Opinion Leader: Canada must prioritize the 'three Ds' to become a leader in the global energy transition
September 8, 2021
A summer of ongoing wildfires and rising temperatures, combined with confirmation from the UN that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land, is cause for the topic of climate change to be on the top of every agenda.
A 2019 report found Canada is warming twice as fast as the global average, the impact of which is already being felt across the country. This, coupled with Canada’s high energy consumption rate, means we must have a vested interest in being part of the solution.
The good news is Canada already sees the importance in fighting climate change. Current initiatives in carbon pricing, clean electricity, transportation, buildings, innovation, net-zero commitments and the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate are all indicators of this.
But the urgency for Canada to prioritize climate change is at an all-time high, and today’s rapidly changing world of electricity demands more effective and strategic action.
I believe the challenges of climate change can be mitigated through innovation and Canada is well positioned to lead the charge. But there is still a lot of work to be done. We must be proactive and we must act now. The “three Ds” governments must prioritize to get Canada closer to taking the helm as a world leader in the climate crisis are digitization, decarbonization, and decentralization.
Digital technology pivotal
From mass vaccine distribution to industries shifting completely to remote ways of working, digital technology has been pivotal in enabling our country to adapt to a new world in a dramatically accelerated timeframe. But as we turn our attention to arguably the biggest challenge we collectively face – global warming – digitization is the silver-bullet our country needs to prioritize.
Digital tools help us see and measure what we can’t capture with a naked eye, including managing the performance and energy efficiency of our homes, offices, and industries, appliance-by-appliance and room-by-room. The digitization of devices is enabling the convergence of information technology systems with operational technology systems, which provides new data, automation and analytics to better manage energy and increase productivity and efficiency.
By prioritizing digitization, Canada can become more efficient and resilient and get closer to delivering on net-zero ambitions.
Decarbonization a huge opportunity
Decarbonization presents one of the biggest opportunities for improving energy efficiency and sustainability – and Canadians are seeing it, too. Recent research from Angus Reid found just over half of Canadians (54 percent) say alternative energy sources such as wind, solar and hydrogen should be the most important priority for the federal government.
Canada recognizes the challenge and importance of significantly decarbonizing Canada’s industries. The newly pledged Net-Zero Challenge and commitments to reducing emissions for our national safety and security fleet are not to be overlooked.
But for Canada to power forward its ambitions to decarbonize, a successful approach requires an intentional mix of the following:
- Energy management. Underpinning any decarbonization program are efforts to reduce a company’s energy footprint, as the burning of carbon-based fuels is the largest source of emissions.
- Resource efficiency. The fewer resources that are needed, the fewer resources that have to be procured. Make the next step easier by first reducing net energy use and exploring circular business models.
- Addressing necessary energy usage. Once optimized, remaining energy sources can be replaced with lower emission fuels and technologies, like wind or solar for electricity and electrification and/or clean fuels like renewable natural gas or hydrogen for transport and heating.
- Balancing what remains. Address unavoidable emissions that cannot yet be reduced or replaced with credible Energy Attribute Certificates and carbon offsets.
Decentralized energy resources growing
The adoption of decentralized energy resources is gaining momentum. This is creating opportunities all over Canada and across market segments such as solar, microgrids, smart grids and grid automation.
This year, our company partnered with the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology’s Centre for Grid Innovation to install Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure Microgrid Operation to extend the Centre’s capability to support Alberta businesses in the testing and implementation of distributed energy resources. Such resources are becoming an increasingly favourable option for consumers and distribution entities, especially as new technologies like electric vehicles continue to grow in popularity.
Decentralization will continue to grow as we see the massive cost reduction of renewable energy coupled with storage. We must embrace and explore how Canada can adopt and test new technologies that will support our country’s growing demand for integrating distributed energy resources.
While it’s necessary for government to fund innovation projects that further the energy transition, the onus cannot be on government alone. Investment from the private sector also plays a key role in supporting the energy transformation and improving Canada’s renewable energy mix. To attract private investors to the green energy generation space, governments must look at providing financial incentives and developing a framework to help accelerate the integration of green energy across the grid.
As government leaders, businesses and citizens prepare to come together at the UN Climate Change Conference this November to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement, the need to act has never been more urgent. The window to reduce our energy emissions and limit global warming to 1.5 degrees is closing, and the next decade will be crucial.
The fact is Canada’s traditional energy sector demands attention; public sector priorities must focus on how we will reshape the way we generate, distribute and consume electricity. With our abundance of natural resources and a commitment to harnessing the power of renewable energy, Canada can establish itself as a global leader on the energy transformation stage.
Fostering innovation and developing infrastructure and policies focused on digitization, decarbonization and decentralization will help us achieve the clean future that we envision.
Frederick Morency is Vice-President, Services at Schneider Electric Canada.