Energy executives in New Brunswick discussed the future of zero-emission energy in a recent panel session, highlighting the need for partnerships and collaboration to meet the challenges ahead.

“I challenge the brain trust around the region to punch above our weight, make New Brunswick a model for clean energy solutions so that we get the economic benefits and show the rest of Canada and the world what is possible,” one executive remarked.

Moderated by Atlantica Centre for Energy President Colleen d’Entremont, the panel discussed non-emitting energy innovation as well as the challenges, opportunities and the path towards net zero.

The following is a summary of the session, held Feb. 16 and hosted by the Association of Engineers and Geoscientists of New Brunswick.

Ready for the future

All five panelists have been instrumental in getting their organizations ready for the future of energy:

  • Gilles Volpé of Liberty Utilities has been involved in expanding and greening the natural gas network and looking at opportunities for hydrogen in Atlantic Canada.
  • Brad Coady, P.Eng., of NB Power, is leading the integration of renewables and storage as part of a collaborative future to transform the provincial utility for the next century.
  • Ryan Mitchell, P.Eng., who is transitioning to CEO of Saint John Energy, has been integral to the effort of optimizing its forward-thinking customer approach by leveraging technology.
  • Robert Apold, P.Eng., with Natural Forces, is recognized as a leading developer of renewable projects with successful wind and solar initiatives that include partnership with Indigenous and local communities.
  • Andy Hayward, P.Eng., is leading a team at NB Power in advancing small modular reactor developments for baseload non-emitting electricity and other industrial applications.

While each of the panelists provided insight into their organization’s effort to contribute to our country’s net-zero targets, all were on the same page on a number of topics.

Hayward, Chief Nuclear Engineer and Director of Advanced Nuclear Development at NB Power, noted that three key themes emerged: the importance of partnerships and collaboration, consideration of many different alternative energy sources and a need to continue to provide education and improve energy literacy among our population.

Cleaner outcomes

It was clear from the presenters that work has been ongoing for decades exploring opportunities for next-generation technology, including hydrogen, small modular reactors and renewable energy. Interestingly, each panelist also emphasized the need to transition to these sources with a solid business case backed by pilot projects and all highlighting consideration of the cost to the user.

Coady, Executive Director of Business Development & Strategic Planning at NB Power, remarked: “Affordability must be kept top of mind as we move to achieve cleaner outcomes. It isn’t something we can do on our own; we need partnerships (to enable) innovation and manage the transition.”

With issues like smart grid and electrification, one question panelists continue to ask of themselves is: How do you plan for the future when what’s best-case today may not be a year from now?

Technology is advancing at such a rapid pace. It was noted that organizations should concentrate on slow and steady growth because a fast transition is expensive.

‘Dream big, test small, fail fast’

Mitchell, Vice-President and Chief Development Officer at Saint John Energy who will soon take over as the company’s President, summed it up well: “Dream big, test small, fail fast. Do your homework, invest the time up front to see how [the technology] integrates into the system and focus on the business case for top ideas.”

With this, the level of expertise being developed here at home, we are at an advantage and can contribute to economic opportunities both from a supply chain and employment perspective.

Looking to address areas that impede our ability to meet future targets, d’Entremont challenged the panelists with a question that brought to light the unique situation the sector in our region faces: We live in the north and have winter peaking challenges; what are the plans for the future to shave the peak?

Mitchell discussed the distinct advantage of already being mostly electrified and that battery storage is an area of strong interest.

He offered insight regarding wind energy with strong promise in winter and maximizing its use. He added that we should be thinking about hydrogen as a storage solution.

In this case, hydrogen aligns well with wind when using an electrolyzer to convert excess energy to hydrogen for storage, with the ability to be converted back to green combustible fuel when needed.

Role of education 

Volpé supported the idea by emphasizing that integrated solutions must be part of the strategy to decarbonize and help with peaking solutions. Liberty’s distribution system is the newest in Canada, and lends well to hydrogen fuel.

“Gaseous energy delivery will play a key role in decarbonizing the energy mix in New Brunswick. Beginning with natural gas and evolving to renewable natural gas and hydrogen, the robust gas delivery infrastructure can be leveraged to support an integrated electric/gas energy system.”

Coady commented on the importance of a reliable and affordable energy grid and described the integral role that the Mactaquac dam plays within the province’s electrical grid. He wrapped up his remarks by highlighting the role of education in getting the public to understand issues and solutions by providing energy literacy resources.

Apold followed those comments by offering advice to consider the involvement of our communities to ensure their commitment.

“People don’t want to have a turbine in their backyard if they don’t get a return. Give them some ownership in solving the climate change issue.” Natural Forces has been a leader in developing community and First Nations involvement in renewable energy projects across Canada and in the United States.

Lowest greenhouse gas emitter

Another potential success story in the making is small modular reactor technology. Some of the current technology has been studied for decades, is proven reliable and is safe.

Hayward referred to a recent United Nations’ study that revealed nuclear power is the lowest greenhouse gas emitter and uses the least amount of land among all energy solutions. The future of small modular reactors in a Canada-wide plan was discussed.

One thread that was highlighted throughout each of the panelists’ presentations is that we require all solutions to work hand-in-hand to achieve net zero.

Mitchell emphasized the disruption in the sector is presenting time-sensitive opportunities that have the ability to drive lasting climate change solutions but also economic opportunities – we must be prepared to embrace change and be aggressive to take advantage of those opportunities.

Hayward issued a challenge: “I challenge the brain trust around the region to punch above our weight, make New Brunswick a model for clean energy solutions so that we get the economic benefits and show the rest of Canada and the world what is possible.”