From: Issue 39
It's time to turn energy vision into action
Talking about a “national energy strategy” is very much in vogue these days, almost the way we talked about “climate change strategies” for the first decade of the new millennium. Industry associations, provinces, think tanks, unions, energy companies, non-governmental organizations – all are calling for a cross-country approach to managing and transitioning our energy system. But, can we move these conversations to practical action? What will it really take to make the necessary transitions in how we produce energy and consume energy services?
To start with, we need a coherent vision of what we, as a nation, want to be when we grow up given our world-scale abundance of energy resources.
Last year, environmental action group Tides Canada conducted a series of workshops resulting in a document called “A New Energy Vision for Canada.” It outlines the broadly accepted vision for a national energy strategy that:
• Provides accessible, fair and efficient energy services to citizens with minimal risk to future generations;
• Leverages our considerable renewable resources and existing institutions to increase our share of the global market for low-carbon goods and services, spurring new jobs, investment and innovations;
• Reduces the risk of climate disruption by lowering carbon emissions to a level, and at a pace, recommended by the global scientific community;
• Protects and restores air, land and water resources by setting hard caps on cumulative ecosystem and atmospheric impacts; and
• Encourages local stewardship over low-carbon energy production and resources.
Though there is no shortage of chatter about the shape and scope of a Canadian energy strategy, these are really the minimum specifications of any plan, provincially or nationwide, that could set us up for truly long-term prosperity by sparking an incredible wave of innovation.
Even with a national vision, however, it is the provinces that hold the jurisdictional power and responsibility to deliver. And the biggest mistake our provinces could make is to focus on “resource development” as opposed to focusing on the “energy services” we need. To state it bluntly, people don’t really care about energy resources; we care about the services they bring us, such as mobility, light, warm homes, electronics and cold beer. These desired services won’t change much, but the resources that make them possible will.
Take mobility. During the preceding century, petroleum overwhelmingly provided this service. We continue to use barrels of oil as a metric of future energy demand and often point to the growing demand for oil in China. But China does not really care about oil; it cares about mobility. If and when that economy can provide its people with mobility by another means that is cheaper, cleaner, domestically produced, more accessible and higher performance, it will do so rather quickly. In other words, meet the electric car.
Today, Canada is a powerhouse in the last century’s dominant energy currency. But as times change we need to adapt and be positioned to be a competitive player in this century’s emerging energy technologies. This means each province must ask itself: How are we going to compete in an “energy-technology” focused global economy? Where should we start?
Different priorities will exist for each province, but across the country each should focus on: pricing pollution, steadily reducing limits on total pollution, properly valuing the benefits of renewable energy, and investing in energy efficiency.