Spotlight Activity: Canada is Taking Steps Forward to 100% Use of Renewable Energy
Canada has considerable non-emitting renewable resources and hydropower. The National Energy Board (NEB) reported in 2018 that roughly 82% of Canada’s electricity was generated from: hydro/wave/tidal 61%, wind 5.5%, biomass/geothermal 1%, and solar 0.7%. Wind and solar technologies are seen as competitive. Nuclear 14% is listed in this mix, however many will argue nuclear is not a clean energy given public concern over the risk of accidental release of its long-lived radioactive waste that must be isolated and stored from the biosphere for thousands of years. Fossil fuel use for electricity includes coal 9.1%, natural gas 8.3%, and oil 0.4%.
A May 2019 report, ‘Zeroing in on Emissions’, from the David Suzuki Foundation advises that much of Canada’s power is already non-emitting, and that strong consensus exists among researchers that it’s possible to accelerate this trend to meet our climate goals. Canada will not be able to decarbonize its energy system, however, unless provinces and utilities aggressively dial down the emissions associated with electricity generation to zero and generate much more clean power than today.
British Columbia, Manitoba, Quebec, and Newfoundland have an abundance of hydroelectric power. Ontario and New Brunswick also rely on nuclear. The Suzuki Foundation notes Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia still rely on coal to generate electricity. Together, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario account for almost 90% of natural gas–generated electricity in Canada, and new natural gas plants are still being built. Even with federal climate policies proposed or in place, including federal regulations requiring coal plants to retire or be equipped with carbon capture and storage units by 2030, Canada must prioritize clean electricity with additional policies to reach its existing 90% national non-emitting electricity target by 2030 and a 100% renewable energy electricity target for its government buildings by 2025.
This report goes on to say criticism of 100% renewable scenarios has focused on the ability of variable renewable energy sources to reliably meet demand, their cost relative to nuclear power, carbon capture and storage; the feasibility of constructing sufficient energy storage to ensure reliable energy supply, the feasibility of transitioning to a hydrogen-based liquid fuel system, the lack of spatial detail in models to create the scenarios, and the feasibility of the assumed rapid energy efficiency gains. Questions remain as to whether and at what cost a 100% renewable scenario can supply Canada’s electricity where demand has grown substantially by 2050.
Policy incentives and declining costs are driving signiﬁcant growth in the use of renewable generating technologies. Our relatively clean grid means building on Canadian soil will have a lower carbon footprint likely than elsewhere. A May 2019 report from Clean Energy Canada shows not only is Canada’s clean energy sector growing faster than the rest of our economy (4.8% versus 3.6% annually between 2010 and 2017), it is also attracting tens of billions of dollars yearly.
Pricing estimates for renewables and fossil fuels vary – see http://www.cleanairalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/3OPTIONS.pdf.
Accounting for social and environmental costs of energy, and subsidies to different energy providers, gives a clearer picture of the true costs which include carbon emission costs, climate change impacts, decommissioning, and waste disposal. If those costs were always listed, the economic case for renewable sources would strengthen. For more renewable details, visit https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/renewable-energy-facts/20069.
Moving forward, collaboration across jurisdictions can support renewable energy advantage to increase reliability, electricity trade, capacity and the sustainability of our electricity systems.
Status: Moving Forward
To request action, please contact Minister of Natural Resources, Amerjeet Sohi, with the following message:
We ask the federal government to integrate functions of energy, climate, and economic development as a fundamental governance and structural issue, in sustaining a low-carbon economy prioritizing renewables and our global emission targets (see Canada’s Generation Energy Council report 2017).
Send Action Alert Message to:
The Honourable Amarjeet Sohi, Minister of Natural Resources
Mail: House of Commons, Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6
Phone: (613) 992-1013