Canada must double or triple clean power generation to meet EV and zero-emissions targets, says IEA reportUtilities & Grids
Jan 20, 2022
Kate Haycock

Canada’s environmental and electrification goals over the next three decades will require “an ambitious transformation of its energy system” according to the International Energy Agency

To stay on target for zero emission goals, Canada must take serious steps to grow its clean power production capabilities.

Canada’s environmental and electrification goals over the next three decades will require “an ambitious transformation of its energy system” according to the International Energy Agency

In its latest Canadian Energy Policy Review, the Paris-based International Energy Agency has outlined the challenges facing Canada’s tandem decarbonization and vehicle electrification efforts.

Last year, the Federal Liberal government set an ambitious 2035 target: every new light-duty vehicle for sale in Canada must be electric. While the target is not (as of writing) a binding mandate; if the country does achieve this goal, by 2050 Canada’s total electricity use could increase by as much as 44 per cent — almost double today’s demand.

According to the IEA analysis, the doubling of electricity demand by 2050 will also require a doubling or potentially a tripling of power generated from non-emitting sources.

At the same time, the Liberal’s committed to making Canada’s electrical grids net-zero by 2035. By 2030, the government is targeting an overall reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 40-45 per cent from 2005 levels, and the end game is nationwide net-zero emissions by 2050.

The IEA report describes these ambitions as “impressive”, but also says the shift will require “significant regulatory action,” with current regulations potentially “insufficient to achieve the required massive expansion in clean energy generation.”

Cause and effect

A forecast from the Canada Energy Regulator estimates approximately 30 per cent of Canada’s increased need for electricity will come solely from electric vehicles.

While Canada currently boasts some of the cleanest electrical grids in the world, thanks to hydropower generation in British Columbia, Manitoba, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador, and nuclear production in Ontario. Around five per cent of Canada’s electricity is still generated through burning coal, and 11 per cent comes from natural gas.

The IEA report notes that retrofitting aging coal plants to run on natural gas is one strategy in reducing certain provinces’ reliance on coal, but due to planned carbon tax increases is likely not the most effective one. Instead, the global energy group says energy generators should look to variable renewables (wind and solar) as low-cost options, which could bring EVs into play as distributed energy resources (DERs) to help balance peak demand and energy storage.

Current clean grid pilots

Already several pilots and utilities across Canada are exploring methods of incorporating more clean energy and EVs into the grid, including ENMAX in Calgary and Peak Power in Toronto as reported on by Electric Autonomy Canada.

And on the East Coast, NB Power is running a Net Metering program that “provides customers with the option to connect their own environmentally sustainable generation unit to NB Power’s distribution system,” according to the company’s online material, but that program does not make specific provision for EVs — yet.

Overall, the IEA report recommends the federal government develop a national electrification strategy and provide uniform guidance for the provinces and territories looking to transition to clean energy and leverage EVs as a grid asset.

This federal guidance could help address Canada’s complex energy sector governance, while boosting EV and grid integration and encourage inter-connection with the United States.

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