August 3, 2012
Ninth in a series on the ‘Now or Never” report of the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources (ENEV).
Priority #9 highlights the importance of renewable energy to Canada’s energy future. And that’s possible because we have an abundance of water, wind, sunlight, geothermal and biomass resources. Renewable energy initiatives are often developed in response to addressing greenhouse gas emissions, diversifying energy supplies, meeting government regulations and satisfying consumer demands for renewable energy sources.
Renewable energy is primarily used to generate electricity. Hydropower accounts for about two thirds of our electricity generation here in Canada. The rest is generated by oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear. ‘Other’ renewables are also part of the mix but are just a sliver of our energy pie. The challenge is how can we grow that piece?
In Canada, the answer right now is slowly. But steadily. Canada’s wind power installed capacity is growing every year. Biomass-fired electricity generation (forest and agriculture waste, municipal solid waste and landfill gas) is being considered as an option to replace some coal-fired plants. Biofuel development is continuing to grow; all major oil refineries in Canada blend ethanol and biodiesel. And both solar and geothermal are heating options for residential and commercial development.
Canada certainly has the capacity to make good use of these resources if we can tackle the key issues. Upgrading of the electricity grid infrastructure is essential. Private and public funding of research we know is key to technology development and innovation. And realizing that municipal governments and consumers have a big role to play in developing renewable energy resources locally.
Today’s lesson is in your hands. I will supply you with sources about the big renewables in Canada, but as these industries are constantly evolving, I’d advise that you keep up with them. If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll know I’ve recently posted several stories on renewables, and am always looking for more.
Canada is an enormous country, and has amazing potential for renewable energy. This is an exciting time for renewables, so I would definitely recommend that you look at these sites now and visit often. There are some truly fantastic things happening.
Canadian Wind Energy Association – Canada’s wind farms
Ontario – Small wind for home and farm
Canadian Solar Industries Association – Solar energy 101
Solar decathlon – Who will compete next?
Canadian Renewable Fuels Association – Public policy
BC – Bioenergy strategy
Canadian Geothermal Association – What is geothermal?
NRCan – Tides, rivers and waves
FORCE – Tidal energy (watch the Fundy Tidal Research video)
May 9, 2012
The U.S. is back on top of the clean energy investment race. But the position might be short lived.
Five clean energy initiatives in the States ended in 2011 including three tax credit programs, the Department of the Treasury Section 1603 Grant Program and Department of Energy Section 1705 Loan Guarantees.
Pew Environment Group recently released their annual report on clean energy investment. With a primary focus on investment, the report also looks at technological trends related to the clean energy economy of G-20 members.
The United States attracted $48.1 billion in clean energy investments in 2011. It led the way in venture capital financing (70 per cent of the G-20 total) and was second in public market offerings and asset financing (behind China). The U.S. also has 93 GW of installed renewable energy capacity, second only to China, which continues to lead the world in clean energy capacity with 133 GW installed.
2011 was the first year that the U.S. installed more that 1 GW of solar energy and a portion of its 2011 investment dollars were directed towards solar. Investments in large, utility-scale solar power plants are expected to add to America’s installed capacity count in the years to come.
In Canada, our clean energy investment grew by four per cent last year and totalled $5.5 billion. That puts us 11th amoung the G-20 nations. This is were our investment dollars were spent in 2011:
- 56 per cent of total – wind
- 19 per cent – solar, both residential and commercial
- 13 per cent – other renewables like geothermal, biomass and small-hydro
- 8 per cent – biofuels
- 4 per cent – efficiency and low carbon technology and services
Canada has 9.6 GW of installed renewable energy capacity, which is 1.9 per cent of the G-20 total. That breaks down into four sectors: 5.4GW of wind power, 2 GW of small hydro power, 1.8 GW of energy generated by biomass and waste and 0.47 GW of solar power. Interestingly and as is sometimes the case, our 2011 solar energy investment contrasts sharply with a lag in deployment.
Read the executive summary or full report on the Pew Environment Group website.
