Feb 28, 2022
The push to “electrify'' everything as a way to meet Canada’s net-zero goals is strong, but is it really the answer to everything? Should we start looking towards energy efficiency ahead of electrification? Robert Hornung, President and CEO of Canadian Renewable Energy Association, joins this episode of thinkenergy to discuss the benefits of using solar and wind energy to help decarbonize the electricity grid. He also enlightens us on how investing in renewable energy has the potential for significant job creation across Canada, and what a national clean electricity standard could look like.
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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, and my co-host, Rebecca Schwartz, as we explore both traditional and unconventional facets of the energy industry. Hey, everyone, welcome back.
Rebecca Schwartz 00:32
On today's show, we're going to talk about renewables and the role that they play in reaching Canada's Net Zero targets.
Dan Seguin 00:39
The journey to net zero is one that will take us down a long and winding road with plenty of bumps, potholes, twists, and turns. But what about the scale and speed at which we should go? A recent report says that Canada is currently not on track to meet its targets.
Rebecca Schwartz 01:01
But the most pressing target is the one that Canada has set to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 45%, below 2005 levels all by 2030. But what's needed to accelerate electricity, decarbonisation and increase production for a cleaner national electricity grid? Is it renewables like wind, solar and energy storage?
Dan Seguin 01:25
Now, Canada's electricity system, like most systems around the world, was designed as a one way street, to generate, transmit, and deliver electricity to consumers. That's it. But as technology evolved, so has the expectations of Canadians and the demand to update our electricity grid to be two way interactive system. This includes supporting electric vehicles, energy storage, smart grid technologies, smart home technologies, home generation, and a host of other innovations. Rebecca, did you know that there is now a push to electrify everything? Virtually the entire auto industry has moved its investments in research and development to electric vehicles. Climate plans in cities, provinces, and countries are calling for radically improved energy-efficiency in buildings and the use of electric heat pumps to heat them. That could mean that we'll need twice as much electricity by 2050 as we do today. To get there, we need to expand our renewable fleet - tenfold.
Rebecca Schwartz 02:44
Via its report entitled Powering Canada's Journey to Net Zero. The Canadian Renewable Energy Association has issued a wake up call - a call to action for governments, utilities, regulators, electricity system operators and industry. To get Canada started on the path to meeting its commitment to net zero by 2015. Canada's electricity grid is the root directory of the Canadian economy, it will be very hard for other sectors to reach net zero if the electricity they use produces carbon emissions.
Dan Seguin 03:19
So here'stoday's big question: Is solar, wind and energy storage, the most economical way to decarbonize the electricity grid, and help Canada reach its netzero goals. And to help steer this conversation and a clear path. We've invited Robert Hornung, the president and CEO at Canadian Renewable Energy Association. His association engages Canadians to enable the responsible and sustainable deployment of wind energy, solar energy, and energy storage solutions to power Canada's energy future. According to Robert, there is no greater threat to our planet than climate change. Renewable energy is part of the solution. And it is also a great growth opportunity for Canada's green economy future.
Rebecca Schwartz 04:18
Robert, thank you so much for joining us today. I guess we'll just jump right in with our first question about your vision document Powering Canada's Journey to Net Zero, which talks about a wake up call - an urgent call to action for governments, utilities, regulators and the electricity industry? Wondering if you can unpack this for me and for our listeners?
Robert Hornung 04:41
Certainly. I mean, we produce this vision document because of, frankly the threat that we all face because of climate change and trying to identify and quantify the role of wind energy, solar energy and energy storage and helping us to address that challenge. And I mean, the challenges is a significant one. I meam, Canada has made a commitment now to move to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. So essentially 100% reduction in emissions from today. And between 2005 and 2019, emissions only fell by 1%. So our vision speak about an urgent call to action. Because it's clear, we need to dramatically accelerate the scale and the speed of our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, if we're going to have any hope at all of meeting those targets. And from our perspective, it's well understood that we're going to need a significant increase in the use of wind, solar and energy storage if those targets are to be achieved.
