Priority 6: Got an Energy Idea?

July 31, 2012

Sixth in a series on the ‘Now or Never” report of the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources (ENEV).

Priority six is about strengthening our foundation for energy innovation. As it can take years for a great idea to become commercially viable, one of the key issues around this priority is long-term, sustainable funding support from both the private and public sector for energy R&D.

Technology and ideas are the building blocks of Canada’s energy innovation. Canada already has an impressive record for developing and implementing new energy technologies and marketing them to a global audience. I’ve taken it easy on you for the last two posts, but now it’s time to prepare yourself for a plethora of information about Canada’s role in energy innovation.

In the senate report, the priority focusses on the government-funded side of technological innovation. There is plenty of research and development coming from the energy industry itself, but since there is so much to cover, I’ll just stick to what is in the report.

Let’s start with R&D, probably the biggest aspect of technology advancement. Many don’t even know about the lengthy task of research, but it is what fuels technology development. Which brings us back to the need for funding. Sustainable levels of funding are needed to support work in R&D. While private sector funding has historically been twice that of the public sector, federal energy R&D funding is in place and evident through programs and organizations like Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC), CanmetENERGY, the Program of Energy Research and Development (PERD), the Clean Energy Fund, and ecoENERGY’s Technology Initiative and Innovation Initiative and the Industrial Research Assistance Program.  Programs such as these, many which are led by Natural Resources Canada, not only allow for R&D to occur, but also helps with the commercialization of new products. This provides incentive for inventors and entrepreneurs alike to be constantly thinking about innovative ways to solve problems in various aspects of the energy industry.

So we’re on it. Can we do better? You betcha. Canada is constantly pushing forward new technologies for the energy industry. And the connections between ideas, technology and funding are clear. For today’s lesson, let’s take a look at great energy ideas and advancements that have been made in the Canadian energy sector, as referenced in the ENEV report.

  1. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) – Weyburn-Midale Co2 Monitoring and Storage project (video)
  2. Biofuels – Ocean Nutrition demonstration project
  3. Hydrogen fuel cell technology – Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association (CHFCA) case studies
  4. Ocean Energy – Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy (FORCE) test centre
  5. District Energy – ENMAX Calgary Downtown District Energy Centre facility

Could Canada warm to geothermal energy?

July 27, 2011

Geothermal energy is literally everywhere around the world, trapped beneath the Earth’s crust at varying depths. Caused by two sources — primordial heat (the heat still trapped from the Earth’s original formation) and ongoing radioactive decay — this heat energy could (and already does) provide an emission-free source of energy for to the production of electricity and other uses. But in Canada, most of Canada’s geothermal energy gets absorbed by the patrons at the country’s hot springs resorts. And while that’s great for keeping warm in a cold country, it’s not necessarily the best use of one of the most abundant forms of renewable power.

But according to the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association (CanGEA), all that could change. Citing a report prepared by the Geological Survey of Canada, a part of Natural Resources Canada, CanGEA notes that there is viable geothermal potential on 40 per cent of Canada’s landmass (101 KB PDF) and suggests that even 100 geothermal installations could provide a significant source of Canada’s electricity production.

At the moment, though, Canada’s geothermal resources are mostly unused, except for the occasional toasty dip in a pool. As shown by CanGEA’s year-old list of current geothermal projects shows (some of the listed projects have since been shuttered), Canada’s geothermal potential is still just that: potential. But, even though geothermal energy hasn’t yet been used to produce electricity, geothermal energy does exist in Canada as heating systems, sometimes referred to as “geo exchange.” Canada currently has more that 35,000 such systems in use already. Though if you’re really keen to warm up with geothermal, you just can’t beat the Banff Springs.

Via CanGEA

Moon power!

June 20, 2011











In a sense, tidal power is really just a way of harnessing the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun. Which basically makes all tidal power “moon power,” in the end. So let’s talk about moon power.

In Canada, all of our moon power occurs in the Bay of Fundy, where The Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy (FORCE) coordinates the province’s research on the subject. But the project does more than just research moon power: along with Natural Resources Canada’s (NRCan) CanmetENERGY organization, which is devoted to clean energy development, FORCE intends to demonstrate that moon power can have commercial applications. In fact, their newest project will have the potential to generate enough electricity to power 20,000 homes.

And moon power’s no pie in the sky project.

Built in the bay’s Minas Passage, the new facility will be implemented in three parts: first, a subsea cable in the summer of 2011; second, a Research and Visitors Centre in June 2011; and finally: the two turbines that power the facility in the summer of 2012. Then, it will use four submarine cables to deliver electricity to Nova Scotia’s power system. The project has already received $20 million in funding from Canada’s Clean Energy Fund.

