Energy: Where’s it coming from and who has a plan?

Energy: Where’s it coming from and who has a plan?

By Amy Huva

August 15, 2012

Most people don’t think much about where their energy comes from. You don’t need to – you flick a switch and it turns on. If you don’t need to think about it beyond your hydro bill, why should you? There are so many other things to think about! So when the media and politicians started talking recently about the need to build a national energy strategy, most people’s response was probably ‘meh’.

But we do need to be thinking about our power and where it’s coming from. According to the recent calculations by a worldwide climate modelling project, the ‘carbon budget’ of the atmosphere is 565 Gigatons. That’s the space we have left in the atmosphere for carbon emissions that will still give us a chance to prevent catastrophic climate change. At our current rates of fossil fuel burning, we’ll use that budget up in 16 years.

Because there is no single solution to replacing oil, gas and coal in our modern economy, hybrid systems are going to be the best way to keep powering our cities.  A study from the National Renewable Energy Lab has shown that with existing technology, 80% of the USA could be powered by renewable energy!

So how can we in Canada get this ball rolling faster? A hybrid system is one that needs more data to work out how much power people need at what times of the day, so that the mix of renewables can change as demand fluctuates. This will need a smart grid, and in the same way that I upgraded to a smart phone, BC Hydro is currently upgrading our meters to the newer model that will give them that information.

Next, we’ll need to scale up our mix of renewables so that there’s enough of it to meet demand across the country. Each province will play to its strengths and the mix will be different in different areas. Here in BC it will probably be a combination of wind and hydro, as well as the pumped hydro-wind systems I mentioned previously where the excess wind power pumps the water up a hill to be released and create power when the wind slows down.

In order to do all this and make sure we’ve got the best combinations in the best places for the most efficient power system, we need a plan. That’s why Tides Canada developed their National Energy Initiative last year to get that conversation started. The topic was included in the Premiers meeting in Halifax recently, where all the Premiers from across Canada met and talked about their ideas. Though the discussion didn’t go far, it was at least a step in the right direction.

When thinking large scale (and how to power the country is pretty large scale), we need to make sure we’ve got a plan. We may only have a short time to make the transition to a low carbon economy, but the good news is we don’t need any technological breakthroughs – we can do it now.

(Icon photo courtesy of Peter Daems/Flickr)

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