COMMENTARY: Michelle Robichaud, President, Atlantica Centre for Energy

It seems we don’t hear the word energy without climate change alongside it. In the face of the unmistakable consequences of climate change, society expects actions toward our clean energy future.

Canada’s goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 is ambitious and important. There are less than eight years to reach the 2030 greenhouse gas reduction target of cutting emissions by 40 to 45 per cent below the 2005 benchmark. As of 2021, the average emissions reduction among the provinces was only nine per cent.

Atlantic Canada is leading the way: Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have both already reduced their total emissions by 36 and 37 percent (2020). Significant additional reduction in GHG emissions will come from closing nine fossil fuel generating facilities on the electricity grid by 2030. With no currently available non-emitting baseload electricity alternative, it presents quit a difficult challenge.

Some might think this power can be replaced with wind and solar. However, it’s not possible to just shut down baseload generating electricity plants in a northern climate with the energy storage technology capabilities available today (i.e.. batteries).

In addition to replacing baseload power, the demand for clean electricity will grow as our population does, as we transition more homes and businesses of off fossil fuels for heating, and as we electrify more vehicles.

This is the area that will rely heavily on industry innovation: Maritime utilities simply do not have the clean electricity generation capacity to meet the peak demand let alone the additional pressure of increasing electrification. Simply put, we need to produce more clean electricity.

Canada’s 2030 Emission Reduction Plan: Canada’s Next Steps to Clean Air and Strong Economy states:

“…continued and enhanced support for the deployment of commercially ready renewable energy technologies will support grid decarbonization in the near term. Looking out to 2050, investments in emerging technologies such as geothermal, tidal, SMRS, carbon capture and storage, and electricity storage will allow Canada to be a world leader in these new technologies.”

With the ingenuity and innovation continually demonstrated in Atlantic Canada, and our urgent need for solutions, can we lead the way in forging a clean future?

One innovation happening in the region is the development of next generation nuclear reactors, called advanced Small Modular Reactors (aSMR). This is a strategic opportunity for the region where New Brunswick in particular, can be a global leader.

These aSMRs can be a convenient form of non-emitting generation. which takes advantage of New Brunswick’s nuclear expertise and can become an economic driver as a regional supply chain is developed.

Another exciting energy concept is hydrogen. The Atlantic Hydrogen Alliance is working to support hydrogen innovation and promote opportunities associate with this clean fuel. Hydrogen is expected to have major implications for energy storage, heating. transportation fuels (especially for long haul marine and road transportation), and oil refining.

Although hydrogen is a “clean” fuel with water being the only by product, the process of creating hydrogen may not be. Most hydrogen today is produced from fossil fuels such as natural gas. Without capturing the emissions, it defeats the purpose of burning clean hydrogen as fuel.

Atlantic Canada is well positioned for wind and tidal and other innovative renewable energy solutions to generate hydrogen. As we consider export potential from the east coast, it may be a very strategic prospect.

And, the region continues to explore innovations in carbon capture, utilization, storage and sequestration (CCUS), biomass, biofuels, synthetic fuels, geothermal and renewable natural gas. There are lots of reasons to be optimistic.

Atlantic Canada is also looking at a potential Atlantic Loop to increase electricity transmission capacity from Québec through New Brunswick and into Nova Scotia, and from Newfoundland and Labrador to Nova Scotia. It is important to recognize that the four Atlantic provinces and Québec are already interconnected and have a long history of trading electricity.

If the Atlantic Loop is our saving grace, the earliest it could be online is somewhere between 2030-2035 with a conservative estimated cost of five billion dollars.

With the first 2030 target looming, industry, governments and utilities must work faster to meet these ambitious goals. This is an incredibly short amount of time for the planning, approval, and construction necessary to complete the associated projects, and some emerging technologies do not yet have a regulatory framework. Plus, there are federal and provincial policies still being developed to help further reduce emissions.

At the Atlantica Centre for Energy, our job is to keep an eye on what’s happening in the world of energy, policy, economics and consumer behaviour. As we piece together all this information, here are some high-level observations.

Industry must continue to innovate. Atlantic Canada can take the world stage by innovating and using its strengths to an advantage.

Industry should consider partnerships. Bringing in expertise from Indigenous communities and being open to investment from the private sector and government provide opportunities to tap into additional funding and support.

Everyone needs to communicate more. Atlantic Canada is small but we have seen opportunities lost from not including government or others in its developments. Provincial and federal agencies are looking for lighthouse projects. These projects frame policies and help speed up the testing of regulations.

Don’t forget to celebrate; don’t keep your “wins” to yourself. Let the world know what you are doing and celebrate milestones publicly. It may also serve to attract talent and spur business growth opportunities that will help get us to Net Zero 2050.

The Atlantica Centre for Energy is Atlantic Canada’s proactive voice for energy. We provide a unique meeting ground for industry, government, the education and research sectors, and the community at large to foster partnerships and proactively engage in energy related issues. We are dedicated to increasing energy literacy for Atlantic Canadians, also helping the region realize opportunities associated with the energy sector.