Think Energy

Advancing Net Zero Part 1: 2022 Retrospective

Dec 19, 2022

We are at the start of an electrical revolution. A spark of change is flaming across the country – renewable energy, electrification, the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act. Conversations have become actions. Industries are united, working together to achieve Canada’s net-zero targets. In Episode 101 of the thinkenergy podcast, host Dan Séguin looks back at some of our favourite guests from 2022, sharing insights and ideas about the transition to net zero and how it’s shaping our future.

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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. This is the think energy podcast. And I'm Dan Seguin. With electrification, renewable energy, electric cars and policy to reduce our reliance on oil and gas. 2022 showed that we are at the start of an electrical revolution. 2022 marked a transformational year in numerous industries, the energy sector, the transportation sector, the building and construction sector and the technology sector. All of these industries became allies in the country's goal to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and work towards achieving Canada's Net Zero targets. The Canadian Net Zero Emissions Accountability Act, which became law on June 29 2021, enshrined in legislation Canada's commitment to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. But it was this year that we saw the momentum begin in a big way. For part one of our special holiday podcast, we're focusing on Canada's transition to net zero and how it will shape the future. I've gathered some of my favorite guests from the past year, and thought I'd reshare what they had to say about one of the biggest topics of the year. My first guest is Caroline Lee, mitigation research lead with the Canadian Climate Institute. According to the Canadian Climate Institute, the country's leading climate change policy research organization, all roads to net zero pass through electricity. I know we've mentioned this many times on the show, but it bears repeating how Canada produces some of the cleanest electricity in the world. 80% of the electricity generated across Canada comes from sources completely free of greenhouse gas emissions, Caroline does an excellent job at defining net zero. And the premise behind the Canadian Climate Institute report, The Big Switch,

Caroline Lee  02:44

Maybe I can start with this first explanation around what the net zero goal actually means, you know, Canada, just recently committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. And this is an ambitious goal. And what that means is that Canada has agreed to really zero out our emissions to get our emissions as close as we can to zero, and then whatever emissions are very expensive, or technically very difficult to get out of the economy than we offset in some way. So again, this is an ambitious goal, there's a lot that needs to be done, especially in electricity to support that goal. And the reason why we say all roads to net zero paths through electricity is that when we looked at all the studies that model a trajectory for Canada reaching net zero, there really was no credible path without this switch towards electricity. And without making the generation of electricity cleaner. So we really saw tackling electricity as being critical to the achievement of Canada's netzero goals. And maybe I can just say it and in simple terms, three key reasons why that switch is so important. So first of all, electricity itself when you use it, it doesn't burn fossil fuel, of course, so therefore, it doesn't release greenhouse gas emission. So we all know that if you're driving an Eevee, you're not generating greenhouse gas emissions directly. Now, of course, we also know that the production of electricity can generate emissions. So we can use fossil fuels like coal and natural gas to generate electricity. So that's where you can get some emissions. But what's really positive news in Canada and really around the world is that we're making quite significant progress, especially here in Canada, to reduce those emissions associated with producing electricity. And now that the federal government has a commitment to achieve Net Zero electricity by 2035. The country now has a clear mandate that we're going to be eliminating by and large those emissions associated with producing electricity. So that's a really big thing is that electricity in the future could really be this conduit. for using fully non emitting electricity from the beginning to the end. And then a third reason why electricity is so important is that it's just more efficient. So, driving an electric vehicle is actually three to four times more efficient than using fossil fuels to drive that vehicle. And that's because you lose so much more heat, there's a lot of energy that's wasted when you're combusting fossil fuel. So, because of those three reasons, electricity does seem to play a really critical role in achieving our climate goals.

Dan Seguin  05:31

My next guest is the renowned Catherine Ebru, Executive Director of Destination Zero. Catherine talks about the costs and the rising volatility that exists around the world when it comes to subsidizing fossil fuel sources. Catherine digs into how renewables are not only more reliable, but also more resilient than many people give them credit for.