April 29, 2011
Take garbage. Day after day it is trucked out to huge landfills where it gets buried by more garbage. As the trash piles up, the lower layers become starved of oxygen and the conditions near the bottom of the heap become anaerobic, allowing anaerobic bacteria and other microorganisms to feast on the garbage, creating landfill gas, a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide.
Once a landfill is full, it is usually capped by thick layers of dirt and often a sealing membrane, and left to sit, while more landfill gas accumulates. Finally, collection wells are drilled and cased to the base of the landfill. The section of the casing penetrating the waste layers is perforated so the landfill gas can enter the pipe. Unlike natural gas wells, landfill gas must be pumped out of its reservoir.
Agricultural wastes such as manure, crop residue, and silage are collected in a digester, a large, domed tank, often built underground. Again, as the waste accumulates, the lower section becomes oxygen-starved and anaerobic microbes acting on the waste produce methane and carbon dioxide. Because the material in the digester is a thick liquid slurry, the biogas rises to the top of the digester where it can be siphoned off. Once the slurry has been digested, the residue can be used as fertilizer.
With both processes, the carbon dioxide must be removed before the biogas can be used as fuel. Biogas can be used as a substitute for natural gas in fuelling electricity generation, space heating, and natural gas powered cars and buses.
February 10, 2011
In our recent post on the World Future Energy Summit, we discussed the need for policy change in order to achieve current climate change targets. Two scientists in the United States have taken that one step further. Mark Z. Jacobson, professor of civil and environmental engineering, Stanford University and Mark A. Delucchi, research scientist, Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis; believe that all that is needed to achieve a totally carbon free, totally renewable, wind, water and solar (WWS) based energy system by 2030 is political will.
Well, maybe a bit more than that. We’ll also need:
- 490,000 tidal turbines, each with an installed capacity of one megawatt
- 5,350 geothermal plants, each with an installed capacity of 100 megawatts
- 270 additional hydroelectric plants, each with an installed capacity of 1,300 megawatts
- 3.8 million wind turbines, each with an installed capacity of five megawatts
- 720,000 wave powered turbines, each with an installed capacity of 0.75 megawatts
- 1.7 billion rooftop photovoltaic systems, each with an installed capacity of three kilowatts
- 49,000 solar focusing steam power plants, each with an installed capacity of 300 megawatts
- 40,000 photovoltaic power plants, each with an installed capacity of 300 megawatts
Basically, to achieve a totally renewable WWS energy system, we’ll have to totally renew the existing system. And that includes building a new, super-interconnected electricity transmission grid. It also involves scrapping all internal combustion engine vehicles and replacing them with electric or fuel cell vehicles.
And the cost estimate is only about $100 trillion.
The most fascinating aspect of this theory is that it might just be doable.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that by 2030, world energy demand will be 16.9 terawatts (TW), or enough to power 47 60-watt light bulbs for every person on earth. But Jacobson and Delucchi point out that in a carbon-free world there would be no internal combustion engines, and internal combustion engines are far less efficient than electricity, so the actual requirement drops to 11.5 TW.
And if you think 3.8 million wind turbines is a lot, consider that auto manufacturers make 73 million cars per year. Also consider that much of the world’s electricity generation and transmission infrastructure is aging and will have to be replaced in the not too distant future anyway. And without all the transportation-induced air pollution, medical and environmental costs would decrease significantly.
As far as reliability of the system is concerned, a thoroughly interconnected grid will be able to re-route surplus electricity to wherever it is needed. Jacobson and Delucchi point out, perhaps a little simplistically, that if it’s raining in one place, it’s sunny someplace else, or if there’s no wind, it’s probably sunny. In other words, electricity will be generated somehow, somewhere.
The authors have determined that the only technical barrier might be the availability of rare-earth metals needed for batteries, solar films and fuel cells. But if we recycle old batteries and buildings, we should have ample supply of steel, concrete and things like neodymium and indium.
Which means the real barrier is political will, which ultimately means getting everyone onside. Most of us agree there’s a problem, but maybe it’s a little far fetched to try and achieve all this by 2030. Maybe it’s more realistic to try for 2050. Implement a more gradual shift, replacing old infrastructure as needed with new wind, water and solar generation. Maybe people will be a little more comfortable with that and a little more willing to put one of the 1.7 billion photovoltaic systems on their own roof.
