Energy has been a dynamic topic for many years and will continue to keep the spotlight into the foreseeable future. Renewable energy, oil prices, energy security, climate change as well as a large repertoire of other related topics are constantly flooding our ears. But are the important facts reaching individuals and creating a greater understanding of the energy dilemma that Canadians and the rest of the world are facing? Growing populations and rising standards of living result in rising energy demand — global electricity demand will double by 2030 and energy demand in general by 2050.
On the global stage, Canada is increasingly seen as a laggard when it comes to making the sustainable changes required to move our country (and the global system as a whole) toward a desirable and healthy future. From a sustainable development perspective, there is a lack of long-term and holistic planning around how to best utilize Canada’s natural resources. An obvious explanation could be the short-term economic gains the country is currently enjoying from exploiting its natural reserves. This attitude may also be the result of design flaws within the political system; it is fundamentally difficult to plan 20 years into the future with different political parties and philosophies exchanging power every handful of years.
The Canadian tar sands are a finite and extensive energy resource that is experiencing everything but procrastination. Although there are regulations in place for the remediation of tar sand lands, very few have ever been certified or restored to their original state. The process of extraction is environmentally frightening, has profound effects on surrounding communities and is increasingly gaining negative international attention as a major contributor to global climate change — you can see the resulting scars on our planet from space. Some people argue that the need to develop the tar sands is valid as we do live in a time that is heavily dependent on oil; however, the methods used to optimize this finite resource are not sustainable and need to be reformed for us to intelligently move forward. A clear example is the handling of the Alberta Heritage Fund, which was created in 1976 to collect a portion of Alberta’s non-renewable resource revenue for future generations.
While it currently holds $15 billion after 35 years, the Norwegians created a fund in 1991 with an identical purpose (it is actually modeled after the Albertan’s fund) and today, after 20 years, Norway’s Oil Fund holds $390 billion. It is the second largest sovereign wealth fund in the world and much of its success is attributed to the complete transparency of all aspects of its administration. Is there something that we could (and should) be doing differently? I think so.
Similar to other developed countries, Canada is also experiencing an aging electrical infrastructure that makes it difficult to transmit renewable energy that may be generated in remote areas to urban centers where it is consumed. Canada’s vast energy resources may be accredited to its substantial geography, but that very aspect becomes a difficult barrier to surpass when moving toward an intelligent and effective energy society. Innovation, R&D, education and communication are key components to overcoming these hurdles. Equally important is the implementation of existing energy efficiency solutions. The focus on energy management becomes obvious when you learn how much energy is lost when transmitting it from where it is generated to where it is consumed; for every unit of energy conserved at the point of use, three units become available at the point of generation. With a focus on conservation programs and initiatives, Canadians could realize tremendous savings at home while exporting the excess energy to other areas where it is needed.
Canada coincidentally ended up flush with natural wealth making it one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of energy. It’s only a matter of time before the blinders of business as usual come off — hopefully it’s before we squander our wealth faster than kids plough through Halloween candy.
Disclaimer: My comments are my own thoughts and do not represent the thoughts of Schneider Electric.