Nov 6, 2023
The renewable revolution is here. Scientists, entrepreneurs, and policymakers—including Indigenous and industry leaders—are accelerating the transition to clean energy. But does Canada unanimously agree on the path to a more sustainable future? Philippe Dunsky, founder of Dunsky Energy + Climate Advisors, joins thinkenergy to discuss. From climate counsels and regional challenges to greener business practices and how to positively impact the clean energy and climate sectors. Listen to Episode 124 today.
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Dan Seguin 00:06
This is think energy, the podcast that helps you better understand the fast changing world of energy through conversations with game changers, industry leaders, and influencers. So join me, Dan Seguin, as I explore both traditional and unconventional facets of the energy industry. Hey, everyone, welcome back. Right now, there are scientists, entrepreneurs, policymakers, indigenous and industry leaders, helping to shape the direction that Canada will take to accelerate a transition to clean energy. Everywhere you look, whether it's academia, municipal, provincial, or federal governments, there's another council or committee being formed to address the most pressing issues of our time, climate change, from transitioning to sustainable energy sources, electrifying transportation, and improving energy efficiency to protecting our natural environment and reducing carbon emissions. One thing is for certain our country is embracing the renewable revolution, like never before. But those with seats at the decision table know that it must be done responsibly, and affordable. As we know, every region of Canada is unique and presents its own set of challenges and opportunities when it comes to tackling climate change, and ways to implement clean energy. So here is today's big question. How did we get such a vast and diverse country like Canada to agree on a pathway forward to a cleaner, greener and more sustainable energy future? Joining us today is Philippe Dunsky of Dunsky Energy and Climate Advisors, a consultancy firm that Philippe founded. It supports government, utilities, corporations across North America to accelerate their transition to clean energy. Phillippe, is the co chair of Canada's new Canada electricity Advisory Council, the co chair of efficiency Canada, and the director of the greater Montreal Climate Fund. He also previously chaired the Quebec government electrification Working Group. Welcome to the show, Philippe. Let's start by asking you this. Having just gone over some of your accomplishments, where does this passion for clean energy and climate come from? Where did it start?
Philippe Dunsky 02:44
So, so great to be here. By the way, thank you so much for having me. It started, I guess, I guess very early on. I'm Jewish background and grew up with, you know, endless stories about the Holocaust. And somehow that kind of morphed into just a general interest for world affairs and for big challenges, big societal challenges. And then as I was growing up, those became really focused on environmental issues. So that was the genesis. I became very, very interested in environmental issues. And then through that, and climate change in particular, as probably the greatest challenge of my generation, and for my generation. And then, I guess the other thing is, I've come to discover that I'm a pretty analytical guy. So I'm not a no great protester, I'm not a great to great movement leader, I tend to see a lot of gray, not so much black and white. And so that's how I ended up deciding to get involved in these issues. But, you know, in my own way through more of an analytical lens,
Dan Seguin 03:55
Okay, you've served and are serving on numerous councils, committees and boards. Can you tell us what has been the biggest takeaway you've learned through each collaboration? And how has it changed you?
Philippe Dunsky 04:11
Yeah, because each one does change you and changes your perspectives. Because ultimately, the biggest takeaway is that no matter how much I think I know this stuff and know this stuff. Well, and I've been working on energy issues for over 30 years now. And so, you know, I always end up thinking that I know the answer. What we discover is that, you know, there's not a single answer, there are many perspectives. And if you can combine knowledge with multiple perspectives, then you can come up with something that's hopefully going to be closer to that, you know, to that truth, or whatever you want to call it. My big learning is that every time you go into something like this, you go in with an open mind and an open heart. And if you do that, and you're listening to others perspectives, then you're bound to land on something that's a hell of a lot smarter. And then what you initially thought coming into it?
Dan Seguin 05:02
Okay, cool. Now, you were appointed chair for a recently formed Canada electricity Advisory Council. Can you tell our listeners who's on it? What is the mandate? And just how big of an undertaking is this?