Dan Seguin 05:41
Okay, Robert. You've said that wind energy, solar energy and energy storage will be at the core of Canada's energy transition, but needs to expand tenfold? What makes renewables at scalable solutions to meet the electricity production required by 2050?
Robert Hornung 06:06
Well, I think first off, we have to sort of look to some of the research that's been done different studies that looked at what are the pathways to get to net zero greenhouse gas emissions? We 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 gonna want to use that electricity to substitute for fossil fuels in areas like transportation and, and buildings and an industry. 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 our 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 then. That that means you have to expand wind and solar has 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.
Rebecca Schwartz 07:31
Now at the top of your to do list for Canada, you start with the decarbonisation of our country's electricity production by the year 2035. Could you expand on why you feel this is critical to the 2015 zero timeline?
Robert Hornung 07:45
Yeah, sure. And I should start by noting that Canada has actually made a commitment to move to a netzero electricity grid by 2035. And that's consistent with guidance that's been provided by the International Energy Agency, which in looking at pathways to netzero concluded that if industrialized countries are going to get there by 2050, they need to decarbonize grids by 2035. And why is that? Well, it's because at the end of the day, when we're talking about climate change, we're worried about getting to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Yes. But we're also worried about the cumulative emissions that are going to be produced between now and 2050. It makes a big difference if we're steadily reducing, as opposed to just dropping off at the very end. And in that context, if you recognize the importance of electrification, in terms of moving to net zero, the sooner we have a clean decarbonized electricity grid, the sooner we can benefit from the actions taken to electrify transportation or to electrify buildings, and we can maximize the emission reductions associated with that. So that's really what the driver is to say, do that now because it pays off in multiple ways, because we also ended up being able to reduce emissions and other sectors more quickly as a result.
Rebecca Schwartz 09:02
Now, just a quick follow up - you know, in the report that Canada is not on track yet, and that there's little discussion about scale and speed. What needs to happen ASAP, so we don't fall behind.
Robert Hornung 09:15
Yeah, I mean, I think I'll just be first maybe a little bit about that scale, speed and scale. You know, we talked earlier about needing to grow wind and solar tenfold in the next 30 years. What does that mean? So we've looked at that, and we said, well, that means that for the next 30 years, every year, we would have to build wind and solar out at a rate that's eight times faster than the average rate we've been building it out over the last five years. And the later we get started, the more we have to build after that, and it becomes even more challenging going forward. So there's a real driver and a real need to move quickly and get started on this process. And so as we mentioned earlier, so we've identified a to do list terms of work we need to do to enable that. And it has a number of different factors. We need to look at putting in place foundational policies that sends signals to investors about the direction we're going in and provides them with confidence that they can proceed with investments. We need to reform electricity market structures and regulatory frameworks to adapt for the introduction of significantly more renewables in the grid. We need to build new electricity infrastructure, if we're doubling the size of the electricity grid, we need new infrastructure. We also need to accelerate our efforts towards electrification so that there's demand for this renewable electricity when you're putting it out into the grid. And finally, we need to put in place processes that actually allow us to procure that new renewable electricity going forward. In Canada, we have massive, untapped wind and solar energy resources. So it's not a question of do we have the resource we do? It's, can we capitalize on it and mobilize quickly enough to be able to take advantage of it?
Dan Seguin 11:03
That's a great segue. In your view, how can we decarbonize electricity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Canada's transportation, buildings, and industry sector?
Robert Hornung 11:16
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, so 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, that are starting to electrify. And across all of those areas, electrification is not the answer for everything. 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, extremely if we're if we're going to achieve our targets.
Dan Seguin 12:53
Okay. Now, Robert, can you expand as to why it's so critical to rethink Canada's electricity infrastructure investments, and work to minimize the cost to expand electricity production? What is the low cost advantage that renewables have?
