Forecasting Canada’s Net Zero Future with Three Leaders in Energy Transition

Thursday afternoon National Observer of Canada hosted what Deputy Managing Director David McKie described as a “kitchen table” discussion about Canada’s path to a net zero future. McKie was joined by three leading figures from the Canadian energy transition movement for a Conversations event to forecast the future of the country.

The free, hour-long panel event focused on the gap between Canada’s climate goals and the concrete action needed to meet them while supporting economic stability.

Merran Smith, CEO and founder of the Simon Fraser University think tank Clean Energy Canada, said that in many areas, solutions for an energy transition already exist. The biggest hurdle, Smith said, is reframing it not as a fight, but as an opportunity.

“We think of (climate action) as a pain,” Smith said. “’What will the cost be? How can my life not be so good? The first challenge for Canada is to understand the great opportunity of this action. It will mean change, but it doesn’t mean our economy is going to get worse. “

Smith said government policy across municipal, provincial and federal borders is necessary to incentivize business sectors to adopt the proposed changes. He noted that the transportation and oil and gas sectors account for 50 percent of Canada’s emissions, indicating the need to target these areas with a comprehensive policy.

Smith added that this does not necessarily come at a high price.

“I have good news, welcome to 2021,” he said, highlighting the lower cost of solar, wind and hydro along with the development of electricity storage technology. Smith also said that renewable energy production can offer more localized solutions that improve energy security rather than keeping communities dependent on imported energy.

Anne-Raphaëlle Audouin, President and CEO of WaterPower Canada, said the ambitious goals set the stage for ambitious action. He said Canada has an abundance of clean energy “ready in the starting blocks” but lacks the infrastructure to optimize its use, and the corresponding industrial demand for electricity.

“It hardly matters how much hydro, wind or solar power you have or can generate if the demand for electricity doesn’t increase,” Audouin said. “That’s really the trillion dollar question that underpins this entire transition.”

Once the infrastructure is in place, Audouin said provinces that lack clean energy resources can benefit from supplies from nearby provinces. “The provinces that are not very rich in hydroelectric resources, the good news is that they have neighbors that are,” he said. “We just need to unlock those possibilities.”

Dale Beugin, a senior economist at the Canadian Institute for Climate Options, highlighted the importance of what he called “safe bet” technologies, such as commercially available electric alternatives like heat pumps and electric vehicles, in the race toward Canada’s 2030 targets. .

To reach the net zero deadline of 2050, Beugin said “sure bets” might be enough, but “wild card” technology – technology that has not yet been tested on a large scale but holds promise in theory, such as catching carbon air or small modular technology. nuclear reactors – would probably be crucial.

“You don’t want to go all-in and put all your chips on those wild cards,” Beugin said, “but they could change things in a big way.”

Beugin also noted the importance of “demand-side increases” before the energy transition accelerates, which can be accelerated with a policy that pushes companies towards renewables.

Smith said the transition will require a rethinking of our national financial frameworks.

“Our finance ministries are more budget ministries,” Smith said. “The budget thinks in a cycle of three to five years, whereas we need to forecast 10, 20, 30 years. What are the industries that are going to grow in which we want to invest now? What are the industries that are going to be in decline? “

Both Audouin and Smith noted that our “mental model” and national identity are linked to resource extraction, an identifier that they said needs to change. Instead, all three panellists agreed that building a just and profitable transition can provide a new national cornerstone.

Beugin said the goal is “to make sure there is a level playing field, to drive investment into projects and companies that can be consistent with this zero net future, this prosperous future, but also this fair and equitable future.

“They all fit together if done right.”

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