To reduce Canada’s carbon footprint and meet greenhouse gas (GHG) emission goals, we will not only need to substantially increase generation from carbon-free sources, like hydro, wind, and solar, but also develop a robust transmission network to get the energy from where it is generated to where it is needed in a reliable and economic way.
Currently, the largest hurdles for this development include modernizing the transmission grid to better accommodate the introduction of renewable energy generation, and the regulatory challenges associated with siting and permitting of transmission assets, particularly across provincial and even national borders. Investing in transmission system technology that expands the capacity to transfer energy from areas with favorable conditions for renewable energy development to major load centers, and bridges regional seams is crucial to meeting these goals.
Today, Canada operates what amounts to a collection of regional, relatively isolated grids. These systems lack the ability to efficiently transfer large amounts of energy between them, which also limits the capacity to transfer energy from areas with favourable conditions for renewable energy development to large population centres.
Fortunately, there are still untapped opportunities to utilize existing and new hydroelectric facilities to boost storage capacity for renewable energy. By expanding bi-directional transmission capacity between areas with major hydroelectric facilities and areas with high penetration of other types of variable renewable generation, excess wind and solar power can be exported to loads that would otherwise be served from hydroelectric facilities. Hydroelectric facilities can then reduce output and save water (i.e., energy) in the dams. Saved water can then be used to supply loads at the other end of the transmission system when wind and solar conditions are less favorable. Existing dams in Quebec, Newfoundland-Labrador, Manitoba and British Columbia provide some of the most efficient and largest installed storage resources in North America, and the world.
Transmission Planning and the Atlantic Loop
However, before developing a transmission system to effectively transfer energy between the different regions, it is essential that an overarching energy transmission plan is made. While each county, province, and energy region currently have different infrastructure, capabilities, and prospects for carbon-free generation, there are ongoing efforts to develop solutions to address this challenge. One such initiative is Canada’s Atlantic Regional Transmission Loop.
The Government of Canada envisions an interconnected clean power grid that would serve as the foundation for a competitive, electrified economy across the region. The integrated grid would provide Atlantic Canadians with an affordable and reliable supply of clean power, underpinned by a regionally integrated, modern electricity system that better optimizes supply and demand through smart grid technology and energy storage.
A key element of achieving this vision is the strengthening of the Atlantic Loop to serve as a clean power superhighway connecting existing and new power supplies across the region to places that need it, and to form the backbone of a smarter and more resilient regional grid.
It is important to remember that the development of large-scale, carbon-free energy generation such as hydro, wind and solar, and the required grid infrastructure, is costly. The Government of Canada is investing heavily in order to reach its climate goals. For example, it recently invested $21.9 billion in Green infrastructure over 11 years.
When it comes to direct economic benefits and job creation, transmission projects typically take upwards of 10 years to complete and supply high-quality, consistent employment. The massive scale of projects that need to be undertaken will lead to job creation in nearly every part of the country. For example, the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices believes the Atlantic Loop could breathe new competitive life into the regional economy and enable innovations in clean energy to flourish.
In addition, a reliable network of carbon-free energy in Canada will support the electrification of transportation (currently one of the largest sources of GHG emissions), which in turn will improve air quality in major metropolitan areas. The Government of Canada estimates that 15,300 premature deaths per year in Canada can be linked to air pollution from fine particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and ozone. The total economic valuation of the health impacts attributed to air pollution is $120 billion.
Despite these challenges and large financial investments, de-carbonizing our society will create long- term economic, social, and health benefits for this country.
As countries, governments, provinces and companies contemplate the benefits of moving forward with a de-carbonization agenda, it cannot be accomplished without responsible planning and timely investment in the transmission and distribution backbone that allow that energy to flow to where it is most needed. When combined, the potential for transmission investment coupled with renewable energy development can be a powerful contributor to economic growth, job creation, and prosperity. Now is the time to plan for the future.
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