Robert Hornung 13:13
Well, I think, you know, I think we have to start from a recognition that when we're talking about doubling electricity supply, we're going to need more infrastructure to move that electricity around. But we also know that electricity infrastructure, like transmission is expensive. It takes a long time to build. It's complicated in terms of getting all the approvals you're going to need and stuff to do that. And so our first priority actually has to be to try and use our existing infrastructure more efficiently. And in that sense, right now we design our transmission system so that it's able to serve us when we have our highest electricity demand. So, at peak times that it can do that. We're only at peak times for a small amount of time, which means most of the time our transmission system is actually underutilized. So, how do we increase the efficiency with which we use that? That's where we can use a whole range of technologies, distributed energy resources, energy storage, that can help us to shift that peak time, such that we're able to use that transmission resource more fully and more consistently going forward. And we call that non-wires alternatives, in terms of looking at options instead of building up and transmission. And that's going to be really important going forward simply because as we look at the scale of the transformation we need to move towards netzero. We want to do everything we can to reduce costs to go forward and do that. And those distributed energy resources can play a really important role in helping us to reduce those infrastructure costs.
Rebecca Schwartz 14:51
So Robert, how can Canada modernize its electricity, markets and regulatory structures to enable the lowest cost pathway to grid decarbonisation and expansion?
Robert Hornung 15:02
So I think the first thing we have to recognize is that our electricity markets and our and the regulatory structures in the electricity system and regulatory frameworks are really designed for the electricity system of today and of the past. And the electricity system of the future is going to be different than the one of today. And it's going to be different because we have a whole range of disruptive technologies entering the electricity sector, just as we've seen in many other sectors across the economy. And those disruptive technologies are fundamentally transforming our electricity system. We're shifting away from a system which used to be a one-way system where you had a big generators and power over transmission line to a user to a system now where it's a two way system, where users also generate electricity. And so electricity is flowing back and forth across the system. And our regulatory frameworks weren't designed with that in mind. And what we find now is that although these the introduction of these new disruptive technologies, whether it's solar energy storage, or smart grid technologies. The introduction of these different technologies introduces more complexity into the system, but it also increases our options and gives us a much broader range of tools, which we can use to provide the services that we need to have to ensure an efficient and reliable grid. And so when we look forward at how we need to reform electricity markets,and regulatory frameworks in the future, we want to do is we want to capitalize on that, on those new disruptive technologies. And want to remove barriers to their introduction, we want to ensure that they have the opportunity to participate in the electricity system. And then we also want to ensure that we're setting up the system so that there is competition to provide services, and that at the end of the day, you know, if we have five different kinds of technologies from provider liability service, that's great! Let's choose the lowest cost one and move forward. And so it's really a tremendous benefit that we're seeing here. And again, a lot of disruptive technologies we've seen in other sectors are doing the same sort of thing, right. They're providing an opportunity to reduce costs and be more efficient going forward. Same things happening with electricity. And in fact, I would argue that in the electricity sector, you know, our biggest challenge, in some ways is not the technology challenge, in terms of how we can decarbonize the grid and move forward. It's the regulatory challenge and the market framework. And that, in that we have technologies that we can't fully implement, deploy and utilize at this point in time, and that's what we need to adjust.
Dan Seguin 17:43
Now, Robert, you've mentioned that Canada's wind, solar and energy storage industries are up for the challenge, and are eager to start building and delivering significant new capacity required to enable Canada to achieve its netzero goals. What's the next step to kick start this?