Philippe Dunsky 05:19
Sure, I can start with the last question, by the way, that the undertaking, it's a really big issue, it's a really big challenge. On the other hand, the undertaking itself is time limited, it's a 12 month thing. So I'm a pumpkin and I turned into a pumpkin in May. It's been five months now. So I got another seven to go. From that perspective, that's the timing that we're looking at. Okay, Council itself is a group of 18 Canadians from across the country, every single, every single province, no exception. It's, it's extraordinary mix of individuals with an extraordinary mix of experience and perspective. So I'd say roughly half of council members are either current or former utility executives. The other half is a bit more of an eclectic mix of former regulators, we have people involved in the power production side of things, we have first nations leaders, so indigenous leaders, and a couple of others with different perspectives to bring to the table. But the really important thing here, I think, is that you're looking at the leadership level from every single province across the country. And that makes for really, really enlightening and challenging conversations as well. And then I guess you asked about the purpose or the mandate of the council. So I'll put it at a very, very fundamental level as a country, we're trying to largely decarbonize electricity by sometime in the middle of the 2030s. And we're looking to grow electricity, very substantially to decarbonize the rest of the economy. By 2050. That's that dual set of goals is at the heart of our mandate. And our mandate is to figure out what the feds can and must do. And at the same time, what can and must be done by others in the country, to help make this an easier journey, a more affordable journey. And ultimately, a more successful journey on the way there.
Dan Seguin 07:22
Okay, great segue here. Now, with respect to Canada's goal to achieve a 100%, Net Zero electricity system by 2035, you stated, "Is it better to optimize than maximize? Can you maybe break that down for us? And can you give us some examples?
Philippe Dunsky 07:41
Yeah, sure. I mean, you know, what I mean by that is, if all we do is say we want to decarbonize, there are many, many paths to do that. And, you know, we can say, hey, we're gonna, we're just gonna build, build, build, build, build until there's no tomorrow. And we could probably get there, doing nothing but that, but we'll get there in a less affordable way, than if we really think through the intricacies of what needs to be done. Yes, on adding, also on subtracting, so actually becoming more efficient in the way we use energy, relying more on consumers' involvement in the marketplace to achieve some of those goals. I just think there are quick ways to get to the goal, that ultimately, are going to cost too much and or create reliability issues. And if that happens, there'll be a backlash. And we'll never get to the goal. Alternatively, there, they're thoughtful ways that maybe aren't exactly the way we've always done things in the past, but that involve a lot more complexity and being able to wrestle with complexity and stuff. But ways that are focused on keeping this as affordable as possible, ultimately, for everyone across Canada, making sure that we do this in a way that's reliable, so we can always count on electricity being there. And in doing it in a way that actually involves some cooperation, as well.
Dan Seguin 09:04
So the electricity Council fulfills the minister's mandate to establish a pan Canadian grid Council. How viable is a pan Canadian electricity grid? Or are you seeing your movement in regional interconnections?
Philippe Dunsky 09:22
Yeah, so it definitely looks regional. Let me be really clear about that. And I know the original Originally, the name for the council was supposed to be the pan Canadian grid Council, as you pointed out, you'll also notice it, it was not it does not have that name. And there's a reason for that. And, and I will say, you know, and I've said this publicly many times, I don't believe that that's the right answer. We definitely need a lot more cooperation. at the regional level. There are a lot of opportunities for provinces to exchange more to continue exchanging with the US by the way, and this isn't, you know, we're not caught within, within our borders. So we have to do more on the cooperation side to keep costs down again, as low as possible to make this as smart and thoughtful and as achievable as possible. But that doesn't involve, you know, I love the old Coast to Coast Railway analogy. It's nice, it's working for railways. We're not talking about a single grid that goes coast to coast that's just not in the cards.
Dan Seguin 10:28
Now, for those who are not aware, can you tell us about your firm, its purpose, and what makes your approach unique, and particularly effective?
Philippe Dunsky 10:40
Sure, I mean, I'm thrilled talking about my firm. So these days, I spend so much time talking about look Council, which is kind of like my evenings and nighttime job, or evenings and weekend job. But my day job is running my firm, my firm is a group of over 50 professionals. Now, I think we're about 55 now that are dedicated exclusively to supporting clients in their clean energy transitions. And our clients typically are utilities and governments, increasingly large corporate clients as well, across Canada and across the US. So ultimately we work with utilities and governments that are in the throes of this energy transition, that are trying to figure it out. They're trying to find a way to help their customers navigate through it and a way for themselves to navigate through it, to define what the business case is for them and what their proper role is in it. And, and then we also have helped them in some of the nitty gritty. So, you know do you get customers involved on the demand side management side to reduce the pressure on right on the big build out? And all the capital is involved there? You know, what do we need to do to electrify vehicles, for example. So we've developed for some places, charging, charging infrastructure plans and charging infrastructure, business, business plans, strategies, investment plans, we work with, with our, with our customers in helping helping to decarbonize buildings through whether it's direct electrification, or hybrid heating systems without just the natural gas, depending on the on the need, we work with to decarbonize industrial loads, as well. And oftentimes, we're working with our utility customers to help them help their industrial customers decarbonize. So all of those things, and more and of course, planning out the whole transformation of the electricity system on the supply side, is a big part of it. That's a lot of what we do. It's hard to put in a single sentence. But the interesting thing, I guess, for us is, you know, ultimately, we're a consulting shop that is exclusively focused on the clean energy transition, we do nothing other than that. And, and I think that makes us pretty darn good at it.
