Canada and the global commitment to renewable energy: a story of lost opportunity

Canada and the global commitment to renewable energy: a story of lost opportunity

By Anderson Kehbila

December 12, 2011

Global renewable energy sources

The recent “Renewables 2011 Global Status Report” by the Renewable Policy Network for the 21st Century paints a dire picture of Canada’s renewable energy industry. Canada lags far behind other countries on renewable power capacity. Despite Canada’s third position on hydropower generation, policy makers have not been proactive in other sectors like solar photo voltaic (PV), wind energy, biomass power, geothermal energy, and solar hot water/heat.

A quick review of the global rankings reveals some interesting trends.  Despite its position as the largest economy in the world, the US has fallen behind China in renewable power capacity. China now holds the global lead in wind energy, hydropower and solar hot water/heat due in large measure to its stated goal of being the global market leader in renewable energy.

Although the U.S. has slipped in some rankings, it still holds the top ranking in biomass power, geothermal energy and renewable power capacity. The U.S. position is in part due to the Obama administration’s high-profile commitment to beefing up the U.S. renewable energy industry which has zeroed in on research and development investment and increased incentives for technology commercialization. Interestingly, the U.S. has displaced Brazil as the leader of bio-fuel production in the past decade.

In Germany, progressive policies on the environment and economic growth are paying off.  Germany fares better than any other country in solar PV and ranks third on wind energy, biomass power and solar hot water/heat.

Interestingly, the Philippines and Brazil are second, behind the U.S., on geothermal energy and biomass power. Turkey, placed more emphasis on solar hot water/heat and ranked second after China in this capacity.  Spain, on the other hand, took the second spot on solar PV, closely followed by Japan and Italy.  In all cases, these rankings emerged after governments had made policy commitments and investments in renewable energy.

Looking at the other end of the ranking, the United Kingdom, Columbia, Poland and Belgium are at the bottom of the list of bio-fuel production. The economic recession may have had an impact on this outcome. Somewhere between the extremes (i.e. first spot for the U.S. and fifteenth place for Columbia) sit Spain and Canada in seventh and eight places respectively, due to policy uncertainty and meager investment in the sector.

Research of developing nations demonstrate that several countries in Africa and South America stand out in their efforts to promote reforms that boost production of electricity from renewables. This trend may be a sign of increasing awareness of the positive economic and environmental impacts of renewable energy in these regions. As a result, less developed countries are in the top category along with other industrialized nations in terms of existing renewables share of electricity production. Zambia (100%) Mozambique (100%), Iceland (100%) and Paraguay (100%) took top prizes, with Namibia (97%), Costa Rica (95%) and Malawi (94%) in the second, third and fourth places respectively.

Despite recent efforts to boost the deployment of renewable energy technologies around the globe, Canada, unfortunately, seems to be missing an opportunity to garner new markets in this field.  Although Canada boasts huge renewable energy potential, policies and incentives continue to bolster traditional oil and gas development leaving Canadian renewable energy companies at a disadvantage in the global arena.  Perhaps the diminishing position of Canada should be a wake-up call for the federal and provincial governments to see what other countries like China are doing, and undertake bold steps to position Canada’s alternative energy sector to compete globally.

For further details of the global rankings see and Renewables 2011 Global Status Report.

(Icon photo courtesy of Andrew Barclay, Flickr, infographic courtesy of Global Energy Network Institute)


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