Robert Hornung 18:04
Well, I mean, the true answer is there's no single next step. There's a whole series of next steps, right. In terms of moving forward as we outlined in order to do this, but I think a key fundamental one, is putting in place the sort of cornerstone policies, I would call them. The ones that send signals into the marketplace and to investors that say, this is the direction we're moving, you can count on the fact that we're moving in this direction, and therefore you can make investment decisions based on that. And two examples of that: So one is the concept of the clean electricity standard, decarbonizing the grid by 2035. If there's a requirement in place, a legal requirement that the electricity grid is gonna have to be decarbonized by 2035, that sends a very clear signal to investors, we better find the lowest cost way to do that, and you start exploring those options. Carbon pricing is another one. And we have in Canada, we do have a carbon price in place, we've got a direction sort of outlined in terms of where that price is going to 2030. It would be useful to have a longer term perspective on that for investors. And the other thing that's critical is we need to make sure that that carbon price is actually having an impact on decision. So in the electricity sector, specifically, the way the carbon price framework is designed federally, existing natural gas facilities are essentially fully sheltered from the carbon price. So they really have no incentive from the carbon price to actually go and seek greater efficiencies or to consider alternatives. And so we need to ensure I think, within the electricity sector, that if we have a carbon price that everything is exposed to it, and you're getting that signal and that we have clarity as to how that signal is changing over time. I think if we have those fundamental policies in place, then that provides an incentive for people to start thinking about building infrastructure people to start thinking about how we reform regulartory frameworks, those foundational policies sort of get the ball rolling.
Rebecca Schwartz 20:04
Okay, great. So what does a national clean electricity standard even look like? And why is it so important? And can you talk a little bit to some of the biggest barriers for collaboration?
Robert Hornung 20:16
Yeah, I mean it's fundamentally, I guess, at its heart, it's a simple tool. It's setting a standard for electricity generators as to how much greenhouse gas emissions they can emit. And I'm sure that standard will be set in terms of how many, you know how many greenhouse gas emissions you emit per kilowatt hour, megawatt hour of electricity produced, and presumably, it will be designed so that number declines steadily and approaches zero by the time we get to 2035. So, you know, that's the federal government can put in place a standard like that, and it's going to apply across the country. How that's actually implemented, will vary everywhere. Every province has a unique electricity grid, unique set of electricity generation today, a unique set of options for future electricity generation. So the pathway to get to net zero in the electricity grid is going to differ from province to province. We do know that if provinces do more to collaborate, if provinces do more to interconnect their electricity grids, it will provide each of them with more options in terms of trying to move towards net zero. And generally more options means more flexibility and ways to reduce cost. So collaboration in that sense, is quite important in terms of, again, trying to seek out the lowest cost opportunities to meet the objectives that we're setting.
Dan Seguin 21:47
Okay, you touched on this earlier growth. Let's now look at the potential for growth. And are distributed energy resources poised to provide increased opportunities for homeowners and small businesses to demand on site, renewable energy generation. Any examples you could share with us?
Yeah, well, I mean, to start, I would say that, yes, there's significant potential. I would say actually enormous potential for growth in terms of the distributed energy resources going forward. And I think we see that in terms of the growing number of,businesses and industries that are looking at self generation as an option for electricity going forward. And that's being driven by multiple drivers, it could be driven by environmental commitments, in terms of, you know, corporate commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions going forward. It can be driven by economic factors, people looking to avoid a grid electricity costs by sort of producing their own electricity going forward. It could be driven by a desire to increase resiliency, in the event of sort of issues with the grid, that you're still have power and are able to move forward. So I think we see a growing number of companies sort of exploring and seeking out those options. And I think you'll also see a growing number of jurisdictions actually trying to facilitate that going forward. For example, Alberta, earlier this year, issued a program to provide some incentives for businesses to adopt sort of on site solar. They were fully utilized within, I think ,the first three months. There was tremendous demand for them going forward. So I don't think it's a question of if we're going to see distributed energy resources play a significant role. I think it's a question of when we're going to see. And I think the when comes back to these other questions that we talked about. When are we able to remove some of the regulatory barriers that prevent either the deployment of these technologies or the ability to sort of receive economic value for the services those technologies provide to the grid? I think it's also going to require, however, before we can expand and in a large way. For electricity system operators, it's going to be critical that they have a clear understanding and a sense of what is happening with those distributed energy resources. So, you know, the electricity grid operator has one of the toughest challenges of all trying to ensure that supply and demand is matched all the time and supply and demand are both changing all the time. And if there's a set of generation out there that you don't actually have a vision of and you don't know if it's going up and up, or anything like that, that's a problem. And we need to do some significant infrastructure investment to ensure that electricity system operators have insight into what's actually happening at the distribution level. And also the ability, potentially, to manage what's happening at the at the distribution level. I mean, smart grid technologies, again, are giving us a tremendous capability to say, you know, examples, let's reduce electricity demand by turning everybody's thermostat down by half a degree, or something like that. Those sorts of things. So there's, there's, again, ensuring we've got that infrastructure in place that allows that to take place is going to be critical. But I think if we remove those sorts of barriers and put in place those enablers, you'll see fantastic growth, I think in the sector.