Dan Seguin 13:02
That's perfect. Phillippe, your company emphasizes support in four focus areas, buildings, mobility, Industry and Energy. How were those identified? And can you maybe provide some specific projects or initiatives that have made a significant difference in the sector's?
Philippe Dunsky 13:25
Yeah, sure. And those sectors are, you know, 80 to 90%, of the energy equation, right. So they've grown over time, in a very deliberate manner, we started out working on the building side of the equation. So you know, what we call DSM or in Ontario, you call it CDM. Just to be different. But so we started out working on that. And then over time, we added mobility, especially electric mobility to our portfolio of expertise, and then built out from there, including on the generation and TND side, in terms of some examples. I mean, I'll be honest with you, we do well over 100 projects a year now. So there are a lot of different ones with a pretty large variety. But for example, I actually just came back from meeting with one of our clients, a large, large electric utility, where we've helped them to revamp their whole CDM approach. So that's, you know, from top to bottom, on the strategy side, on the regulatory side, and then on what the programs actually look like and how they operate and who they involve. In Ontario, we actually completed something I think is absolutely fascinating. I really enjoyed reading it. And that was a study of the potential of Drs. So distributed energy resources in Ontario to essentially keep the lights on, you know, we found 1000s of megawatts of exploitable resources there that you don't need to build because they're already there on the customer side of the meter. So stuff like that. We've worked with a lot of states in the US including California and New York designing, designing measure is to help their customers finance, the transition on their side, we've done a lot of work with, with utility executives helping them think through the strategy side of this, how am I going to actually the change management? How may I change my own utility to go from what it was in that steady state environment of the past 75 years to something that is a completely different beast in a very much more dynamic world. And it's focused on customer service and, and focused on transitioning the energy system as a whole. So, again, a pretty broad array of, of projects, but all of them. Absolutely. Absolutely exciting. And, and fascinating for me to be involved in and learn from.
Dan Seguin 15:45
Okay, now, wondering if you can speak to the importance of responsible and sustainable practices in the clean energy sector? And how has your company prioritized these principles in his work?
Philippe Dunsky 16:00
Yeah, sure. I mean, I mean, look, the world right now is looking to the energy sector to lead and to transform itself. And as we do that, you know, leaders have to have to walk the talk. So, you know, I'm, I'm very proud that most, if not all of my clients are doing that right now within their own operations. And my firm does that in our operations. I try to do that, in my own life, I've been driving nav for seven years. Now, it's a great way for me to, to, to lead by example, but also, quite frankly, to get a head and on the experience curve, and actually understand from personal experience, all right, what are the challenges of of EV ownership and what needs to happen to make it a more seamless process? So you know, that's on the personal side, my company, we're actually a B Corp. So we went through a process to be certified by an independent organization that looks at all of our practices, from soup to nuts. And in our score, our B Corp score has increased. Year over year, I think we started out somewhere about 80 Something points, and now we're at 119. So you know, it's just a process of continuous improvement, just like, just like all of our clients have to have to do.
Dan Seguin 17:12
Okay, cool. Now, we all know, there's always more every country can be doing to combat climate change. But it's complex. In your opinion, Philippe, how does Canada compare? Is it on the right track, and focusing its effort on the right initiatives?
Philippe Dunsky 17:34
Yeah, I think it's, I think Canada is, is definitely moving in the right direction. I think there have been a lot of very important policies brought forward over the past several years that I think, bring us forward. Are they all done exactly the way I would like them to be done? No, if I had a magic wand, would I do it a little bit differently? Probably, but directionally there. Actually, I think we're heading there. You know, that being said, it's a long and winding road. Right. And it will be for the next decade. So there will be setbacks, and there will be things that we're doing that are suboptimal. And that's a little bit part of life. So my job and the role I've kind of given myself and my firm is to help make that path as straight and narrow as it reasonably can be. But you know, recognizing that this is a big learning process and, and mistakes you're gonna make for sure.
