We sat down with Robert Hornung, the President of the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) to chat about the global transition to a low-carbon future, what needs to happen to get there and how these two thoughts are showing up at this year’s conference.
Robert Hornung has been President of the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) since August 2003. He represents the interests of CanWEA members who are Canada’s wind energy leaders – wind farm owners, operators, project developers, consultants, manufacturers and service providers; and organizations and individuals interested in supporting Canada’s wind energy industry.
Robert is also a Board Member of the Global Wind Energy Council and was named a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society in 2009.
Check out the interview below and share your insights with us on social media using hashtag #CanWEA2017.
The world is in the midst of a global transition to a low-carbon future. Where does Canada stand relative to other countries?
Canada has been positioning itself to be a leader in the transition to a low-carbon future. Climate change science makes it clear that addressing climate change will require us to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 and a growing number of jurisdictions (e.g., Ontario, Quebec) have now formally adopted this target. The only way to do that, as studies have shown, is to have an extremely clean electricity system and to significantly increase the use of that electricity to offset the use of fossil fuels in other sectors.
Canada is in a positive position compared to other countries as we have an electricity system that is already at 83% non-greenhouse gas emitting. Hydro and nuclear are big electricity players but wind and solar energy are rapidly increasing their contributions to this clean grid. as well We’re blessed with an abundance of untapped renewable energy – hydro, wind, solar – and we’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible in terms of development in Canada.
As we look ahead to 2030, Canada is aiming to be at 90% renewable energy and the goal is to phase out coal completely by then. However, additional action will be required to truly stand up as a leader in clean energy. By 2050, we’ll want to be as close to 100% renewable energy as possible.
In short, Canada has an opportunity to lead the rest of the world in this transition to a cleaner electricity grid as well as set the standard for the provision of technologies and services that will help companies around the globe.
How has the Canadian Government’s support for carbon-free energy encouraged a more national outlook on (renewable) energy strategy/policy?
Within Canada, we’ve been talking about acting on climate change for a long time. It’s really only with this current government that we’ve seen significant steps taken to move forward as a nation to address climate change issues.
The Pan-Canadian framework, to address climate change, is now in place. Every province across the country, with the exception of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, have signed on and this is important because national buy-in will be what promotes the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
Adopting a national outlook is also important because the most efficient way to reduce emissions is going to be by working together. Electricity has typically been a provincial responsibility so we’ve tried to optimize the grid province by province. Unfortunately, optimizing it provincially means it’s less than optimal on a national basis. We’re seeing an increase in conversation around increased interconnection of our electricity grid across the country. If this happens, true change can occur.
When we think about inter-connectedness, we can look to provinces that have complementary electricity grids. For example, wind and hydro can be very complementary so having a more national approach to our planning and our use of electricity will benefit the country and help us reduce our greenhouse gas emissions as a whole.
Our current government, and the provinces who have signed the Pan-Canadian framework, are leading the climate change conversation and truly paving the way forward.
How has the global transition to a low-carbon future influenced the program for this year’s conference?
When we talk about a global transition to a low-carbon future, we need to look at cleaning the electricity system that we currently have as well as expanding our use of the system. Electricity is set to see an evolution in three distinct areas:
- More inter-connectedness in the electricity grid – we’ll see a much more networked and broad-based system, which will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions
- Electricity production from a greater diversity of technologies – wind and solar are two that are in place now but we’ll also see new clean energy sources such as geo-thermal, tidal power and wave energy
- De-centralization of electricity – we’ll start to see generation at a variety of scales and not just at large power plants, for example: energy generation at the community or home level
The conference is set to look toward the future to explore how these evolutions will strengthen the grid and make it much more robust – not just for the wind market but for the entire grid as a whole.
During the conference, we’ll also look at topics such as:
- Disruptive technologies – what this means for wind, how it affects the grid and what it means for those involved in this industry
- Higher electricity use – what are the drivers for an increase in electricity consumption, what is the role that electric vehicles will play and more
- Exports and opportunities – Canada has a grid that is 83% non-emitting today but most countries are not in that position. The conference will look at the opportunities that exist in the export of clean electricity to the United States
- The low-carbon future and what it means for the industry – we’ll explore how much electricity is needed and where, which technologies will contribute to that future and how the electricity grids need to evolve to keep up with changing demands
There are many great topics to explore during the conference and all of them will help further the conversation around the future of wind and renewable energy.
Which conference topics are you most excited about for this year’s annual conference and why?
I think we’re on the cusp of a pretty fundamental transformation. I’m extremely happy to see that the conference is looking at the impact of climate change on not just wind energy but rather the electricity system as a whole. As we continue to have these conversations and look for the best solutions, our industry needs to consider areas like technology, market design, demand drivers, etc. from a systems perspective. These are all conversations that reflect the key debates and discussions that are happening right now in the electricity sector.
We’ll also dive deeper into the role that wind has to play while also remembering that wind is not the only solution. For example, we will also consider the role of energy storage in the electricity system of the future. I’m pleased to see that wind will be able to interact and engage with other technologies to produce a solution that will help get us to where we want to go.
Here’s the stark truth: wind energy alone cannot provide the complete answer but renewable energy can. The combination of various energy sources will allow the electricity sector to provide Canadians with clean, affordable and renewable electricity in the future. There’s tremendous opportunity in the industry and this conference allows us to explore that.
What are the biggest opportunities for the wind energy industry across Canada?
The biggest opportunities today for wind energy in Canada, in my opinion, exist in Western Canada. In the immediate sense, strong commitments have been made by the governments in Alberta and Saskatchewan to dramatically increase the use of renewable energy. Alberta wants to build 5,000 MW by 2030, most of which will be wind. This would be a quadrupling of wind energy in the province.
Both provinces are currently holding their first procurements, which are meant to be the first in a series. Being a competitive process, they are likely to produce the lowest cost wind energy seen to date in Canada. These are present today as live opportunities, which will also be on-going at the time of the conference.
Wind has been the leading source of new generation in Canada for the past decade. Today, wind has demonstrated that it is cost-competitive. Wind’s main competition from a cost perspective, natural gas, is likely to become less competitive with carbon pricing, which will shortly take effect. Soon, wind will be cheaper than all other alternatives. This is great for the industry because anytime a new jurisdiction is looking to build new electricity, wind will be top of the list in terms of consideration.
Canada is currently the 8th largest wind producer in the world, so we’re well positioned to take advantage of the opportunities as we move forward.
Where do you see the next market opportunities emerging in 2018 and beyond?
New opportunities will emerge in three demand driver areas:
- Reduce greenhouse emissions directly – we’re seeing that in Alberta and Saskatchewan and will continue to see this occur through to 2030
- The export of wind energy to the United States – a recent request for proposals for clean electricity in Massachusetts has clearly demonstrated strong interest in exports of Canadian wind energy on both sides of the border
- The electrification of other technologies – as we electrify – with the use of electric vehicles increasing, electricity in heating and cooling buildings, etc. – this will open up additional opportunities
These emerging opportunities, reflective of the cost-competitiveness and climate friendly aspects of wind energy, will ensure the long-term viability and sustainability of wind energy in Canada moving forward.