The electric power grid has been called the world’s largest machine and the greatest engineering achievement of the 20th century. No matter where you live in Canada, the electricity grid is the machine that connects all of us to one another.
With more frequent climate change events, there’s been a societal shift to bring the electricity system into the 21st century, and power it with clean, renewable energy. Besides listening to experts, one only has to look at the last few years of extreme weather events in the nation’s capital to see how floods, tornadoes and damaging storms have impacted our lives.
Cleaner energy is here
Canadians may be surprised to learn that significant progress has already been made to our country’s energy sector, says the Canadian Electricity Association (CEA). Known as the voice of Canada’s electricity industry, CEA represents 40 of the largest electricity companies in the country that generate, transmit, distribute and provide customer service to electricity customers from coast to coast to coast. Hydro Ottawa is a member.
“Compared to most other countries, our electricity is relatively clean,” says Francis Bradley, President and CEO of the Canadian Electricity Association. “We have the advantage of a remarkably low-carbon electricity grid and it’s getting cleaner. Between 2000 and 2017 we’ve achieved a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of 42 per cent. Right now, more than 80 per cent of the electricity in Canada comes from non-emitting sources.”
Canada has a history of clean energy development, but the electricity landscape continues to transform thanks to more complex customer demands, and rapidly evolving technologies. People want to interact and connect with the electricity grid like never before. They want less pollution, home generation and EV transportation infrastructure - all provided with the utmost safety, reliability and affordability.
Electrification is the future
With Canada’s goal to be net-zero by 2050 and the City of Ottawa announcing its plans to be a zero-emissions city by 2050, we are living in a time where governments are committed to a decarbonized future. And that future, says Bradley, will be electric.
“We’ve seen studies in Canada that suggests the demand for electricity may double or even triple as we move forward and begin to reach our 2050 targets,” says Bradley. “We need to leverage the already clean energy sector to decarbonize other sectors of the economy, like transportation and housing. A lot of people think that electrification is about the adoption rate of electric vehicles, but it’s going to take more than that, including mass transit and heavy-duty trucking.”
Bradley says that while transportation is important, to achieve really significant carbon reductions over the long-term, we have to look at electrifying the industrial process and the energy sources we use to heat, ventilate and air condition our homes and buildings. According to a special report of the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources, our buildings contribute 111 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere every year. The Canadian Home Builders Association is already actively working to advance home energy efficiency and its sector’s energy performance overall.
“If we’re going to achieve a decarbonized future, we’re going to need every low-carbon or zero-carbon kilowatt that we can get,” says Bradley. “The electricity industry is expecting significant growth and not just with electric vehicles, but battery storage, distributed generation, and new investments in emerging technologies like small modular reactors. It will all make a difference in our ability to deliver clean, affordable energy in the decades ahead.”
Energy smarter - together
CEA is working with federal and provincial government policy makers to advocate for a national strategy to guide a consistent approach to electrification across the energy sector and quantify the scope and timing of generation requirements. The regulatory framework in most provinces was developed in the 1950s and 60s and created for a grid where electricity only went one way; from generators to customers.
The electricity grid wasn’t ever intended to accommodate transactive energy systems or two-way generation, let alone adapt to artificial intelligence and other evolving technologies. Thanks to organizations like CEA, the world’s largest machine isn’t just going to get cleaner and greener, it’s going to get a lot smarter.
For our part, Hydro Ottawa is the largest municipally-owned producer of green power in the province; producing 128 megawatts of clean energy through our hydroelectric, solar and biomass generation installations. That’s enough to power 107,000 homes annually (or a third of our customers in the nation’s capital).
To learn more about the electrification of Canada’s energy sector and other insights from Francis Bradley and the Canadian Electricity Association, check out the ThinkEnergy podcast episode, “The Electric Future for Canada.”