According to a new report, modernizing Canada’s electricity systems can play a central role in ensuring affordable, secure energy in the face of global volatility—while also advancing Canada’s climate goals. With coordinated federal and provincial action, a “big switch” from fossil fuels to clean electricity can make energy more affordable while laying the foundation for a sustainable and prosperous future.
The report from the Canadian Climate Institute, The Big Switch: Powering Canada’s net zero future, finds that without coordinated action from provincial and federal governments to build bigger, cleaner, and smarter electricity systems, Canada’s low-carbon transition could be much bumpier. Fortunately, the report finds, the technologies needed are available and affordable, and the policy solutions are readily at hand.
“The big switch from fossil fuels to clean electricity is key to reducing Canada’s emissions. Making our electricity systems bigger, cleaner and smarter to deliver on this is completely feasible—and Canada already has a head start,” says Jason Dion, lead author and director of Mitigation Research, Canadian Climate Institute. “With co-ordinated action by federal and provincial governments, Canadians can power more and more of their lives using clean, affordable, and reliable electricity.”
Key findings of the report include:
- The big switch will increase affordability for Canadians when it’s powered by the right policies. Rapidly declining costs of renewables and storage makes electricity more affordable than volatile fossil fuels. Smart, co-ordinated policy can build the bigger, cleaner, and smarter electricity systems that can power this promise.
- Aligning electricity systems with net zero—by making them bigger, cleaner, and smarter—is both necessary and achievable. These systems can reliably and affordably power Canada’s economy and the broader transition to net zero.
- The most significant barriers to the big switch are social, political, and institutional. Policy needs to address both the technical and non-technical barriers to the deployment and uptake of key solutions.
“Transforming Canada’s electricity systems is necessary to achieve net zero. We have much to do, and limited time to do it. The technologies to build bigger, cleaner, and smarter systems are known and cost-effective, but there remain policy and regulatory barriers that are slowing progress,” says Francis Bradley, president and chief executive officer at Electricity Canada.
“Utilities and other market actors need clear climate policies, and the role of regulators and system operators in the transition needs to be clearly laid out. Governments have a driving role in addressing these challenges and accelerating the big switch.”
The report advises on making the electricity system bigger, cleaner, and smarter:
- Bigger: Making electricity systems bigger means growing them to meet the increased demand from widespread electrification. Specifically, studies show that in a net zero future, Canadian electricity demand will grow to be 1.6 to 2.1 times larger by 2050 compared to today. And to meet that demand, Canada’s electricity generation capacity will need to be 2.2 to 3.4 times bigger than today.
- Cleaner: Making electricity systems cleaner means phasing-out unabated fossil fuel generation, accelerating the growth of solar and wind, and maintaining hydro and nuclear power’s important role. Other technologies such as carbon capture, utilization, and storage applied to emitting generation, small modular reactors, hydrogen-fired electricity generation, and geothermal have significant potential, but their future role is more uncertain.
- Smarter: Making electricity systems smarter means ensuring they are flexible enough to support more variable energy from solar and wind—and that they’re more resilient to the effects of climate change. That can mean deploying sources that generate power on demand (e.g. hydropower), enhancing grid integration, scaling up battery storage, or using smart technologies to shift when power is used (e.g. electric cars programmed to charge during the night while demand is low).