Like a wind turbine, tidal turbines move as fluid passes through them, turning a generator that produces electricity. And, like wind turbines, tidal turbines come in a variety of shapes: even generators that look like snakes and kite-like creations. But it’s hardly the stuff of science fiction: NRCan has identified 190 moon power sites across the Canadian coasts, all of which have an estimated estimated capacity of 42,000 MW — more than 63 percent of the country’s annual total consumption!

For now, though, projects like CanmetENERGY and FORCE’s are mostly for research and demonstration. But if we can put a man on the moon, surely it won’t be long before we’ve got a little moon power too.

Via NRCan

Opportunity Lost?

February 24, 2011

After a few years in the doldrums, the global nuclear power industry is alive and well once again. Nuclear power’s emissions-free electricity is driving a renaissance with 61 nuclear power plants currently under construction and another 158 in the planning stage.

Unfortunately Canada, a country with a long and successful nuclear history, may miss out.

The problem is the uncertain future of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL). Between November 2007 and May 2009, AECL underwent a review by Natural Resources Canada to determine if “AECL’s structure as a Crown Corporation best equips it, its employees and ultimately the Canadian nuclear industry to participate fully in the expanding global nuclear market.”

The findings of the review were announced in May 2009 and in a statement, Lisa Raitt, Minister of Natural Resources at the time, said “AECL’s current mandate and structure hampers its success and development and does not maximize benefits for Canada.” As well, the review found that the CANDU division is “too small to establish a strong presence globally in the high-growth markets that are key to its success.” Subsequently, Minister Raitt, announced the CANDU division was up for sale.

Despite “significant private sector interest in AECL’s commercial operations”, after 15 months of being on the block, only two Canadian companies and no foreign companies have made bids. The Canadian bids were unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, because of AECL’s in-limbo status, interest in CANDU reactors from Ontario, Argentina and Romania aren’t being addressed.

Big Brother is watching… your energy efficiency

August 27, 2010

There are plenty of ways to check your energy efficiency. In Ontario, for example, you can book a Home Energy Audit, saving up to $150 on the audit itself. The federal ecoENERGY program used to offer pre-retrofit evaluations that provided rebates on energy-efficient appliances, but the ecoENERGY Retrofit program was cancelled effective March 31, 2010. And, audits or no, you can always buy more efficient appliances and ensure that drafts and other gaps in your home’s insulation are taken care of.

Still if home audits are too costly, and you don’t like the idea of someone poking around your home, perhaps you’d be more interested in a plane taking infrared photos of your house. Live like you’re in 1984… in 2010!

All right, it’s not really as frightening as George Orwell’s dystopic vision of the future, but a Belgian company has successfully used thermal maps taken by a plane flying over Antwerp to measure the heat loss from houses’ roofs. It’s an unobtrusive way of measuring the amount of energy being lost by a house, and given our existing comfort with public satellite data like the kind found on Google Maps, it’s not hard to imagine that we might eventually be able to access this kind of image from the comfort of our computer. At the same time, it begs the question of just how public we want our energy consumption habits to be.

It might not be double plus good, but it’s certainly not bad either.

Via Popular Science

Simple solutions to a pressing challenge

September 11, 2009

The folks who thought up Project Porchlight, a highly-successful home-grown campaign promoting compact fluorescent light bulbs for the sake of energy efficiency; have turned their attention to the automobile. Their driving force is Stuart Hickox of Ottawa, whose One Change organization, has teamed up with private- and public-sector partners to promote tire gauges and oil changes as significant vehicle efficiency improvements.

The additional benefit of properly-inflated tires, of course, is improved road safety. 

One Change volunteers and staff handed out 1,000 keychain-size digital tire gauges and $30 Canadian Tire oil and filter change coupons at the recent 2009 SuperEX. Other partners in the venture were Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) and the Ontario Trillium Foundation. The goal is to distribute 12,000 gauges and discount coupons in the Ottawa area. 

Hickox, founder and executive director of One Change said the expected annual savings on fuel and auto-service costs should average about $90. That’s based on a formula that uses data developed by NRCan and assumes that at least 40 per cent of cars have at least one underinflated tire. Hickox also said that more efficient cars should curb their annual carbon dioxide emissions by an average 740 kilograms. 

“We are trying to convert awareness to action,” he said, agreeing that while tire pressure may be “deep in the back of everyone’s mind,” it’s something too many motorists ignore. “Simple actions matter.” 

