​Innovations in Canada's technology ‘pipeline’ are reducing GHG emissions

Martha Hall Findlay is president and CEO of the Canada West Foundation.

The Canada West Foundation hosted a roundtable in Calgary on June 25 on the future of Canada’s economy, with a partner organization which had held similar roundtables in Toronto and Montreal. A representative of the partner wondered why they “didn’t hear anything about climate change in this Alberta roundtable,” unlike the experience in the other cities.

Was it perhaps because Albertans didn’t believe in climate change? Or are less focussed on it because of the implications for industry here?

The question was curious, indeed shocking – but we quickly realized what had happened: the roundtable participants weren’t talking about the problem of climate change because they had gone well beyond that.

They were talking about specific actions that people were already undertaking to address climate change: a hydrogen fuel pilot project for transport trucking, zero emission oil extraction goals, energy leadership in a low carbon economy, demand-side energy optimization to reduce consumption lead by users not government, for example.

This linguistic disconnect is indicative of a larger ignorance of all the technological improvements that are already underway.

The are three solutions to reducing GHG emissions:

  1. Shut down whatever consumption activities are burning carbon (driving combustion cars, heating homes, flying planes, etc.) – which is not expected to stop, globally, anytime soon;
  2. Shut down the activity that extracts the oil and gas used for those activities – which those consuming it would object to, at least until sufficient, affordable alternatives are available (coming, but also not achievable for global energy demand anytime soon); and
  3. Encourage and embrace the many behavioural and technological innovations required to achieve major reductions both in the consumption of energy for human use and in the extraction of that still much-needed energy.

Doom and gloom scenarios capture headlines – human nature pays more attention to bad news than good. But it also means that we often fail to celebrate or even recognize success.

If Canadians don’t see progress being made, it's easy to assume there are no solutions other than “keep it in the ground.” But what Steven Pinker has so eloquently shown in his new book, Enlightenment Now: The case for reason, science, humanism and progress (Bill Gates calls it his all-time favourite book), despite negative headlines and “accepted wisdom,” the data shows that the world is a far better place for humankind now than it has ever been, thanks to reason and science.

And reason and science are both driving outstanding innovations, many from the energy industry itself, that are already reducing, and will continue to reduce Canada’s (and the world’s) GHG emissions.

Earlier this year, Shell’s Quest Carbon Capture and Storage facility at the Scotford oilsands upgrader reached four million tonnes of C02 captured and sequestered – an unambiguously good news story. The reduction is equivalent to the annual emissions of one million cars applied to oilsands upgrading and a Canadian global technology leadership story.

Other success stories are the innovations in SAGD that are bringing down GHG emissions and water use, which have come on stream over the past two decades. Cenovus Energy’s Christina Lake operations which started producing in 2002 have almost 30% lower emissions than the average global barrel (volume weighted).

New LNG export facilities in B.C. will have the lowest GHG emissions in the world, virtually zero, because new technology will enable electricity from hydro as an energy source.

This is progress that will have global benefits and it is happening because new markets make new technology make sense.

There are many more innovations in the technology “pipeline.” Our universities, tech start-ups, large companies and other players in the ecosystem like CRIN (Clean Resource Innovation Network), COSIA (Canadian Oil Sands Innovation Alliance), ERA (Emissions Reduction Alberta) have been great at developing new technologies.

A study conducted by CRIN found over $1 billion was spent in clean technology by Canada’s oil and gas industry – 75% of the nation’s total.

We have many potential barriers to adoption – risk aversion by regulators, large players and financial markets are the big ones, but we are making progress. And the more we highlight and encourage that progress, the more will be achieved.

One example of the effort to highlight progress, innovation, optimism and even more paths to the future is the Energy Disruptors conference, coming into its second year this September.

(Full disclosure, Canada West Foundation has been involved with ED from the beginning – but with no benefit to us other than a shared enthusiasm for highlighting and encouraging progress.)

The Energy Disruptors conference is bold, exciting and positive about the future. It celebrates and stimulates the attitude that creates solutions – in particular the energy solutions – to the big problems a world with 10 billion people will face.

And it is an important effort to bridge that awareness gap that we see, not only in Canada but around the world. Unless and until options (1) and (2) are feasible – and world energy demand will continue to grow as our population grows – these are efforts to make option (3) the most successful possible.

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