Dan Seguin 18:31
Now, Philippe, what are some of the biggest challenges or even threats to achieving a clean energy future in the timeline set out by scientists and the government? How is your company positioned to address them?
Philippe Dunsky 18:46
The biggest challenges and threats and I'll decouple those questions, okay. Because I think that, from my perspective, there are enormous challenges. There's first and foremost, a challenge of time, right? Because what we're talking about if we're talking about, you know, getting to net zero or something like it by 2050. I mean, that's a single generation. So we're talking about literally transforming the backbone of modern economies in a single generation. That is, number one, because frankly, that's never been done before. We've done it within sectors, right, we've done we went from, from horse drawn carriages, to to you know, horseless horseless carriages. And you know, we've, we dumped manufacturer, gas and went, went to natural gas, and we've done individual changes like that before. We've never done all at the same time dealing with that and getting it done. The single generation is a race. And so I do think that time is probably the number one challenge number two challenge. And, you know, if you really take a take a step back here and think about what we're talking about it, it's largely from an economic standpoint, we're largely moving from optics to capex, and there's we're largely it moving from a context where whether it's utilities, or business owners or homeowners, today, we pay our bills, you know, we're buying fossil fuels, right, we're buying and burning the energy that we consume. And so that's an OP X thing. Now, what we're talking about is increasingly stuff, that's just all capital, if you think of, you know, going from a gas plant to, let's say, a wind farm, a wind farm is, you know, it's once and done all of the entire cost for next 20 years, or 95% of it goes in the ground on day one, that's moving objects to capex, it's a really big change. If you're thinking of it from a homeowner perspective, we're talking about, let's say, take my example, you know, I bought an Eevee, my Eevee cost a lot more than that my previous gas car did. On the other hand, I'm paying a hell of a lot less to keep it up to optics to capex. So there's a real challenge around getting enough capital for all this to happen, whether it's for large utilities or down to an individual homeowner or car owner, I think that's a real big challenge that we have a couple more, maybe I'll, maybe I'll stop there. And then the things that my firm is doing to address those, I mean, look, like I said before, on the timeline side, everything we're trying to do is just minimize errors, we're not gonna eliminate them, but minimize errors. So that that line between here and there can be as straight as possible, and as least painful as possible on the capital side, that's a very specific thing. But we actually do a lot of work developing innovative financing mechanisms that utilities and governments can offer to homeowners and business owners, to allow them to have access to the capital that they need, as they tried to save money on the operation side. So those are, those are a couple of them, anyhow.
Dan Seguin 21:57
Okay, Philippe, what do you want Canadians to know about the country's transition to clean energy that they might not already know or be aware of?
Philippe Dunsky 22:10
You know, I think, I think everyone is aware that this energy transition is really big, and it's gonna be really hard. Maybe the one thing I'll add on to it is, there's a lot of benefit on the other side of this. So a lot of benefit, you know, what we're talking about ultimately, is, is transformative in nature, it's the sort of thing that's happened. I'm thinking outside of the energy sector, but just holistically, these kinds of changes have happened a few times in the past 100 years or so. And they tend to always be ultimately about moral leadership to start. And so I think we need to think of this, first and foremost from the perspective of moral leadership, which is something that is one of the reasons why Canada has such a great, strong brand around the world, because we punch above our weight on the great moral issues of the times. And that was true when we went to help out Europe during World War Two, and that was that true. And we went Mulrooney led the boycott of South Africa under apartheid. I mean, we've stood up when we've needed to, that has positioned this country internationally in a way that I don't I'm not sure that we fully measure. This is one of those times. And so being at the forefront of this, I think is extraordinarily important for our country as a whole. That being said, there's also some really economic benefits at the end of this and flip it on its head to there's some real economic costs and risks if we don't do this, and if we don't get it right, well, one thing, one thing I'll point to, I remember about 10 years ago, being in conversations with some provincial governments about the possibility of governments eventually taxing imports of our products, if they're too carbon intensive, and the idea sounded a bit crazy back then we're recording this today on October 30 29 days ago, on October 1, Europe's carbon border adjustment mechanism came into effect for the first time. And that is effectively going to tax import of products from everywhere around the world based on their carbon content. So if we get ahead of this fast, if we succeed in this, if we lower our carbon content of what we produce, we've got a hell of a nice economic advantage at the end of it.
