In this document, the Canadian Council on Renewable Electricity outlines its vision for the future of renewable electricity in Canada.
The successful Paris climate change negotiations in December 2015 marked a turning point: the world is committed to addressing climate change. Canada has set a target of reducing economy-wide emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, and it also recognizes scientific findings that global reductions of at least 80 per cent will be required by 2050 to limit climate change. Achieving such deep reductions in Canada will not be easy, especially given significant emissions from its transportation and oil sectors. Such a transition will require a combination of decisive early action as well as enduring and widespread support from ordinary Canadians to maintain momentum. We will need an unprecedented level of cooperation across sectors and governments while maintaining the integrity of our federal system and the role of the provinces, territories and First Nations and Indigenous communities.
Yet this new global resolve to address climate change also presents very significant opportunities for Canada–both at home and abroad. Canada has a relatively clean electricity system, with 80 per cent of its electricity generated from non-emitting sources–including 65 per cent from renewable energy. Our clean electricity resources can provide the foundation both for needed emission reductions and economic growth.
An early embrace of this opportunity offers clear advantages. First, much of Canada’s electricity infrastructure is aging, and so is in need of replacement in any case. Second, early action can provide Canada with valuable lessons that it can leverage to assist other countries who will be facing similar challenges. As a large country with diverse geographical needs and resources, Canada can become a leader in clean technology, upstream and downstream electricity storage, the smart grid, and the broader electrification of the economy. Not only will we be able to provide clean electricity to assist the United States in achieving its own targets, we will also be able to export our technology and services throughout the world.
Modeling work and analysis from the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project (DDPP) finds that economy-wide reductions of 30-50 per cent (compared to the 2005 baseline) are achievable with current technologies, such as energy efficiency measures, clean electricity, and switching from fossil fuels to clean power for buildings—provided implementation begins immediately. But reductions beyond 50 per cent, in contrast, would require substantial innovation to enable large scale adoption of electrification technologies in sectors where electricity has not traditionally played a major role, such as heavy transport, oil and gas and various industries. Put differently, for Canada to achieve its greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets, we will need to make our electricity system even cleaner–eventually achieving 100 per cent non-emitting electricity–while also expanding power generation to support the electrification of the economy, notably in transportation, industry and buildings.
In order to achieve a largely decarbonized economy and capture the substantial associated advantages, we recommend that Canada take action in the following three areas:
- Aim for a zero-carbon electricity grid by 2050. Implement policies to ensure the phase-out of practically all emitting generation sources by 2050 and the sustained growth of the share of generation produced by renewable sources.
- An electrified economy. The federal, provincial and territorial governments should commit to increasing the use of electricity in our energy system to over 50 per cent of all energy used in Canada by 2050. Aim for 100 per cent zero carbon buildings by 2050, set ambitious targets for the electrification of transportation and strongly support the electrification of industry through research and development (R&D) support, subsidies and regulation.
- A renewable energy export strategy. Federal, provincial and territorial governments should prioritize the development of a renewable energy export strategy, including work on streamlining of cross-border transmission projects, and removal of any policy barriers.