The new Energy Futures series report from the Canada Energy Regulator shows how much more work will be needed for Canada to achieve its ambition of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The Canada Energy Regulator (previously, the National Energy Board) has been releasing long-term energy projections since 1967, and the current one is the first to look ahead to 2050.
“Canada’s Energy Future 2020: Energy Supply and Demand Projections to 2050” projects that if energy conservation efforts continue at their current pace (in the 2020 report, this is referred to as the Evolving Energy System Scenario), domestic fossil fuel consumption will decline steadily and will be 35% lower by 2050. But that won’t be nearly enough to bring Canada to net-zero. Reaching that goal will require stronger policies and more widespread adoption of low-carbon technologies.
The 2020 report was prepared before the introduction of Bill C-12, the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act on November 19, 2020, but in full awareness of Canada’s net-zero by 2050 promise. For the first time, the 2020 report looks at the implications of a net-zero energy transition on three sectors of the economy: personal passenger transportation, oil sands production, and remote and northern communities.
It’s a start, but the Pembina Institute is calling for more. “The 2021 edition will need to include a fully-modelled scenario that describes a domestic economy that reaches net-zero emissions by 2050 and is well suited to compete in a global economy that is successfully limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius,” said Nichole Dusyk, senior federal analyst, in a statement.
Under the Evolving Energy System Scenario, by 2050, roughly half of all personal vehicle sales will be ZEVs (zero-emission vehicles), well below the federal government’s target of 100% of vehicle sales by 2040. The 2020 report says that reaching the 2050 net-zero target will likely require changes to consumer preferences (ZEV sales are mostly passenger cars, while consumer preferences lean strongly towards SUVs), government incentives and price, particularly a reduction in battery costs.
The 2020 report forecasts a bumpy path to 2050 for the oil sands. The Evolving Energy System Scenario forecasts a decline in demand for oil, accompanied by a softening in prices. Oil sands mining is already costly, and heavy investment will be needed to reduce the oil sands carbon footprint. Investors, increasingly concerned with environmental, social and governance principles, are unlikely to be drawn to the oil sands, it says. It appears clear that the sector will face big challenges, though technologies like small modular reactors, and carbon capture, utilization and storage may provide a path forward.
For remote and northern communities that rely heavily on diesel for electricity and space heating, there is no simple path to decarbonisation. Traditional renewables like wind and solar will play a very limited role, particularly in winter months. Small modular reactors may hold the most promise for stable baseload power. Other options include grid connection where feasible, next-generation biofuels for space heating, demand-side measures and energy storage.