That was the philosophy he espoused with Project Porchlight, the first project Stuart, his wife and some friends began in the Hickox family’s basement in 2005. It quickly spread across the country and into the U.S., where millions of light bulbs have been distributed in Washington state and New Jersey. 

“We’re not your typical environmental group in that we have no political agenda,” Hickox said. “No single source provides all funding; we have partnerships with businesses, non-profit groups and governments. 

“It’s not the old joke about how many people it takes to change a light bulb,” Stuart said, “It’s a question of how many light bulbs it takes to change society!”

Conservation TIPS for the summer

July 22, 2009

sunworshipperSummer is officially here!

Summer means warmer days and evenings, more daylight, and afternoons on the patio. It also means energy use patterns change, and with it, strategies to use less and conserve should change too.

Natural Resources Canada’s Office of Energy Efficiency has released its conservation TIPS for the summer, and there’s loads of good and useful suggestions in there. One major area for Canadians to consider is their summer appliances. Do they need to be gas-powered?

Your mower, trimmer(s), leaf blower, and others consume a lot of fuel and produce significant amounts of carbon dioxide. Electric mowers and trimmers work equally well while consuming proportionately much less energy.

Even better are manual versions. Do you really need a high-octane blower when your broom is right there? And there’s the added benefit of being whisper-quiet. You know how your neighbour’s dog drives you crazy, barking to be let in, then out, and over again? Same idea.

Canadians can also reduce the energy consumed by their indoor appliances. First of all, why are you using your oven so much in the summer, anyway? In winter, sure, a pot of chili hits the spot – but during a heat wave? Cool down with cool foods.

If you do use your oven, make sure the range fan is turned on (which many forget), which doesn’t just keep smells in the kitchen. It effectively vents excess heat from your kitchen to outside, where it doesn’t stifle, and you’re less likely to turn on the A/C.

By switching a few energy habits into summer-mode, you can beat the heat and the energy bills!

Minister glows about nuclear

April 3, 2009

Canadian Nuclear Association Annual Conference Report 1 

Even people who don’t watch The Simpsons might be aware that Homer works at the local nuclear power plant. But how many know the program’s theme music? Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt said she was hoping her staff would sing it for her as she stepped up to the podium at the latest Canadian Nuclear Association conference. But, they disappointed.

Raitt acknowledged that “no economy . . . can grow without a safe, reliable supply of energy and that we need as much of that energy as possible to be clean energy.” Moreover, “nuclear energy will play an increasingly important role in striking a balance between our need for energy and our need to protect our environment.”

She cited the government’s stated and admittedly “aggressive” goal of generating at least 90 per cent of Canada’s electricity from non-emitting sources by 2020 and said some jurisdictions are already moving or at least considering a move to nuclear power: Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and, for the first time, Western Canada.

The industry also was “well positioned to capture some” of the work on the unprecedented number of new reactors planned or under construction around the world.

“As a Canadian, a scientist (MSc from the University of Guelph) and as the Minister of Natural Resources, I have to say that I’m incredibly proud of this country’s nuclear industry. We’ve been a pioneering innovator in the development of nuclear technology and we’ve distinguished ourselves by harnessing this technology and ensuring that it’s operated safely and reliably at home and in other parts of the world. All Canadians will benefit from the success of this industry.”

CCS technology – smaller pieces of Canada’s big green puzzle

March 30, 2009

While some are still puzzled by carbon capture and storage (CCS), increased funding is allowing industry to test various pieces of the technology in order to get a clearer view of the big, emissions-reducing picture. Various projects underway throughout Alberta, BC and Saskatchewan represent a broad spectrum of CCS applications and, this week, after receiving funding from Natural Resources Canada, eight of them got a little closer to realizing their vision.

On March 26, the Honourable Lisa Raitt, Minister of Natural Resources, came to Alberta to announce a government investment of $140 million towards eight CCS projects chosen out of 39 proposals submitted last year for the $230-million ecoENERGY Technology initiative.

The eight winning proposals were selected to represent an array of different CCS approaches, from CO2 storage in geologic formations to using CO2 in enhanced oil recovery (EOR) projects. According to Raitt, each proposal demonstrated a different, complementary piece in the greater challenge of bringing CCS to wide-scale commercial use.

Understanding the viability of capturing and storing carbon emissions was a particular topic of concern in 2008 when the Alberta government announced it would invest $2 billion toward CCS technology. Concerns ranged from the feasibility of implementing such an expensive technology on a mass scale, to the environmental impacts of burying CO2 without getting to the root of problem and reducing fossil fuel use all together.