Dan Seguin 24:33
Now, what advice would you give to an aspiring entrepreneur or those looking to make a positive impact in the clean energy and climate sectors?
Philippe Dunsky 24:48
You know, my advice is it's gonna sound a little wishy washy, but it's just figuring out what you're great at. You know, everyone's great at something different so I have a hard time. I'm providing really concrete advice to people I don't know personally, but everyone's got their magic. Everyone's got their special exceptionalism. I think it's important to know who you are, know what you really like to do know where you excel, and then whatever that is, to the extent that you can bring that to service of a greater cause, whether it's climate, whether it's portability, whatever it is, I think that's just a beautiful thing. So I encourage everyone to ultimately lead a purpose driven life and, and lean on their own strengths wherever they may be.
Dan Seguin 25:35
Okay, that's fair. Lastly, Philippe, we always end our interviews with some rapid fire questions. Are you ready? Maybe. Okay, here we go. What are you reading right now?
Philippe Dunsky 25:51
Right now I'm actually sounding nerdy but I'm actually reading the CIA's 2030. Outlook, the latest 2030 outlook by the International Energy Agency. Absolutely fascinating read. If you're a nerd, like I am about energy.
Dan Seguin 26:04
Now, what would you name your boat? If you had one? Or maybe you do have one?
Philippe Dunsky 26:10
My boat? My boat is a canoe. And what would I name my canoe? I'm not sure. Maybe I named it the Power Canoe. One of the reasons I love canoes, by the way, is they're probably the most efficient way of getting from point A to point B on water. So I'm a big fan of energy efficiency and, and a canoe is just that.
Dan Seguin 26:31
Who is someone that you truly admire Philippe?
Philippe Dunsky 26:35
Oh, goodness, I admire so many people, I couldn't come up with a single name there. You know, I work with a lot of leaders who dedicate their time and energy and excellence to, for public purposes. And every single one of those I'm in deep admiration of, I'll maybe add one other group, the folks I work with here in my firm. I've never known a group of people as dedicated and passionate and smart and curious. As they are, they do inspire me.
Dan Seguin 27:05
Good, good. Okay. What is the closest thing to real magic that you've witnessed?
Philippe Dunsky 27:10
I'm from Quebec. So I'm a big fan of the circus, the modern circus, whether it's Cirque du Soleil, Cirque Éloize or les Sédois de la mayenne, they always amaze me and I'll always leave me spellbound.
Dan Seguin 27:24
Okay, next, as a result of the pandemic. Many of us are guilty of watching a lot of Netflix or other streaming platforms. What's your favorite movie or show?
Philippe Dunsky 27:38
You know what, I watched many different Netflix shows. These days. I'm just trying to think what's in bridgerton would be one of them right now. I'm really enjoying it.
Dan Seguin 27:52
Now, lastly, Philippe, what's exciting you about your industry right now?
Philippe Dunsky 27:58
What's exciting is the same thing that's exhausting me. And that's the pace of change. It's just an extraordinary time right now. And I'll tell you what's really exciting me is that five years ago, because this is all I do. Right? I'm a one trick pony. So I think about this every day. Five years ago, I felt pretty alone in seeing and understanding the pace of change that we needed today. I feel like pretty much every leader I speak with is very clear eyed about how big this is, how fast it's gotta go, the challenge that it represents, and the near the you know, the knowledge that we need to get going and get going in a big way. So that excites me.
Dan Seguin 28:37
Now, if our listeners want to learn more about you, or your organization, how can they connect?
Philippe Dunsky 28:44
Well, my organization's website is very simple. Dunsky.com. That's probably the easiest, easiest way. And if you want to connect with me, try [email protected] or my own email. The simplest email in the world is [email protected].
Dan Seguin 29:05
Well, Philippe, this is it. We've reached the end of another episode of the thinkenergy podcast. Thank you so much for joining us today. I hope you had a lot of fun.
Philippe Dunsky 29:15
It was fun. Thank you. I love your questions.
Dan Seguin 29:18
Thanks for tuning in for another episode of the think energy podcast. Don't forget to subscribe and leave us a review wherever you're listening. And to find out more about today's guests from previous episodes, visit thinkenergypodcast.com. I hope you will join us again next time as we spark even more conversations about the energy of tomorrow.