Report: Canada Could be a Green Energy Goliath

Canada has many times more energy in untapped wind, solar and hydro resources than it ever will from the Alberta tar sands a new report released today finds.

“Canada could be the world's green-energy superpower, the potential is nearly limitless,” says Tyler Bryant, an Energy Policy Analyst at Vancouver's David Suzuki Foundation. “We have more than enough to meet our current and future needs,” Bryant said in interview.

In fact Canada has far more green energy than it could ever use according to the report “An Inventory of Low-Carbon Energy for Canada.”

“This is a long-overdue look at how much green energy potential Canada has,” he said.

The report is part of the Trottier Energy Futures Project, partnership between David Suzuki Foundation, the Canadian Academy of Engineering, and the Trottier Family Foundation. The project is looking at how Canada could reduce its energy-related carbon emissions by 80 per cent by the year 2050, based on emissions in 1990.

“There are no physical limitations to prevent Canada from becoming a low-carbon society,” said energy expert Ralph Torrie, managing director of The Trottier Energy Futures Project.

“Our renewable energy resources are enormous,” Torrie told DeSmog Canada.

The biggest challenge is integrating all this largely de-centralized renewable energy into existing electricity grid. However the 'smart grid of the future' already has its toe in the door. Companies like IBM and Google see energy use as a 'data problem' and are investing heavily in smart energy technologies he says.

Significant investments are also going into energy storage systems including new catalysts that use renewable energy to cost-effectively make hydrogen fuel.

Canada has it's own energy storage system in the form of 58,000 square kilometres of hydro reservoirs. At night when energy demand declines wind power could pump water to top-up reservoirs lowered to produce hydro during the day, says Bryant.

Other countries are moving quickly to pollution-free green energy. Iceland has 81 percent renewable energy. Scotland has a mandate to achieve 100 percent renewable power supply by 2020. Denmark passed laws requiring that the whole energy supply – electricity, heating/cooling, and transportation – be met by renewable resources.

The Trottier report did not look at costs. Cost estimates are difficult to do more than a few years into the future given the rapid changes in energy use and technology. For instance, energy use has been in decline the last few years in Ontario and other provinces. Canadians are also driving less every year. Energy consumption predictions are also very challenging says Tyler pointing out that in the 1970s Natural Resources Canada energy experts projected that Canada would need to build a hundreds nuclear reactors a year to keep pace with energy demand today.

Canada's size and relatively small population are big advantages in becoming a low-carbon energy society. Few realize Canada has almost as much solar energy potential as the US. Germany, the industrial powerhouse with more than twice as many people, gets nearly five percent of its total electricity from solar. Not only is it a smaller country it has far less solar potential given its generally gloomy weather – think winter in Vancouver. 

Canada's wind energy potential is far higher than Germany or the US – literally too-big-to-measure when offshore wind is considered. Canada's half of electricity from hydropower and could get a great deal more from a combination of large and small scale hydro projects.

Geothermal is a barely touched energy source. Ground-source heat pumps for buildings are only small part of this resource. There is enough heat in the ground in parts of Alberta and BC to generate thousands of megawatts of steam-generated electricity and make money doing it the report found.

Wave and tidal are other too-big-to-measure resources. Canada already has the 20-MW Annapolis Tidal Station in Nova Scotia and new underwater turbines are being used in other countries.

Electric vehicles can reduce non-renewable gasoline and diesel use but it is unlikely long-distance transport trucks will be electrically powered says Torrie. Canada will need to produce biomass fuels like ethanol and biodiesel. Using non-food plant or woody material Canada could easily produce many times more biomass fuels than at present.

“This would have to be carefully managed to keep carbon emissions low and prevent damage to natural ecosystems,” he says.