Updated: Jan 10
SNC-Lavalin released a report last month titled “Engineering Net Zero,” which provides an analysis of the current state of energy in Canada—and details the immediate actions needed for the country to achieve net zero.
The central tenet of the report asserts that the electrification of all sectors, along with targeted use of alternative clean fuels, must be at the core of our transition towards net zero. As we begin electrifying our sectors and phasing out our dependence on fossil fuels, this will impact our energy demand in an unprecedented way.
What does electrification look like in Canada?
Based on several sources of literature, Canada’s annual demand for electricity will see a significant increase from 500 TWh to 1,500 TWh by 2050.
As such, significant new clean electrical capacity is needed to meet these new demands.
So significant, in fact, that Canada will need to triple its power production levels over the next 30 years.
Let’s put this into a little perspective. If we tried to add the extra 1,000 TWh needed using a single type of power generation, it would require:
19 nuclear sites the size of Bruce Power
115 x 1,100-MW large hydro reservoirs
380 x 300-MW Small Modular Reactors (SMRs)
More than 400 GW of aggregate solar capacities (requiring 14,000 square kilometres of land)
20,000 x 10-MW wind turbines
Why net zero needs nuclear
Perhaps the most significant element of the report is where the folks at SNC have proposed a potential plan for an energy mix that will get us to net zero by 2050.
What’s unique about this plan is the recommendation for Canada to get on a fast track towards building new nuclear power plants.
In their scenario, construction of large-scale nuclear projects must begin immediately; that means one reactor is brought online every year from 2030 to 2050. As aggressive as this seems, this scenario is actually less aggressive than the current nuclear build rates of China or India.
With all of the buzz and excitement around SMRs and the life-extending Major Components Replacement project currently underway at Bruce Power, suggesting that our country undertakes the construction of additional large-scale nuclear power units is extraordinary.
But as the data suggests, it is the best—if not most obvious—solution we have to achieving net zero.
SNC identifies the next steps that must be taken immediately if Canada is to achieve this massive endeavor by 2050:
Transition towards clean electricity: this starts with hydro-, nuclear- and hydrogen-fueled options, which are necessary to maintain a stable electrical grid. This will allow further integration of renewable technologies like wind, solar, wave, and tidal.
Electrification of all sectors: with clean or net-zero electricity powering the grid, a massive shift towards fully electrified sectors is required.
Country-wide planning and interprovincial collaboration: a centralized planning entity to develop an interconnected grid that optimizes resources and provides a platform for consultations, collaboration, and data sharing.
Business community and industry engagement: active participation of the business community is needed. Detailed frameworks must be put in place that support market transformation in all sectors, streamline GHG reduction projects, and accelerate development of viable supply chains.
Unwavering commitment to innovation: a transition to net zero means technologies currently in their early stages are fully deployed, operational and profitable by 2050. There is an urgent need to start deploying pilot and demonstration projects across all sectors immediately.
Development of hydrogen or other alternative fuel markets: alternative fuels need to be applied to reduce emissions in sectors like freight transportation, industrial processes, and alternative thermal generation. Decarbonizing these sectors is a crucial piece of the puzzle.
A piecemeal approach won’t work. The Canadian government must work together with the private sectors in a coordinated manner to ensure an integrated approach to future system planning. Achieving net zero is a massive undertaking and optimizing resources is the only way to get there.
Canada needs to double down on large hydro and nuclear projects. These two clean energy sources will do most of the heavy lifting that is desperately needed as we transition to electrifying sectors and move towards enhancing grid capacities. We need to start investing in these big projects and we need to start now.
We need swift action
My final thought is this: if we are serious about climate change then we need to stop delaying and start listening to our experts and industry leaders.
As more reports like this come out, we need to amplify the urgency of their message and translate their recommendations into swift action.
Every day we delay is a day we move closer towards the point of no return.
Sorry Elon, I don’t want to move to Mars just yet. Mars seems really dusty… and it ain't the kind of place to raise your kids. Besides, I’m already quite fond of this little planet of ours.
If we want to save it, it is not enough to just act. We must act now.
Written by Susie Ho, former Senior Advisor at the Nuclear Innovation Institute.