Canada’s electricity system will need to make significant changes to reach net zero: report

According to a new report, Canada will need to make aggressive changes to its electricity grids to meet increased demand, in part due to the adoption of electric vehicles.

The report, released Wednesday by the Canadian Climate Institute, indicates that significant changes must be made to all aspects of provincial and territorial electricity generation and distribution systems to meet future demand. Otherwise, there could be consequences ranging from not meeting our climate goals to brownouts.

“There could be reliability issues,” said Caroline Lee, one of the report’s authors and a senior researcher at the institute, who studies climate policy. “That means outages and some technical issues in our networks.”

The Liberal government is committed to aligning Canada’s electricity system with the country’s climate goals.

But as other reports have warned, in the future, more power generation capacity will be needed to both displace existing fossil fuel generation and meet growing demand while meeting targets for net zero. The federal government has set a deadline of 2035 to achieve net zero electricity generation. All new car sales must be zero emissions by the same date.

The institute’s report – titled The Big Switch, Powering Canada’s Net Zero Future – draws on several studies that show demand will be double or triple what it is today by 2050. 75% of this additional energy will have to come from wind energy. and solar, if Canada is to meet its climate goals.

Caroline Lee is a senior researcher at the Canadian Climate Institute and one of the authors of the report, The Big Switch, Powering Canada’s Net Zero Future. (Michael Cole/Radio Canada)

But it is not only the amount of electricity that needs to be increased; Wednesday’s report found that Canada’s electrical systems will also need more battery storage and be nimble enough to adapt to peaks in demand as vehicles and many home heating systems go electric.

“If we see more people … using electric vehicles, if we see more people switching to electric heat pumps – and yet the systems are not well equipped to be able to handle this increased demand, as well as the timing of this request – then it could be real trouble,” Lee said.

Some early adopters know some of these issues first hand. Kim Nelson, a film teacher in Windsor, Ont., and her family can’t upgrade to a faster charger for their Chevy Volt because their street wouldn’t be able to handle the extra charge if their household and others were also upgraded. level.

It therefore uses a slower level 1 loader. If the car battery is discharged, it takes about three days to fully charge it. Nelson, who loves his electric car, has found workarounds. But she acknowledges that poor charging infrastructure could hinder others who want to ditch their gas guzzlers.

She says various levels of government have a role to play in updating the nation’s electrical infrastructure and ensuring neighborhoods can support rapid charging of vehicles like hers in almost any driveway.

“We’re really going to rely on the government and make legislative choices to prioritize going electric and going green, which is vital,” Nelson said. “We’re kind of stuck until these upgrades are done.

Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said the government is investing in clean energy generation, pointing to the 2022 federal budget which proposed to invest $677 million over five years. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

“So I hope the government will take the initiative on this.”

Electricity generation has traditionally been a provincial jurisdiction, but the report says the federal government should adopt an “overarching policy framework” within which provinces and territories would operate.

He recommends that Ottawa increase the carbon price for the sector and ban the construction of gas-fired power plants.

The institute, in its report, also calls on all levels of government not to impose on taxpayers the costs necessary to help the sector reach net zero, saying that governments should bear these costs.

Additionally, the report says Ottawa should use the money and its ability to get premiers in one room to encourage collaboration across the sector.

“With the provinces acting alone, there is the risk of slow and uncoordinated action,” Lee said. “So we see a strong federal role of working in a coordinated way with the provinces to make sure everyone is moving in the same direction towards net zero.”

Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson says the federal government is working to bring provincial and territorial leaders together. Wilkinson also points to the 2022 federal budget which proposed to invest $677 million over five years in clean electricity generation. Some of that money goes, Wilkinson said, to help regions share their abundance of renewable energy with places where “there is a shortage.”

Wilkinson says the Atlantic Loop – a project that would bring electricity from Newfoundland and Quebec to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia – is a priority for him.

“The federal government has an important role to play — respecting provincial jurisdiction, but seeking to help us build the electrical system we’ll need in the future,” Wilkinson said.

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