Catherine Abreu  05:58

The concern over rising energy costs is a huge one. You know, we've actually seen that rear its head pretty substantially this year, in the late half of 2021, with rising energy costs across Europe, relating mostly to the rising costs of gas. And I think actually, a big lesson that we're learning from the energy cost crisis that many parts of Europe and other parts of the world are experiencing right now is that the fossil fuel market is actually quite volatile. And that volatility has impacted Canada quite a bit as a major oil and gas producer already. But it's starting to impact not only, you know, production and jobs related to that production of fossil fuels, it's starting to also now penetrate energy systems that rely on those fossil fuels. And so we need to be correcting for that volatility. And a part of how we do that actually, and this is maybe counterintuitive to a lot of folks, because there's a lot of misguiding rhetoric out there around renewable energy. But part of how we make energy systems more resilient is by incorporating more renewable energy and more distributed renewable energy generation into those systems. And then another important piece is energy efficiency. So you make those energy systems really lean as much as you can, by cutting energy waste, right? So we want to be making sure that we're not losing energy as it's transferred from where it's created to where it's used. We want to make sure that when it's used, it's used as efficiently as possible. And so those investments in energy efficiency help make the energy system more stable. And then when we make that energy system run on renewable energy, and when we're talking about renewable energy, we're talking about a mix here of water, when sun and storage, of course, then we see that there is a new kind of resilience put into that system. Because often those energy sources can help us lock in long term prices that are much more stable than the volatile energy prices associated with fossil fuels. So that is the kind of longer term solution that we're looking to hear about in the long run, that can really offer much lower and more stable energy prices for people. But unfortunately, we've heard a lot of misguided, or I think, intentionally misrepresented rhetoric around renewable energy and having a high cost. And the only reason that it appears to have a high cost is because fossil fuel energy has been subsidized so heavily for the last century by governments, that those fossil fuels tend to have an artificially lower cost. But we're paying for that artificially lower cost as taxpayers. And so part of the equation here is leveling out the playing field between fossil fuels and renewable energy by supporting the growth of renewable energy and stopping subsidies to fossil fuels.

Dan Seguin  09:03

My last guest on part one of our holiday retrospective episode is Robert Horning CEO of the Canadian Renewable Energy Association. Robert joined me back in February of 2022, and talked about why he believes when and solar are Canada's answer to decarbonizing the electricity system. He also details what it's really going to take to achieve Canada's netzero goals.

Robert Hornung  09:35

Well, I think first off, we have to sort of look at some of the research that's been done different studies that have looked at what are the pathways to get to net zero greenhouse gas emissions? We've just said it's an enormous challenge. How do we get there? And those studies consistently show that to get to net zero, you have to first and foremost decarbonize electricity production so that you're not producing greenhouse gas emissions from electricity anymore. And then you have to expand that electricity production because you're going to want to use that electricity to substitute for fossil fuels in areas like transportation and in buildings and industries. Now another thing that those studies consistently show is that the majority of that new electricity that we're going to need is going to come from wind and solar. And why is that? The simple reason is because wind and solar are the lowest cost options for new electricity production in the world today. And our vision developed an illustrative scenario, which is consistent with the findings of these netzero studies, which sort of assumes we're going to need to double electricity production, we assume that two thirds of that new electricity production is going to come from wind and solar. And that leads us to the calculation that that means you have to expand wind and solar to be in Canada tenfold in the next 30 years. And that's why it's an urgent call to action. That's a mammoth task. It's achievable. But we have to get started now. I mean, I think we're already starting to see some real evidence of this transition occurring, although we're at an early stage. So in the transportation sector, everyone's aware, we're moving towards a world dominated by electric vehicles in the future, you see it in the choices made by auto manufacturers, consumers, etc. Going forward. But it's really more about electric mobility. You also see a growing number of e-bikes, for example, going forward, we see increasing investments in the electrification of public transportation. So there's a real drive there in terms of the transportation sector. In terms of buildings, heat pumps are going to be critical as a technology that allows us to reduce our reliance on natural gas for heating purposes going forward. And within industry, within heavy industry, we already see announcements being made from steel producers who are switching to electric arc furnaces, the aluminum smelters, but are starting to electrify and across all of those areas, electrification is not the answer for everything. There, there are applications where electricity is not going to be the solution. But for many of those applications, you can actually use clean electricity to produce hydrogen, green hydrogen if it's produced from renewable electricity. And that green hydrogen can then be used to support things like freight transportation, or long distance transportation, or other industrial processes. So electricity really will have a central role to play. And again, we're starting to see that transition occur. But again, we have to accelerate those efforts especially if we're going to achieve our targets.

Dan Seguin  12:37

Net zero is going to continue to be a hot topic of conversations and 2023. Thanks for joining me for part one of our advancing Net Zero holiday special. Tune in on January 2 For part two. And thanks for listening, folks. Have a happy and safe holiday everyone. Cheers. Thanks for tuning in to another episode of The think energy podcast. And don't forget to subscribe and leave us a review wherever you're listening. And to find out more about today's guests or previous episodes, visit think energy I hope you'll join us again next time as we spark even more conversations about the energy of tomorrow.