You might have noticed that talking about energy can lead to pretty polarizing conversations these days — especially when climate change comes up.
The thing is, there may be more that unites us than divides us in this discussion.
For instance, a recent survey conducted by Leger, on behalf of Canada Powered by Women, found the vast majority of women in regions coast-to-coast care deeply about addressing climate change through emissions reduction.
They also overwhelmingly want an economically and socially prosperous country.
Both these goals are more likely to be achieved simultaneously, if we focus more on how the energy sector (which plays a significant role in our economy) can support emission-reduction goals, and less on the political ideologies that might divide us.
Then everybody wins. And so does our planet.
Fortunately, technology-driven innovations are already helping Canadian energy producers and businesses across our national and global economy dramatically reduce emissions.
Scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs are developing and deploying cutting-edge technologies and systems, to increase sustainability, decrease emissions, and help the sector become more efficient in every way possible.
All while actively moving the needle on our country’s target emission-
reduction goals. Plus, producing more energy as the world’s growing population requires ever-more power.
Ultimately, innovation not only benefits the environment, it contributes to increased energy security and economic prosperity for us all, says CEO of Startec Compression and Process, Kristi Cawthorn.
“In order to have a healthy energy industry, we need to have a healthy environment,” she says. “Those two must go in lockstep. We see amazing innovation by companies who are finding ways to reduce emissions and reduce the impact of the fuels we’re using, while still producing the energy we need to power Canadian’s everyday lives.”
Who doesn’t want that?
Carbon capture and beyond: big wins in energy innovation
There’s so much tech advancement going on in energy, it can be hard to choose which innovation to talk about first.
That said, you may have heard of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), which captures CO2 emissions from large-scale energy production sites. And then stores or sequesters the captured carbon dioxide deep underground or in other secure repositories. Note: a “vast amount of evidence” reviewed by the U.S. Department of Energy shows CO2 storage is safe.
This might be the innovation that gets the most attention (and for good reason!). But there are a whole host of other initiatives, driven or adopted by energy producers that are aimed at reducing emissions.
Some of these other examples include:
- Low-sulphur technology. In areas that rely on diesel fuel (for example, the shipping work carried out by trains, boats, and trucks) ultra-low sulphur diesel fuel or ULSD is used to reduce the emissions created by burning this type of fuel.
- Natural gas and hydrogen engine technology. Light and heavy truck engine technology has paved the way for clean energy fuel to reduce emissions in the transportation sector.
- Biofuels and renewable natural gas. Renewable natural gas (RNG) comes from sources like agricultural waste. Food waste processing, wastewater processing, and wood waste processing are also employed. The idea is to put these waste products to good use by converting them into renewable energy sources, a kind of win-win solution with wide-reaching benefits.
- Methane management and reduction. Canada’s methane strategy not only sets high targets for emissions reductions, it also aims to create economic opportunities in the methane technology sector, encouraging further innovation in emission reductions and increases in efficiency.
- More economical carbon sequestration. Once a relatively expensive technology, advancements in carbon capture technology mean that the process is becoming much more affordable, reducing both cost and the amount of energy CCS requires to run.
- Lower-footprint minerals mining for batteries. It might surprise you to learn there are high environmental costs when producing the very batteries we use to power low-emission machines, such as electric vehicles. So, we need greater innovation when mining the critical metals (such as lithium) that batteries require. For instance, new tech advancements are enabling mobile and modular mining and processing plants, which reduce the physical and environmental footprint of battery production.
- Grid integration of wind power. Although wind turbines produce emission-free power, they’re far from being able to provide reliable electricity. According to IEA.org, “Wind power generation creates well-known challenges for electricity grids and power systems through its variability and uncertainty and distributed nature.” Tech solutions being developed for this challenge help to enable more seamless and reliable integration of wind-generated electricity into our broader energy networks.
- Reduction of energy consumption. An uptick in energy efficiency means that technology is being employed to decrease energy consumption as well, which of course also reduces emissions. Improvements are being made to reduce and conserve the amount of water used by energy producers too — for example, by recycling water used for fracking and partnering with communities to use treated wastewater.
Cleaner Canadian energy is the path to sustainability, security and stability
Canada is in a unique position to draw on our plentiful reserves of cleaner, greener energy (when compared with a lot of other oil producing nations) to decrease emissions not just here at home, but globally, says January McKee, President of AMGAS Services.
After all, we only have one atmosphere, and climate change is an issue that impacts the entire planet. Our country has a responsibility to help wherever and however possible — because borders don’t stop the spread of carbon pollution.
“We have the third largest oil reserves in the world, and we’re just sitting on this giant opportunity to reduce emissions,” says McKee.
Coal, for example, is nearly twice as greenhouse gas intensive as natural gas. Canada has significantly reduced its use of coal to generate electricity by turning to cleaner sources of fuel instead — and we have the capacity to help other countries do the same by supplying them with Canadian LNG, which is far better for the environment, she says.
Transformation of our energy system through innovation and diversification (increased access to alternative, lower-emission fuel sources like LNG) is not only our route towards a greener future, it’s also a pathway to continued prosperity for Canadians. In 2020, investments in energy related R&D by Canadian businesses totalled $1.7 billion.
That kind of investment can cause an economic boom that not only drives innovations in hydrogen fuel cells, high-efficiency gas turbines, or cleaner fossil fuel technology — but also leads to job growth, which is critical for a prosperous economy.
Canadian energy innovations are aimed at improving efficiency and lowering carbon dioxide and methane emissions. But they can also help remove silos that hold us back from the use of different, diverse energy sources. Plus improve access to information within and about the industry.
Remember all that politicized talk we mentioned at the start?
It doesn’t help us achieve what we all want, which is a thriving energy sector that fuels our economy and meets growing energy needs, while also tackling climate change. Better instead to work together to support the transformation of our energy system.
Then we can respond to the needs of the environment, the economy, and to the security of our energy supply, all at the same time.