Rebecca Schwartz 22:27
Now, as solar storage and wind power come closest to meeting three key energy, consumer priorities - those being:cost, effectiveness, decarbonisation and reliability- What role will they play with micro grids and self sufficiency? And what's the ultimate renewable energy future that you envision?
Robert Hornung 26:01
I think we're going to see significant growth in these technologies at both the utility scale. So large wind farms, solar farms, and also on the distributed side. And that also includes then within microgrids, and things like that as well. But even though these technologies are going to be core and central, in terms of enabling us to move to net zero, it is part of a broader package. You know, when we're talking about moving to net zero, frankly, the first thing we should be talking about is energy efficiency. And we should be working to ensure that we minimize the amount of energy that we actually need in the first place. Then once we've done that, we think okay, well, then let's use the lowest cost, non emitting energy we can. And that's where wind and solar are going to come in and play a significant role in that regard. But then, again, you're going to say, 'okay, well, how are we going to manage that?' Well, we'll need other technologies like the smart grid technologies that allow us to effectively integrate wind and solar and ensure reliability of the grid going forward, because wind and solar are variable sources of generation. They add, again, some more complexity for system operators in terms of how we do this. And we need technologies in place that can help to facilitate that. So you know, we've talked already about the fact that the future electricity system is going to look pretty different from the electricity system of today. But at the end of the day, I guess in terms of a vision of it, I think renewables will be at the heart of that system for for two reasons. One is the scalability of the technologies themselves. You can actually have a single wind turbine, or a single solar panel, or a giant wind farm or solar farm, so they can be applied in all of these different applications. Their cost - So we've seen a 90% decline in the cost of solar. In the last decade, we've seen a 70% decline in the cost of wind in the last decade. It's not going to continue down at that rate going forward, we do expect to see some more cost declines. But there's absolutely no one out there who will say there's going to be something cheaper that comes along as we move towards 2050. And that's why it's going to again, play a pretty central role in terms of us moving forward. So, I as I said before, I think these technologies will be the core and the heart of the new electricity system going forward. But they aren't the whole story. We still need those technologies to partner with other technologies to enable and ensure that we're providing an electricity system that's reliable, and affordable and clean.
Dan Seguin 28:37
Okay, now, let's tackle something we haven't covered yet. How about we take a look at job creation? Robert, with these investments in wind, energy, solar energy and energy storage, create significant employment opportunities in Canada? Where do you foresee the biggest gains?
