Embracing a Low-Carbon Future
By Kate Chisholm, Q.C., Senior Vice President, Chief Legal and Sustainability Officer, Capital Power
The world as we know it is on the brink of transformation —the urgent need to impede climate change is challenging all of us to adapt our lifestyles, be more innovative, and collaborate thoughtfully to build a more future-focused, and ultimately sustainable, future. The energy industry is working at the forefront of this complex challenge. It is leading the charge to alter our energy system so that it delivers sustainable energy for generations to come.
An Industry in Flux
Climate change is perhaps the most critical challenge of our time. It’s been a key driver of change and transformation in the energy industry for more than a decade.
Holistic transformation of our energy systems requires an “all-of-the-above” solution from our industry—one that maximally expands our use of renewable energy, employs storage technologies to optimize those renewable sources and transitions away from coal by focusing on lower- and zero-carbon thermal back-up sources, by continually improving their efficiency and emissions performance and by investing in carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) technologies.
This approach will position our global energy community to meet our mid-century decarbonization target while ensuring affordable and reliable power for all. It can also help address some of the opportunities and challenges we’ll face along the way to achieving a decarbonized world by 2050, including:
- Resource allocation: Every region is unique in its natural resource endowment and its resulting accessibility to different types of renewable and thermal energy. Some jurisdictions (like Alberta, where I’m from) aren’t blessed with abundant hydro and haven’t invested in nuclear, so must therefore turn to other energy sources to keep the lights on and homes warm in winter.
- Reliability: The intermittency of renewables like wind (which can generally be relied upon to generate power only 30 to 40% of the time) and solar (which only generates power during the day) requires them to have back-up at night and during all hours when the wind isn’t blowing.
- Flexibility: Because we only want to use this back up intermittently, we want it to be reliably available whenever we need it, but we don’t want it to cost very much. We also want it to be flexible enough to turn on instantaneously whenever a sudden need arises. Natural gas alone fulfills these needs right now.
- Storage: People are working very hard to improve the technology, however batteries are currently only capable of storing power for hours, not yet for days or weeks, as can sometimes be needed in the dead of winter. In areas that lack hydro, only natural gas can do this, too.
- Carbon economy: We are already capturing and storing carbon from large emitters, and we’re starting to convert captured carbon into valuable products that can be sold to offset the cost of capture. Really smart people are working very hard to prove this process at commercial scale, and to commercialize and proliferate the carbon products. Once a market for these products has fully developed, we’ll be able to use the resulting revenue to build plants that capture carbon right out of the air!
- Unpredictability: Even scientists and engineers don’t yet know which disruptive technology— long-term batteries or carbon conversion— will be readily available first but both technologies will ultimately serve important and complementary purposes in our fight against climate change.
These variables explain why the world needs an “all-of-the-above” solution to conquer climate change; we need to take a multi-pronged approach to energy transformation and implement all of the tools at our disposal to meet the global goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.
2050: A Future Built Together
The climate crisis is a complex global problem, but we absolutely can solve it together. As we move toward broad electrification, we’ll need “all-hands-on-deck” to expand supply in a way that maintains reliability and affordability while also reducing emissions. For this to happen, we really need to stop as a zero-sum game. The current polarization between those who would rush the world off fossil fuels and those who seek to reduce emissions from the use of fossil fuels is a costly distraction. In order to create the future we want for our children and grandchildren as fast as possible, we need to use every tool, technology and innovation within our reach. As a global community of engaged industry players, governments and citizens, we need partnership, not hostility.
GLOBE 2020 will provide an important opportunity for sustainability players across sectors and jurisdictions to gather, engage and strategize on solutions to mitigate the climate crisis facing our world. I hope you’ll join me in the carbon conversion conversation taking place at the GLOBE 2020 panel “A Tale of Transformation: Opportunities and Challenges in the CCUS Ecosystem” in February. At Capital Power, we’re passionately committed to doing our part in this transformation to a low-carbon future.
Let’s talk. Let’s work together toward our common goal.