Clean power grids are available across the country. Canada remains a global leader in the energy sector, with 82% of its electricity coming from renewable sources, mainly hydropower (Canada Energy Regulator, 2022). The development of the hydroelectric legacy has been reinforced by coal, implemented first by Ontario and Alberta and followed by a federal regulation that ensures that the entire country is out of it by 2030. Recently, the federal government committed to a zero-emission electricity grid by 2035. and developing clean electricity regulations to meet that end (Environment and Climate Change Canada, 2022). A detailed model showed how Canada could meet the target by 2035, support the electricity boom, and provide reliable, affordable electricity across the country by prioritizing wind, solar, electricity storage, and additional interprovincial transmission. This situation is moderated by no new nuclear or natural gas generation (Thomas & Green, 2022).
The expansion of renewables is also a cost-effective option. Electricity prices across the country show that provinces and territories with high shares of renewable energy have been able to keep electricity prices low through renewable electricity production. Households in fossil-fuel dependent provinces like Saskatchewan pay 60% more for their energy than households in Quebec and 45% more than households in Manitoba (Zacharias, 2022). Although the cost difference is related to the development of existing hydroelectricity, the falling costs of solar, wind, and battery technologies mean that these sources provide a low-cost option for supplementing existing hydroelectric power or replacing coal and gas power.
Information from the Alberta Electric System Operator confirms that wind and solar are already cheaper options for new energy than gas (usually the cheapest fossil-based alternative) (Harvie, 2022). This change is also evident when looking at the development of Alberta’s energy sector in recent years. In its unregulated and competitive market, Alberta added an impressive 1.6 GW from wind and solar between 2019 and 2021, resulting in wind and solar accounting for 17% of total capacity by 2021 (Canada Energy Regulator, 2022; Sorensen , 2022). At the same time, the province phased out coal faster than expected (Harvie, 2022).
Models in Alberta, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia have also shown that clean energy portfolios, including wind, solar, battery storage, demand response, and energy efficiency, can provide the same grid services as natural gas generation at a lower cost (Gorski & Jeyakumar, 2019, 2022b ).
As noted above, more flexible electricity grids will be needed to support renewables. This flexibility will include integrated provincial and territorial grids that expand renewable energy sources across the country. Currently, Canadian provinces are better connected to the United States than others. Provinces and territories need to improve connectivity so that Canada can benefit from their diverse strengths—from abundant electricity in some provinces and territories to large amounts of wind and solar power in others (Gorski et al., 2021). Additional investment and regulatory reforms are necessary to ensure adequate storage and “smart” grids that support improved forecasting of supply and demand and fully enable demand management.
Reducing Demand on Fossil Fuels Increases Energy Security
While renewable technologies and storage can eliminate fossil fuels from the electricity grid, end-use electrification and demand reduction through energy technology will prevent Canadians from being directly exposed to fluctuating fuel prices. At the household level, electricity now accounts for 23% of energy consumption. However, that is projected to grow to 96% by 2050 if Canada achieves its net-zero target (Dion et al., 2022).
While this transition is already underway, the rapid phase-out of fossil fuels for household use will improve energy security, in part because sectors such as personal transport and heating, where demand for fossil fuels is high, have readily available, cost-competitive alternatives. .
The federal government’s goal of new renewable-engine vehicles by 2035 is a policy initiative that will not only help Canada build a cleaner future but can help significantly reduce its dependence on oil and gas. Canada has more than 25 million light-duty vehicles on the road, and to reach the 2035 target, the government intends for 60% of new sales to be zero-emission vehicles by 2030 (Haycock, 2022). However, it has been noted that the electric vehicle market is now established at a point where market forces are replacing government policy as the main driver of adoption (BloombergNEF, 2022).
Other demand-side policies could include efforts in Canada’s construction sector, where gas plays an important role. About a quarter of Canada’s final energy use comes from buildings, with 65% going to heating and cooling (IEA, 2019a). Choosing efficient electric heat pumps for heating and cooling and investing in deep energy retrofits will help reduce Canadians’ exposure to fluctuating natural gas prices while reducing emissions and improving home comfort.
The electrification of buildings and transportation will create an additional demand for electricity that requires 2.2 to 3.4 times more electricity by 2050 (Lee et al., 2022). However, detailed modeling shows how this increased demand can be reliably met by wind, solar, energy storage, and provincial distribution (Thomas & Green, 2022).