PETER DOLEZAL: Making the move to renwable energy

Peter Dolezal

Many of us are not fully aware of the significant progress Canada has made in its use of renewable energy. The latest statistics show that in total, about 17.7 per cent of our energy supply comes from renewable sources. This puts us ahead of the 14 per cent average-share world-wide.

Though a solid comparative result, it disguises the fact that most of our success stems from the fact that 60 per cent of our total electricity supply comes from hydroelectric sources.

Canada accounts for 10 per cent of the world’s total hydroelectric supply, second only to China’s 29 per cent.

At 16 per cent, our next greatest source of electricity generation is nuclear, almost exclusively in Ontario.

Wind power generates less than five per cent, although interestingly, it accounts for 95 per cent in P.E.I.

The small balance of our renewable resource electricity supply comes from solar, biomass, and geothermal sources.

Non-renewable sources of our electricity supply, principally oil and natural gas, now account for less than 20 per cent. As the use of wind, solar, and biomass continues to expand, the non-renewable sources will continue to diminish.

A long-term target of 100 per cent renewable-energy-based electric supply is certainly realistic.

Encouraging though this projection may be, it fails to account for household and industry consumption of non-renewable energy products – principally oil and natural gas.

Major strides are emerging in the transportation sector; all-electric and hybrid vehicle sales continue to accelerate world-wide at a rate of approximately 40 per cent annually. While “plug-in” sales still account for only about 0.86 per cent of global sales, this sector is growing at a rate twenty times faster than the vehicle market as a whole.

As battery-life and cost continue to improve, the shift to all-electric and hybrid vehicles is likely to become a stampede, including here in Canada. Some credible estimates suggest that by 2030, 80 per cent of all vehicles on the market will be “plug-ins”.

One needs only to observe the broad popularity, and sky-rocketing increase in production and sale of Tesla vehicles, to see that this projection could become reality.

While the rate of conversion to electric-based vehicles can be debated, it is certain that the transition will occur.

This will bring new challenges in the form of greatly increased demand for electricity — far above both the levels of today, and traditional projections of future household and industry consumption.

Some suggest that projects like Site C are not necessary; that solar and wind power could meet incremental needs as they arise — indeed it could, if we are willing to pay much higher electricity costs.

Unless we are prepared to make the economics of wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal more viable, as in many other countries, we cannot expect a significant increase in electrical generation from these renewable energy sources.

An interesting picture emerges when we compare Canada’s costs of electricity to those of Europe, in Germany, for example. Their cost of electricity, per kilowatt-hour, is approximately three times that in North America.

This makes renewable energy sources far more economical, with much less reliance on government subsidies, than in Canada and the United States.

A similar, though less dramatic, difference in much of Europe is gasoline prices, which are about twice those of North America.

Equally interesting, despite the much-higher unit energy costs to the European consumer, is that annually, the average family spends about the same on energy as the approximate $5,000 spent by the average Canadian household. Europeans have adapted to the high-unit costs of their energy by avoiding large gas-guzzling vehicles, multiple televisions, and large fridges and freezers, etc.

The high unit cost of energy leads to a much-heightened awareness of the benefit of a less energy-intensive lifestyle.

We can learn from Europe and other areas of the globe.

If we really want to reduce hydrocarbon emissions and accelerate the transition to renewable energy sources, beyond our abundant hydroelectric supply, we need to be willing to pay an economic price, and to perhaps adjust our lifestyle. Smaller homes, smaller vehicles, greater investment in public transportation, fewer televisions and other appliances, would go a long way to achieving better balance between our objectives for the environment and our lifestyle.

Easier said than done, as outcries resound each time our energy prices increase, whether for electricity, natural gas, or gasoline.

Most of us support the principle of accelerating the use of renewable energy sources, but not many of us are willing to pay the necessary price.

Despite proven positive contributions to emission reductions, many of us don’t like carbon taxes; we object when energy costs increase; and we even protest when additional renewable sources such as Site C are built.

If we are to make greater progress in our contribution to a better environment, we all need to become somewhat less hypocritical, and learn from the successes of other countries in their contributions to a better environment.

A retired corporate executive, enjoying post-retirement as an independent Financial Consultant (www.dolezalconsultants.ca), Peter Dolezal is the author of three books, including his Second Edition of The SMART CANADIAN WEALTH-BUILDER.

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