Canada’s electricity is among the cleanest in the world with 81 per cent coming from clean sources compared to about 32 per cent worldwide. Electricity sources (e.g. Hydro) depend on geography. Costs depend on the mix of generation sources and the state of infrastructure maintenance and renewal. Average cost per kilowatt hour across Canada is $0.13 US vs $0.15 in Ontario, $0.18 in the USA and $0.21 to $0.33 in Europe. However, because electricity has been relatively cheap and abundant in Canada, Canadians use 2.5 times more per person than Germany, France, the UK and China, and even 23 per cent more than the USA.
Shown below are the million tonnes (mt) of emissions from electricity and buildings. It is a formidable goal to reduce Canada’s emissions by 30 per cent from 2010 to 2030 while at the same time, population is expected to grow by 18 per cent to over 40 million. It is indeed possible to cut emissions while scaling up capacity with clean sources, but it will cost more if we don’t also reduce energy consumption per capita.
The key strategies to consider are Conservation, Conversion (from coal to nuclear, wind, hydro and solar sources) and Co-Generation (of electricity and heat). There is potential to reduce both the amount of electricity and heat per person, and the emissions from generation. It makes sense to consider emissions from electricity and buildings together because of the many industrial and residential opportunities for co-generation of clean electricity and heat.
Emissions from Electricity
If every citizen switched to LED bulbs for lighting, made sure lights and motors were turned off when not needed, and set the thermostat at a comfortable 22° C for both heating and air-conditioning, collectively we could conserve a lot of energy and save a lot of money. Most set their air-conditioning too low.
But decisions about sources and maintenance are made by provincial governments. Six provinces no longer use coal to make electricity. Conversion from coal and natural gas-based generation to clean nuclear, wind, hydro and solar could save 67 mt of CO2 (41 mt in Alberta, 15 mt in Saskatchewan. (The calculations are easy to do) The Muskrat Falls hydro project in Labrador will eliminate the 9 mt from coal power in Nova Scotia and 2 mt in New Brunswick). That still allows for the use of natural gas to back up intermittent wind energy and for winter peak loads. Wind requires 100 per cent back-up capacity from natural gas because there are weeks with no wind. In our northern climate, solar is best used for the additional summer peak loads because no back-up is necessary for that application.
For the next 20 years, the world’s limited capacity for making electricity storage batteries should be reserved for electric vehicles. There are other good alternatives for electricity generation and back-up, but there are no viable alternatives to batteries for electric vehicles.
Natural gas is cleaner than coal, but the world’s proven reserves of natural gas are a finite resource that should be conserved for the most difficult heating applications in the future.
More and more experts have concluded that nuclear is the only energy source with the potential to replace the 38 per cent of global electricity that currently comes from burning coal.
Canada’s CANDU nuclear technology is currently the world’s safest. CANDU reactors supply 57 per cent of electricity for Ontario and 31 per cent for New Brunswick. And Canada is well positioned to launch the next generation of small modular reactors (SMRs) using molten-salt technology. SMRs are fail-safe, do not use or produce weapons-grade materials, can use stockpiles of nuclear waste from earlier reactors as fuel, and will be mass-produced to make costs lower and more predictable.
The governments of Canada and the USA are supporting several Canadian companies now engaged in SMR development and they expect to launch in the late 2020s. (Google Terrestrial Energy) SMRs are ideal for use in co-generation facilities and in remote areas that now use oil to make electricity.
Emissions from Buildings
Energy conservation must become the main consideration for building codes, design and engineering. Location and design of windows, doors and insulation can achieve near-net- zero energy requirements. High-efficiency air-source heat pumps are now suitable for northern climates in new buildings and to convert older buildings. Ground-source heat pumps can be used in rural areas with space and soil depth.
Co-generation of electricity and hot water for heating typically uses about 1/3rd less energy than making electricity and heat separately. Co-generation and district heating are done extensively in Europe and several places in North America. Much like in-floor heating in a house, the hot water is piped through accessible channels under streets or sidewalks to provide district heating for industrial, residential and commercial buildings. In Sweden and Vancouver Island, thousands of tonnes of municipal waste are diverted from landfill to high-temperature Waste-to-Energy (WTE) facilities that make clean electricity and hot water for district heating. Charlottetown PEI heats their hospital with a WTE facility. As shown below, Helsinki Finland plans to install a Small Modular Reactor for electricity and district heating.
80 per cent of our population already lives in urban areas. As older buildings and older parts of cities are modernized, and as new urban areas are built, planners should consider co-generation of electricity and district heating from WTE and SMR facilities. By using conservation, conversion, and co-generation, the electricity and building sectors can do their part towards reducing Canada’s emissions by 30 per cent from 2010 to 2030. Money can be saved, and thousands of good jobs can be created while scaling up capacity for the expected growth in population.
This is the second of a four-part series focusing on SOLUTIONS that Canada could adopt to reduce emissions that contribute to climate change. You can read Part 1, Addressing climate change: Emissions from transportation, here.
Data on international electricity prices is from Statista Research website all in $US for consistency purposes. It is consistent with other similar websites.
Data on electricity price by province is from the Natural Resource Canada website converted to $US for consistency. (Residential price in Ontario was used as it is typically higher than the industrial price.)
Data on electricity sources and emissions by source comes from the latest Natural Resources Canada website (for 2016)
Hugh Holland is a retired engineering and manufacturing executive now living in Huntsville, Ontario.
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