Last week at COP26, the United Nations climate conference, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined the U.S. and United Kingdom in committing to a net-zero emissions electricity grid by 2035. He did so with little fanfare — but it was a monumental first step. A clean grid is so fundamental to succeeding in reaching net-zero by 2050, the International Energy Agency set 2035 as the target date for developed countries in its landmark Net Zero by 2050 report.

Delivering on this promise (made to Canadians on the campaign trail) will require considerable effort. Canada’s grid is a source of emissions and isn’t ready to meet growing demand. It is in desperate need of modernization to support the zero-emission economy Canada is trying to build.

How will Canada deliver this bigger, cleaner, modernized grid to electrify our vehicles, buildings, and businesses, and take advantage of the opportunity to export in-demand clean electricity to our neighbours to the south?

We need to act quickly. Asset planning, development, and turnover can take decades. If we don’t move swiftly now, we will lose windows of opportunity.

There are four key pieces of the puzzle: renewable energy to provide zero-carbon electricity; energy efficiency to reduce how much electricity is needed; demand response to match when electricity is needed with its availability; and, increased storage capacity.

All of these pieces fall within provincial jurisdiction. Provinces have the power — and responsibility — to drive solutions. That starts with committing to a net-zero grid and updating regulations to allow for greater integration of clean energy solutions.

But there is a fifth piece that is critical to bringing it all together: Canada needs more transmission lines to connect provincial grids and allow us, as a nation, to play to our strengths. Unlike the first four pieces of the net-zero grid puzzle, transmission requires interprovincial co-operation. The rewards for succeeding should not be underestimated.

Canada has tremendous renewable energy resources. Every province has wind and solar power, and some have an abundance of hydro power as well. A modernized grid with transmission interconnections for greater integration between provincial grids will allow for higher penetration of clean energy sources, and create conditions for these sources to work together at a large scale. With transmission lines connecting provincial grids, provinces could finally break free of geographic borders and take advantage of Canada’s clean energy strengths — delivering clean electricity where and when it is needed.

Whether to finish phasing out coal (as is the case in Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia) or, as in Ontario, to replace nuclear that’s being refurbished, several provinces are poised to make critical infrastructure investment decisions to ensure communities can heat their homes, light buildings, and power businesses, farms and industry.

And the reality is every province will have to meet increased demand for clean electricity as we strive to electrify everything. The decisions provinces make in the near future will not only shape electricity sectors and respective greenhouse gas emissions for decades to come, but also the carbon footprint of businesses and industries and the products they make for domestic consumption or to sell abroad.

Provinces can create mutually beneficial arrangements to build regional interconnections and enhance interprovincial trade of electricity, writes Binnu Jeyakumar and Jan Gorski #COP26Glasgow #cdnpoli #ClimateAction

Provinces don’t have to go it alone — nor could they. Instead, they can create mutually beneficial arrangements to build regional interconnections and enhance interprovincial trade of electricity. This will help companies improve their environmental performance and ability to deliver on net-zero commitments, and it will enable municipalities to act on the climate emergency.

What’s more, studies by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and National Renewable Energy Laboratory (a function of the U.S. Department of Energy) show that a wide-scale transmission buildout can deliver the benefits of a net-zero grid at a lower cost, using technologies that are ready to deploy at scale today.

It’s time for provinces and the federal government to play to our strengths as a nation and build the backbone of a low-carbon economy — a net-zero grid by 2035. Let’s get started now, for electricity consumers at home and to give Canadian goods a competitive edge abroad.

Binnu Jeyakumar is director of clean energy at the Pembina Institute, a climate and energy think tank.
Jan Gorski is a senior analyst at the Pembina Institute.

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So many birds with simple stones:
Cover all suitable residential roofs with solar panels, provide funding as needed for low income households to transition.
Provide feed-in tariffs at a rate geared to the same profits to the owners of the roof-top hosts, as are taken by preferred shareholders at local electricity companies.
Distributed sources, like that, can cover most of the residential and small-building needs in urban and suburban settings. Install batteries so that low-income homes can store for their night-time needs, before selling back to the grid.
Reserve corporately-managed "solar array fields" for producing power for large-consumption plants.
Let them cannibalize each other, instead of us.

As for handing the business of green generation for general public consumption over to the same crowd of vultures who've been resisting imposition of limits on how much death-dealing "externalities" they can slough off on us -- already having a good idea of what they expect in addition to taking everything, and then us for a ride -- no thanks, man.

Sounds great in theory. Here's the reality in BC.

I researched rooftop solar for my ideally oriented roofs (45 degrees due south, 30 degrees due east) and priced out 25 high-output long-lasting and high-efficiency solar PV panels (generates power even on cloudy days) and discovered that the seven months of sunshine would balance quite well with the power draw during our dark, wet winters. I included switching out our relatively new high-efficiency gas furnace and domestic hot water for an air heat pump and on demand water heater.

What killed the project was discovering that in 2024 Hydro will reduce its Net Metering credit by 60% (currently pretty well at a 1:1 ratio), therein making the idea completely infeasible financially. This under a supposedly progressive NDP government that just introduced a credible provincial climate plan.

Yeah, it sucks.

Now, if the federal government decided to bring a national clean electricity transmission corridor to BC and afford some big opportunities for BC Hydro to sell its non-peak power to the east, possibly even the US Atlantic seaboard with inter-ties at key points along US border (and Quebec Hydro in reverse to California too) during emergencies, as a top-up or even under ordinary sales contracts south the border, then perhaps BC Hydro, via a directive by Victoria, could then reinstate the full Net Metering credit. After all, 100,000 private and institutional solar roofs in BC will generate a huge amount of clean power that permits Hydro to defer financing the building of some of its future generation capacity.

Win-win.

I wonder about the jurisdiction thing. Natural resources are under provincial jurisdiction. That has always implied that so is power. Coal is a natural resource, oil, natural gas . . . fuels, things, that you burn to make power, are natural resources, so that puts the topic under provincial jurisdiction.

But renewables are not fuels. In British Columbia, hydro power is under provincial control simply because BC Hydro is a provincial crown corporation and it owns all the hydro dams. But if it got privatized (please no), there would arguably be nothing particularly provincial about it. There are existing private power companies in places like Alberta; that power is doubtless regulated in some way by the province (no doubt barely, in the case of Alberta). And there's nothing particularly provincial about the sun or the wind, and absolutely nothing provincial about an array of storage batteries, say. I don't see why the federal government couldn't make a Crown corporation to produce renewable power, subsidize it to the gills (and, to be fair, private renewable power companies as well), and if private fossil fuel power companies in certain provinces proved unable to compete with that . . . sucks to be them, that's the idea.