowed the electricity production in some provinces such as Quebec to be completely decarbonized. Additionally, the residential price of electricity in QC (8c/kWh) is one of the lowest in Canada (Hydro-Quebec, 2018). The latter attracted many energy heavy industries to settle in QC including the production of aluminum. Therefore, I am convinced that hydropower is one of the main energy sources that will continue to shape the future of the economy in Canada.
Nevertheless, most of the energy consumed in Canada comes from fossil fuels, more particularly petroleum products and natural gas (IEA, 2017). Consequently, most of the GHG emissions come from sectors that still rely heavily on fossil fuels such as transportation. Thus, if we want to incorporate cleaner energy sources, we need to rethink our transportation system. While batteries seem to be the best solution for small-sized vehicles, I personally believe that renewable natural gas (RNG) is one of the most viable options for heavy vehicles such as trucks. The main advantage of RNG, is that it has a similar chemical composition (i.e. mostly methane) to natural gas (NG). Additionally, the main sources for RNG include food waste that ends up in the landfills and wastewater sludge (AFDC, 2019). Therefore, encouraging RNG will contribute to a sustainable circular economy. That being said, NG is still very cheap and the future of RNG production will greatly depend on the evolution of the price on Carbon.
Wind power is another energy source that is slowly being included in the mix. The main challenge of wind power is the intermittency of generation. Overcoming this will require efficient energy storage solutions. Another challenge is the amount of land needed to establish wind farms. However, floating offshore wind turbines that are anchored to the ocean floor can increase the economic feasibility, for example, the Hywind project on the North Sea of Norway (Equinor, 2020).
There are yet many milestones to ensure the prosperity of renewables in Canada. Furthermore, the value of carbon will be the main factor driving the need for renewable sources. However, I believe that we are on the right track towards a sustainable economy and I am very optimistic about technological innovation, especially in the fields of energy storage and carbon capture.
AFDC, A. F. D. C. (2019). Renewable Natural Gas Production. Retrieved from https://afdc.energy.gov/fuels/natural_gas_renewable.html
Equinor. (2020). What is Hywind? Retrieved from https://www.equinor.com/en/what-wedo/hywind-where-the-wind-takes-us.html
Hydro-Quebec. (2018). Comparison of Electricity Prices. Retrieved from http://www.hydroquebec.com/residential/customer-space/rates/comparison-electricityprices.html
IEA, I. E. A. (2017). Sankey Diagram – Canada Retrieved from https://www.iea.org/sankey/#?c=Canada&s=Balance
Wiseman, V. (2015). Canada Submits INDC. International Institute for Sustainable Development Retrieved from http://sdg.iisd.org/news/canada-submits-indc/