February 8, 2011
A recurring theme at the recently held fourth World Future Energy Summit (WFES) was that the transformation to a clean energy future requires a new way of thinking. That new way of thinking was best described by Lord Nicholas Stern, Chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, London School of Economics. “In order that climate change targets can be achieved, we face the need for a new industrial revolution. That industrial revolution needs policy change as a driver to reach the scale of change required. With fundamentally strong policy, we can also increase the pace of that change.”
One such policy shift described at the summit is government fuel subsidies. “Government subsidies of energy fuels leads to inefficiencies and waste through artificially high use,” said Dr. Fatih Birol, Chief Economist of International Energy Agency. “Coupled with the current gas glut this poses a real threat to future investment in renewables.”
Another policy shift is to refocus sustainable infrastructure development from established economies to emerging economies. “Developing countries offer a ‘clean sheet’ for renewable technologies as they often do not have the old technologies and infrastructure that developed economies have”, said Rene Umlauft, CEO Renewable Energy, Siemens, Germany. “This means that they can ‘leapfrog’ the problems that developed countries have in replacing old energy systems, making them a key investment market.”
Closer to Home
But policy shifts that drive green energy and sustainability are more than just ideas voiced at environmental summits. Closer to home, the Ontario government’s policies are the drivers of change.
In 2007, the Ontario Power Authority developed a 20-year energy policy that focused on “creating a sustainable energy supply, targeted to improving current natural gas and renewable assets at a sustainable and realistic cost.” That plan included the very successful Feed-in-Tariff program wherein small energy producers using renewable energy sources were paid for surplus power supplied to the grid.
In 2009, the Ontario government introduced its Green Energy and Green Economy Act and its Long-Term Energy Plan (660KB PDF) as an update of the 2007 plan.
During the 1990s, five coal-fired plants, all operated by Ontario Power Generation (OPG), supplied up to 25 per cent of Ontario’s electricity. With the Long-Term Plan, all coal-fired units will be phased out by December 31, 2014. In doing so, Ontario will become the first jurisdiction in North America to eliminate coal-fired generation.
Closing coal plants actually started in 2005 when OPG decommissioned the Lakeshore generating station in Mississauga, Ontario. In 2010, it shut down two units at Nanticoke and two at Lambton generating station. Two more units at Nanticoke are scheduled to be shut down in 2011. Nanticoke was the largest coal-fired generating station in North America and the largest single emitter of greenhouse gases in Canada.
To make up for lost generating capacity, the single unit at the Atikokan plant in northern Ontario is being converted to burn biomass consisting of wood pellets and agricultural by-products. Two of the three units at Thunder Bay will be converted to natural gas. As well, units at Nanticoke and Lambton may be converted to burn gas or biomass.
Ontario expects that nuclear power will continue to provide up to 50 per cent of its electricity. This may call for refurbishment and modernization of units at the Darlington, Pickering and Bruce nuclear generating stations as well as the addition of two to four new reactors at Darlington.
The province will add capacity through upgrades to, and new construction of, hydropower facilities, wind farms and solar parks. Ontario already leads the country in wind and solar capacity.
Existing Feed-in-Tariff programs, which initially included biomass, biogas, landfill gas, wind, solar and small hydro, will be expanded to include small combined heat and power projects.
While policy is driving change in Ontario, it may not be the only driver. The first Industrial Revolution was driven by innovation and technology that allowed mass production. Similarly, recent advances have contributed to the economic viability of renewable resources such as wind power and solar photovoltaic energy and to the more efficient use of conventional fuels in new technologies such as combined cycle gas turbines. Without these advances, implementing policy change might be prohibitively expensive.
|Held in Abu Dhabi and hosted by Masdar, an Abu Dhabi based renewable energy and sustainable technology organization, the WFES is an annual event that promotes innovation and investment opportunities surrounding renewable energy and the environment. This year’s meeting was attended by more than 26,000 visitors from 137 countries. Delegates included political leaders, international policy makers, industry experts, investors,and academics.|
January 24, 2011
The third of four E3 (energy, environment, economy) Roundtables was held in Calgary January 17th, 2010. Hosted by Corporate Knights magazine and sponsored by Enbridge, the Roundtables “provide for a discussion that will support the development of visionary energy policy options for the whole of Canada.”