Robert Hornung 28:59
Yeah, when we did our mini vision document, or sorry, our vision document, vision 2050 document, we determined that if you were to increase wind and solar energy production tenfold over the next 30 years, that would create about 28,000 direct and indirect person years of employment annually. So, it's over 800,000 over the over the 30 year period. Now, many of those jobs are in the construction of facilities. So they're not permanent jobs, their jobs that are associated in construction. You do also create a significant number of jobs in operation of those facilities going forward. And again, you know, the job creation potential of the technology space differs a little bit by application as well. Where you're going to see the most jobs created, at least on a per megawatt basis, we'll be with distributed solar. And some studies done recently that have argued that for every megawatt of distributed solar generation that you put in place, you create about 35% person years of employment, so there is significant job creation potential associated with these technologies. We also have, as a country, some significant opportunities associated with these technologies as well. We're starting from pretty strong place globally, more than 80% of Canada's electricity is already non emitting. So we've got a good head start on much of the rest of the world, if we can move quickly to get to 100%. Non emitting, we'll have gained knowledge and expertise that will be sought around the world, because everybody's gonna have to move in this direction. The other thing is that our nearest neighbor, the United States, is going to be challenged to move to net zero, their electricity grid is much more carbon intensive than ours. And the export of clean Canadian electricity could also play a very significant role in helping the United States to meet its goals and objectives. So there are economic opportunities associated with that as well. So really, we've got a tremendous resource that's untapped for the most part across the country. One of the great things about wind and solar is that it's actually available in every part of the country. So not restricted to a certain province. So there are opportunities really across the country for economic growth and development. And because these are decentralized technologies, these opportunities will also play out at the level of communities across the country. And, you know, we've see a growing number of municipalities and communities with an interest in being partners in renewable energy projects going forward in seeing these projects, built to meet their own objectives, but also to secure the economic benefits associated with those projects. So it's a really tremendous opportunity.
Rebecca Schwartz 31:42
All right, Robert, how about we close off with some rapid fire questions? Are you ready? All right. Now, Robert, what's your favorite word?
Rebecca Schwartz 31:54
Chocolate? Because it's a word that always makes me smile.
Rebecca Schwartz 31:57
What is one thing you can't live without?
Robert Hornung 31:59
My family. It's actually the most important thing in my life, ao I would say that.
Robert Hornung 32:03
What's something that challenges you?
Robert Hornung 32:04
I would say something, which I guess probably most people would say is that it's finding the balance between competing priorities, it's a challenge everyday.
Rebecca Schwartz 32:15
Okay, now, if you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Robert Hornung 32:19
The ability to heal people.
Rebecca Schwartz 32:21
And if you could turn back time, talk to your 18 year old self? What would you tell them?
Robert Hornung 32:26
Don't be stressed about what you're doing when you're 30. Because you're inevitably going to get it wrong, and have faith that you're going to find your path. And that it's going to be informed by a bunch of things you haven't even thought of yet.
Rebecca Schwartz 32:42
Okay, this is the last one. What is exciting you about the renewable energy industry right now?
Robert Hornung 32:48
The potential! I mean, its potential is enormous. And, but, you know, it's, it really does require us to get started now, to sort of capitalize on that. And so, you know, one of the things in our in our vision document, you know, we sort of conclude by saying that the time to act is now and we need to act together. And that's true, whether it's between federal and provincial governments, provincial and municipal governments, different technologies. We've got a massive challenge in front of us. We've got all the reasons in the world to succeed and meeting that challenge. And we need to get started yesterday.
Dan Seguin 33:29
Well, Robert, this is it. We've reached the end of another episode of the thick energy podcast. If our listeners wanted to learn more about you, and your organization, how can they connect.
Robert Hornung 33:41
So you can visit our website, which is renewablesassociation.ca. And on that website, you'll also be able to download a copy of our vision document and see, you know, sort of what our thoughts are on on the role that wind, solar and energy storage are going to play in helping Canada to move to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Dan Seguin 34:05
Cool. Again, thank you for joining us today. I hope you had a lot of fun.
Robert Hornung 34:10
That was fun. Thank you very much. I appreciate the opportunity.
Dan Seguin 34:14
Thanks for tuning in for another episode of the thinkenergy podcast. Don't forget to subscribe and leave us a review whereever you're listening. And to find out more about today's guests or previous episodes, visit thinkenergypodcast.com I hope you'll join us again next time as we spark even more conversations about the energy of tomorrow.