Canada already global renewable energy leader, little future for wind and solar

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Source: National Energy Board of Canada.

Canadian wind/solar generation will rise from 5.2% to 7% by 2020, growth remains flat from 2020 to 2040

Why all the fuss about renewable energy in Canada? A new report from the national regulator shows that Canada already gets over 80 per cent of its electricity from low-GHG emitting generation and that percentage will increase in coming years.

According to Wold Bank data, coal power generation accounts for under 10 per cent of power generation. Compare that to the United States (29%),  Australia (64.7%),  the UK (29.6%), Germany (45.2%), and Denmark (33.7%) and Canada looks pretty good. Of the major industrial nations, only France (at 2.2%) uses less coal than Canada.

Canadian electricity generation by fuel source:

Hydro                                 59.3%
Nuclear                              16%
Coal                                     9.5%
Natural gas                        8.5%
Petroleum                          1.3%
Wind, solar                        5.2%

Alberta and Saskatchewan account for most of Canadian coal consumption, but both provinces recently announced they will transition to a mix of natural gas, wind, and solar – the route being taken by most American states that use primarily coal for power generation.

The National Energy Board’s new long-term energy outlook, Canada’s Energy Future 2016, provides an interesting insight into renewable energy potential in Canada.

Total renewable electricity generating capacity is expected to increase rapidly over the next three years and then more gradually until 2040, the NEB says.

Wind leads with just over 3,800 megawatts of capacity projected to be added from 2016 to 2020, and the largest additions are in Ontario (1,580 MW), Quebec (970 MW), and Alberta (624 MW).

While wind is the fastest growing generation type on a percentage basis, natural gas capacity actually grows more (4,400 MW) between 2016 and 2020.

Between 2020 and 2040, wind capacity growth slows, with annual additions averaging 200 MW. By the end of the period, installed wind energy capacity in Canada will total 19,450 MW.

Photovoltaic solar also grows quickly on a percentage basis from 2016 to 2020, but is only projected to add 2,300 MW of capacity, almost entirely in Ontario, which has generous wind and solar subsidies.

In total, non-hydro renewable capacity is expected to increase from 17,000 megawatts (MW) in 2016 to nearly 23,000 MW in 2020, in which year its share of Canadian power generation will rise to just seven per cent.

Over the longer term, growth in total non-hydro renewable installations slows, adding just 6,300 MW of capacity between 2020 and 2040.

So, why all the demands for more wind and solar energy in Canada?

For instance, activist Naomi Klein and her filmmaker husband, Avi Lewis – along with musicians Neil Young and Leonard Cohen, writers, labour unions, and environmental groups – were the driving force behind the Leap Manifesto, a radical call for political and economic change, including the end of fossil fuels and a rapid transition to clean energy. Canada’s official opposition, the New Democratic Party, recently passed a resolution for its constituency associations to debate Leap. And a mid-April poll shows Canadians split on the manifesto – 40 per cent for and the same amount against.

Other polls show routinely show support among Canadians for green energy.

The irony, as the figures above clearly demonstrate, is that Canada is already a world leader in clean energy for electricity generation,

This is an important point because the current international focus on GHG-reduction strategies is power generation, specifically the substitution of natural gas, wind, and solar for coal. That’s where clean energy technology is strongest and where it is closest to competing with fossil fuels.

There is no substitute for oil until better batteries are developed for electric vehicles or automakers solve the problems with alternative fuels, such as hydrogen.

Given Canada’s leadership in clean energy generation, governments such as the Ontario Liberals – who recently announced an aggressive but questionable climate change strategy – might want to slow down and let the technology develop further before spending taxpayer dollars on subsidies and other measure to push renewables.

It bears repeating that public policy shouldn’t get too far ahead of technology. That observation rings particularly true in Canada, a global leader in clean power generation.

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