Western Canada, Land of “Renewable” Opportunity

I imagine if you check, Alternate or “Renewable” Energy is probably one of the top trending topics in the world.  Everyone knows we need to address our energy issues, such as environmental impact, rising cost of production and/or distribution or even political influence created by dependence on certain forms of energy.  Western Canada is certainly no exception to this rule and they are as motivated as anyone to find “renewable” options for energy.  We’re taking a look at three areas that may impacting this move to renewables.

 

POLITICAL PRESSURE

Countries all over the world are setting forth specific commitments regarding the lowering of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions.  UN negotiations are under way to develop a new international climate change agreement that will cover all countries. The agreement is expected to be adopted by all parties in December 2015 at the Paris climate conference.  Implementation of the agreement will be by 2020 and will be a “protocol”, which is ‘an agreed outcome with legal force’, and will be applicable to all Parties.

The election of Liberal Party representative, Justin Trudeau, to the role of Prime Minister ensures that Canada will be represented at the Paris conference.  Trudeau has made a plan to hold a Ministers Meeting within 90 days following the Paris conference to work with the various provinces and gain their commitments. Trudeau has indicated a desire to phase out subsidies for the fossil fuel industry and to create national emissions-reduction targets.  This Canadian political attention to climate change and renewable energy will prove to be a major impetus for areas, such as the Western Provinces, to expand their renewable energy plans.

 

ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS

Even without the political motivation referenced above, Western Canada has reason to want to jump on board the reduction of GHG emissions train. Of all the greenhouse gas emissions that result from electricity generation in Canada, over half of them come from Alberta, according to the article Creating an Alberta Advantage for Renewable Energy, printed in the “Calgary Herald” 01/09/2015. GHG emissions are viewed as the key metric in evaluating environmental progress, and Alberta needs a significant increase in its use of renewable energy.

According to Greening the Grid Fact Sheet on “re.pembina.org”, Alberta currently relies on dirty, wasteful technology. Electricity generates 80% of Alberta’s airborne mercury pollution and 30% of its acid rain-causing Sulphur oxide emissions. Power plants draw the second highest volume of water in Alberta, after irrigation, 4% of which (water allocated for cooling) is never returned to its watershed. Two-thirds of the energy found in coal that is burned is lost out the smoke stack.

Needless to say, this is just a few examples of the environmental damage currently being caused within the Western Provinces.

 

OPPORTUNITY

We’ve talked a bit about why we have to look at increasing renewable energy sources, but probably the biggest motivation to make this move is in why we should want to make the switch.  In a word, it is OPPORTUNITY.

Alberta can proudly claim to the place where Canada’s first wind farm was built over 20 years ago. This gives them the honor of being the province with the longest record of experience in this space. However, Alberta is no longer the leader in wind energy, having been surpassed by Ontario and Quebec in 2008.  Currently over 5% of the electricity market in Alberta is provided by wind, but they are taking advantage of less than 1% of the estimated total wind energy potential in the province.  That is definitely OPPORTUNITY knocking. The Success of the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) Annual Conference & Exhibition, hosted this year in Toronto, cemented Canada as a major player in the world’s wind energy market. The show will return to Calgary in 2016, highlighted by Alberta’s new government and resulting policy developments, and continue to support the country’s strongest renewable energy markets.

Renewable Energy comes in many forms, most of which depend on sunlight. Heating of the Earth’s surface causes air to move (wind) and precipitation to form as the air is lifted (hydroelectric). Sunlight is converted and collected (solar). Stored sunlight contained in plants is biomass energy. Seems that sunlight is a key factor in any serious discussion of “renewable energy”.  Fortunately Western Canada has plenty of that. In a recent study reported by Liz Osborn on “CurrentResults.com”, 6 of the top 10 Sunniest Cities in Canada are in the Western Provinces.

Alberta and Manitoba both have undeveloped hydropower resources.  Currently Manitoba is internationally recognized as a clean-energy leader and is leading the country in geothermal heat pump installations. Manitoba also has dramatic investments in wind power.  Wind power is one of the most competitive forms of renewable energy and is the fastest growing energy source in the world. It is becoming increasingly cost effective.  Manitoba has one of the most significant wind resources in Canada.

When it comes to cost effectiveness, Solar isn’t to be overlooked. Alberta is currently in the midst of a mini solar boom.  At the end of 2010 there were only 80 homes producing their own solar electricity in Alberta. According to the Canadian Solar Industries Association (CanSIA) and the provincial government, in July of this year there were between 1,100 and 1,350.  That’s a boom. Solar Energy used to be solely an environmental choice, but with a drop in the cost of solar panels, it is becoming an economic choice as well. CanSIA’s Solar West Conference, held in October, was an overwhelming success, positioning Western Canada as an undeniable centerpiece to the future of green energy in Canada. Looking forward, the 2015 edition of Solar Canada Conference & Exposition, slated for December 7th & 8th in Toronto, will welcome the entire solar industry spectrum – Canadian and international – and continue to support Western Canada, and  the nation as a whole, as a premier global opportunity in solar.

There is no doubt that Western Canada has the means, motive and opportunity to be both a leader in Canadian renewable energy, and a driver for Canada to continue its path as a key piece in the world’s transition to a green future.