Central to the discussion was the theme question “Most Canadians expect that we all will eventually transition from carbon-based to low-carbon energy. How do we make it happen in a way that unites rather than divides?”
While five of the six panelists agreed with the necessity for an energy policy or strategy, David Keith, Director, ISEEE Energy and Environmental Systems Group, sees the need for a “climate policy” because the prime driver for an energy policy is climate.
Preston Manning, President & CEO, Manning Centre for Building Democracy, presented four key principles toward an energy policy, foremost of which is the need for proper measurement of the environmental aspects of all energy sources, not just oil and gas.
Marlo Raynolds, Senior Advisor, Pembina Institute, spoke to Canada focusing too much on fossil fuels. A national energy policy has to focus on greenhouse gas emissions and include renewable energy and energy efficiency in the economy.
According to Roger Gibbons, President & CEO, Canada West Foundation, hydropower and hydrocarbons form Canada’s competitive advantage and going forward we must focus on producing them in better ways.
Both Eric Axford, Senior Vice President, Suncor Energy Inc., and Eric Miller, Senior Vice President, Nexen Inc., cite technology and innovation as keys to achieving energy sustainability.
Most agreed that ultimately, if we all make the right personal choices, we won’t need an energy policy.
September 27, 2010
Image: Decker Yeadon LLC
Solar panels are becoming common sights in our daily lives: from our backpacks to the tops of our neighbourhoods. But one thing that nobody’s accused solar panels of being, thus far, is pretty. But that’s going to change if one project has its way.
The Light Sanctuary would be a solar plant with style. Using 80,000 square km of incredibly thin solar panels, the installation would look like a giant, deep brown maze placed in the middle of desert, producing up to 4,592 MW-hours annually.
Designed by the American firm Decker Yeagan, the sculpture is an entry into the Land Art Generator Initiative, a contest sponsored by none other than Masdar, the body responsible for the United Arab Emirates’ energy showcase. The contest is designed to reward installations that also happen to provide large scale clean energy generation. According to the initiative’s website: “The works will serve to inspire and educate while they provide renewable power to thousands of homes around the world.”
The UAE also recently announced a similarly ambitious project: the Shams 1 solar power plant. At 100 MW, the Shams 1 has a far a higher capacity than its more artistic brother. At this stage, it’s just not practical to sacrifice functionality for attractiveness, leaving the Light Sanctuary as more of a visual demonstration than a bona fide power plant.
And while the Light Sanctuary and the Shams 1 are baking in the sun, researchers in the UK are finding ways of cooling power down.
Researchers at the University of Leeds in the U.K. and the Chinese Academy of Sciences have proposed using excess electricity to chill nitrogen and oxygen. The idea is that the stored gases could be reheated by waste heat, and their gaseous forms could drive turbines. Like a smart grid, this system would directly address one of the most fundamental problems with the way we currently use electricity: peak demand. In those periods where we have more energy than we know what to do with, we’d simply cool it down.
So whether we’re trying to put a pretty face on our solar power, or using our excess power to keep things cool, one thing’s clear: If the future’s certainly going to look different, it’s nice to know that it might look prettier too.
August 3, 2010
The researchers who discovered it say it’s ”the most condensed form of energy storage outside of nuclear energy.” That’s big talk for something so small: a “battery” capable of storing a million atmospheres worth of pressure in a white crystal called xenon difluoride (XeF2).
By squeezing the xenon difluoride in a tiny diamond anvil (yes, that is exactly what it sounds like), researchers at Washington State were able to compress the xenon difluoride into a two-dimensional superconductor. When compressed even further, the substance formed 3D metallic “network structures” that stored the mechanical energy of the compression in chemical bonds.