“I don’t think it’s possible to overstate the importance of this technology,” said Raitt during Thursday’s announcement at Calgary’s SAIT Polytechnic. “We can’t turn our backs on the energy and the wealth that our fossil fuels generate, but we have the responsibility to make sure it is generated sustainably.”

The investments were also touted as a supporting initiative to Canada’s Economic Action Plan, which will include $2.4 billion worth of new measures to support Canada’s climate change objectives.

“While we’re doing better than a lot of others, we’re certainly not immune,” said Raitt, of Canada’s economy as it compares to the rest of the world. Raitt was forthright in her belief that Canada’s robust fossil fuel sector is largely responsible for Canada’s more salubrious economic position on the global stage.

“Without energy, economies do not grow. They don’t even move… we’re still far from replacing the energy fossil fuels provide [so] we need to find a cleaner way to produce it and consume it.”

Successful proposals were submitted by partnerships led or co-led by ARC Resources, Enhance Energy, Spectra Energy Transmission, TransCanada, TransAlta, Husky, Enbridge and EPCOR. Each of the projects will receive between $3 million and $30 million of federal money, but Raitt stressed the federal funding is only one part of the larger equation. “We need to have collaboration between governments and between government and industry,” Raitt said.

Among the eight winning companies present at the announcement was Alberta’s Enhance Energy Inc. whose project proposes to capture CO2 from a large fertilizer plant as well as an oil sands upgrading operation. The CO2 would then be transported and injected into mature oil reservoirs in central Alberta for EOR and permanent sequestration.

“The funding will allow us to accelerate implementation of the project,” explained company president and engineer Susan Cole, adding that the Alberta Industrial Heartland based project, has been in the working for four years. “The added financial support will allow the company to bring this initiative to commercialization faster,” said Cole. (diagram above: Enhance Energy)

To date, the most notable example of CO2 being used for EOR, is Saskatchwan’s Weyburn-Midale CO2 project in southeastern Saskatchewan, which is home to a depleted oil reservoir containing deep underground rock formations called saline aquifers. Transported via pipeline from a plant in Beulah North Dakota, pure streams of CO2 left over from the coal gasification process are injected into these underground formations to increase the recovery rates of sticky, stubborn oil in hard to reach places.

So how does Enhance Energy’s project complement projects already using CO2 for EOR? According to Cole, it will demonstrate the feasibility of a single network to collect CO2 from a large number of industrial emitters. It is projected that within five years, this project could capture and sequester up to 1.9 megatonnes of CO2 annually, equal to taking 358,000 cars off the road each year.

“Each of the projects really is quite different,” said Doug Bloom, President of Spectra Energy Transmission West. The company’s Fort Nelson, B.C. project presents yet another challenge of CCS technology – testing the injection of sour CO2 into these deep saline formations for permanent storage. “In our case, we’re a natural gas pipeline. Raw natural gas contains high levels of CO2 and sulphur dioxide and we want to test the feasibility of permanently storing it in deep underground formations.”

As various parts of the CCS puzzle come into sharper focus, industry and governments across the world remain aware that the technology represents only one part of the even larger puzzle of environmental sustainability. As one environmentalist said in an earlier FLOW article about CCS technology, “there is no one green bullet.”

When asked by one reporter if Canada has a “plan B” for meeting reduction targets, Raitt replied that she doesn’t view CCS support in terms of a plan A or a plan B, calling it a scientifically viable solution in fossil fuel emissions mitigation. “We’re well on our way,” said Raitt adding that the ecoENERGY Technology initiative includes funding research on renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The funding announcement also coincided with the province of Alberta being recognized for its great strides in CCS research by The Aspen Institute, a U.S. energy and environment organization. The Aspen Institute awards recognize organizations for excellence in innovation, implementation and communication of energy and environmental solutions.

How low can you go?

January 21, 2009

Energy efficiency means fewer emissions and lower costs. And that’s the clear benefit to industry Natural Resources Canada is aiming for with its release of the new Energy Savings Toolbox. 

It’s not always an easy task to spot ways to save energy in a complex industrial environment. The Toolbox includes a step-by-step Energy Audit checklist to help users assess energy consumption, costs, energy use patterns and inventories and then identify ways to increase energy efficiency. The toolbox also includes detailed information on energy fundamentals, energy consuming systems and condition surveys.

This free, comprehensive PDF resource is available now at Natural Resource Canada.

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