The federal government’s drive to net-zero emissions by 2050 requires transformational change in the way Atlantic Canadians and local businesses consume energy. This ambitious target is supported by the four Atlantic provinces, with a 2040 net-zero goal in Prince Edward Island.

Complementary policies like the proposed federal Clean Electricity Regulations will require electricity generation to become increasing green and ultimately reach net zero emissions by 2035. This challenge is compounded by new policies to electrify the lives of everyday Canadians, such as requiring all light-duty vehicles sold by 2035 to be zero emission, or phasing-out home heating oil by 2030. The result of which will increase the demand for electricity across the region. Canada’s 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan noted “multiple reports have estimated that, by 2050, Canada will require two to three times the current generating capacity.”

In September 2022, the Atlantica Centre for Energy released the second discussion paper in its Atlantic Canada’s Electricity Future – Discussion Series, to investigate how the demand for electricity may change across the region leading up to 2050. The discussion paper helps visualize publicly available data through the Canada Energy Regulator and illustrates the implications of federal and provincial policies on future electricity demand in Atlantic Canada.

The findings were surprising. Data from the Canada Energy Regulator likely underestimates future electricity demand for Atlantic Canada in one scenario, but overestimates it in the second. The first scenario forecasts electricity demand remaining roughly flat across the Maritimes over the next 30 years, lead by a relatively significant decrease in New Brunswick. This is unrealistic though as it underestimates adoption timelines for electrifying homes and vehicles, among others. Importantly, the first scenario doesn’t meet net-zero emissions by 2050.

The second scenario, which does reach net-zero emissions on time, requires significant electricity generation growth. For example, the generation in Nova Scotia would roughly double from 2019 to 2050. This scenario is missing an important assumption as well though; it does not include demand-side management, which must play an important role in helping manage peak demand, among other benefits.

Consumer behaviors must change to help utilities in this transition; what utilities call demand-side management will be a critical tool to help Atlantic Canada reach net-zero by 2050 as affordably as possible. Some examples of small changes that might make big differences include turning off a home’s hot water tank during peak hours, which can reduce electricity bills; or encouraging customers to take a shower or wash dishes right before bedtime. These are also easy actions to help curb demand peaking.

Smart home innovations will continually improve and offer new options to help reduce electricity usage, but bigger steps are likely needed. For example, letting utilities help control when electric vehicles can charge at home could help. Consider if all New Brunswickers drove a Tesla Model 3 today; daily charging could add 600MW to the province’s current demand. This would roughly equal an additional Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station to be built to meet this demand (660MW capacity), without even considering the many medium-and heavy-duty vehicles that still need to be greened.

Making homes more efficient and better monitoring residential heating can also help limit the total capacity utilities could need to build. For example, Nova Scotia Power’s 2020 Integrated Resource Plan forecasted electrifying home heating in the province would add between 304MW and 1080MW to peak demand by 2030, depending on the temperature of the coldest day and the heat pump technologies used.

Electrifying will help reduce emissions but will undoubtedly require significant investments by Atlantic Canadian electricity utilities. Relatively significant electricity rate hikes proposed across the Maritimes are likely just the beginning of what could be coming. However, homeowners can control some of these rate increases to come by curbing demand, especially in the mornings and evenings, to ensure the transition to net-zero emissions by 2050 requires as little additional infrastructure as possible.

To learn more about electricity demand, read: Atlantic Canada’s Electricity Future – Discussion Series Part 2: Electricity Demand. 

To learn more about how you can reduce your household emissions, read: the Atlantica Centre for Energy’s Earth Day 2022 Resource Catalogue.