The end result was an incredibly small “battery” (though based on a much simpler chemical reaction than the ones we’re used to) capable of storing an incredibly large amount of power. And storing power cuts to the heart of everything we’re interested in when it comes to new sources of energy.
Since renewable sources like solar and wind are intermittent, for example, they need energy storage to bridge the gap between periods of low sun or wind. In addition to conventional batteries, a host of solutions have been put forward, including water storage and even salt storage. But since there’s no telling how large a facility these far-out solutions could need, and since there’s a limit on how small and efficient conventional batteries can be, the idea of a battery so small and powerful that it could fit inside a two-inch by three-inch anvil is terribly interesting.
In the end, all energy research is ultimately about releasing or transforming energy: even fossil fuels are essentially storing sunlight that was converted into chemical energy by the organisms that have since decomposed. And, when it comes to storage, smaller really is better.
July 30, 2010
Since most of us aren’t ready to pack up our belongings and pitch a tent in the middle of the wilderness, the steps we take to reduce our environmental impact tend to be small ones. Government websites like the Office of Energy Efficiency provide a host of energy-saving tips like choosing low-energy lighting fixtures and checking the insulation on our windows, but these tips are still part of a recognizable pattern of energy consumption.
Even carbon offsets, those “get out of jail free” cards of the greenhouse gas world, aren’t 100 per cent effective in reducing emissions — The Christian Science Monitor published a damning six-part series in April 2010 that outlined many of the failings outlined in a similar report by The Suzuki Foundation and Pembina Institute.
But if the steps we’re taking are small, there’s at least some hope that they’re at least larger than we’d thought before. According to a study published in this month’s Energy Policy, the US government (and, therefore, likely the Canadian government as well) may have underestimated the CO2 emission savings of reducing electricity use by as much as 60 per cent. Because plants that burn fossil fuels are generally more able to respond to changes in use than their lower-emission counterparts (nuclear and renewable), lumping the two categories together skews the data. The authors recommend dividing electricity generation between low and emission-free sources and more variable, higher carbon sources, to give a more accurate picture of exactly what volume of emissions are being released.
Precisely estimating the volume of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions continues to be one of the largest problems when trying to estimate the environmental fallout from human activity. The environment is still an incredibly complex system that has both surprised us with its ability to process our emissions, and shocked us with the rapid effects of climate change, such as ocean acidification. It’s hard to get a firm grasp of the large picture, which might explain why we tend to want small changes that we can make in our daily lives. So, knowing that the small might not be so small after all is definitely good news.
July 28, 2010
Air travel by dirigibles enjoyed a brief golden age in the early 20th century, evoking images of giant blimps crossing the Atlantic like airborne luxury liners. (There’s an urban legend that says the Empire State Building was even originally supposed to have a refuelling station built into its top, but as fanciful as it might seem, it’s also not true). But eventually, with the mounting logistical issues inherent in flying around in giant balloons, and the very public Hindenburg accident, the era ended. Now, when we’re talking about hydrogen fuel we’re talking about an entirely different way of travelling.
Still, the image of a lighter-than-air aircraft has continued to intrigue us, even if it’s not really feasible as a mode of mass transportation. That’s why it’s intriguing to see a manned solar-powered blimp designed to fly for an hour over the English channel. It’s a year behind schedule and will only carry a single passenger, but the Nephelios is slated to make its maiden, hour-long journey from Calais to Dover within the summer. Hope they get a sunny day.
Transportation continues to account for a huge share of our country’s greenhouse gas emissions (36 per cent in 2007), so it’s no wonder that even modest attempts at emission-free vehicles of tend to stimulate our optimism. Other public projects designed to produce solar-powered vehicles in recent years have included the Solar Impulse project and its round-the-world trip, and the University of Calgary’s Schulich I solar car, one of the participants in the North American Solar Challenge.
And while it won’t sail through the air like the Nephelios, or the fish-like prototype blimps we’ve covered previously, the Physalia, a floating river purifier and environmental museum, shows that the air isn’t the only place for fantastical vehicles powered by renewable energy. Even if the golden age of the dirigible never really did launch, there’s definitely room for emission-free transportation that could prove every bit as fantastical.