CanCORE Op-Ed in Hill Times – Renewable electricity is Canada’s climate opportunity

Renewable electricity is Canada’s climate opportunity

Climate change is a daunting challenge, but it’s one we must face. Confronting it will be made easier if we don’t focus solely on what needs to be cut, but also on what can be created.

Published: Thursday, 02/11/2016 11:04 am EST

“We see this as an opportunity.” That’s how Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna optimistically summed up her recent meeting with her provincial counterparts, in which they took stock of the gap between where carbon pollution is today and where it needs to be.

And she’s right.

For too long, too much of the discussion about climate change has focused on what needs to be cut and how the cost and pain will be distributed—across sectors and between provinces.

But when it comes to addressing climate change in a way that creates a healthier environment and a prosperous economy, Canada has a distinct advantage: renewable electricity.

It doesn’t get much attention, but Canada already generates more than 65 per cent of its electricity from clean, reliable and renewable energy sources—the highest such proportion amongst G7 nations. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, we rank third in the world in hydropower generation, seventh in wind energy capacity and third in marine renewables. And while we have lagged other nations in deploying solar, investment is picking up steam. In 2014, investment in solar was up 47 per cent over 2013.

Despite these impressive figures, it is Germany that is often held up as an example of renewable energy and climate leadership. The German Energiewende—or energy transition—aims to ramp up renewables to achieve 55 to 65 per cent clean electricity by 2035. But put in context, Germany’s target for renewable electricity two decades from now still falls short of where Canada is at today. Some might suggest this affords us some complacency when it comes to doing more, but the opposite is true.

Canada’s per capita greenhouse gas emissions are nearly double that of Germany.
Despite our encouraging renewable electricity leadership, our economy remains overwhelmingly reliant on fossil fuels. Carbon-based fuels provided Canada with 70 per cent of its energy needs in 2010—the most recent year for which reliable data exists. We still have a very long way to go to reduce our coal, gas, and oil consumption and slash our carbon emissions.

As illustrated in our recent report, Powering Climate Prosperity: Canada’s Renewable Electricity Advantage, ensuring our electricity grid is powered by clean, renewable energy offers a key climate change solution. But this isn’t just about continuing to clean up our power grid, it’s about fuel shifting from natural gas and gasoline and diesel to electricity. Renewable electricity must meet a growing proportion of our primary energy needs in the decades ahead if we are to achieve our climate change targets.

The more we electrify our economy—from buildings, to industry, to transportation—with renewable resources, the faster and deeper we can cut greenhouse gas pollution and ensure Canada stands out as a climate change leader. To do so will require doubling our generation and use of electricity—and few countries are as well positioned as Canada to do so using clean, renewable sources of power.
Across the country renewables are now a cost-competitive option for new electricity owing largely to the fact that there is no cost for wind, water or sunshine. While we already produce a significant amount of renewable electricity, we’ve actually barely scratched the surface of our renewable-energy potential. We have resources available from coast to coast to coast, and the diversity of sources—from hydro, to wind, to solar to marine—offer different characteristics that complement each other to ensure we can increase the overall supply of clean, affordable, reliable electricity across Canada.

With the right policy support from provinces and the federal government, we could re-power our factories, buildings, trains, vehicles, and more with clean electrons and accelerate our shift to the low carbon economy.

As Minister McKenna continues her work with provincial environment ministers, this opportunity must be top of mind. Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr can help too, by fulfilling his mandate to “develop a Canadian Energy Strategy to protect Canada’s energy security; encourage energy conservation; and bring cleaner, renewable energy onto a smarter electricity grid.”

But ultimately, this will require the leadership of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Canada’s provincial and territorial leaders. They have the power and the mandate to collaborate on transitioning our energy system to one that is clean and reliable, climate friendly and affordable—and a model for countries around the world.

Climate change is a daunting challenge, but it’s one we must face. Confronting it will be made easier if we don’t focus solely on what needs to be cut, but also on what can be created.

Therein lies the opportunity.

Jacob Irving is president of the Canadian Hydropower Association. John Gorman is president of the Canadian Solar Industries Association. Robert Hornung is president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association. Elisa Obermann is the executive director of Marine Renewables Canada. These associations are the founding members of the Canadian Council on Renewable Electricity, which can be found at and, and on Twitter @RenewableCanada.