How our affinity for "big projects" and our bountyof natural resources will make Canada the world's first sustainable energy superpower.
As Canada enters the twenty-first century, it remains blessed with an abundant array of energy resources. There will be opportunities for managing big projects as an energy system which will be beyond the interest of individual companies acting alone and will require a new vision of Canada’s energy future. With the latter goal, Canada would be a country which sells higher value-added energy products and technology to the world, using the proceeds to durably strengthen our economy and influence, and would be an exemplar of the stewardship of all types of energy resources. It would have a real influence on other nations to follow its lead. Canada’s wealth of energy can be used for its prosperity and international effectiveness, to reduce energy poverty elsewhere, and reduce its carbon footprint.
What is needed is a vision.
Canada’s federal government anguishes over the nation’s mediocre record in innovation. They defer to the conventional wisdom that innovation occurs through a linear process: the movement of ideas through basic research, applied research and then crossing the chasm to commercialization. But Canada’s history has shown it to be at its most innovative and productive when a large, focused, national project was underway, supported by vision and consensus, with an array of new, innovative technologies under development that were required for project completion. This pattern is evident in the digging of the Rideau Canal in the first part of the 19th century, the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway in the 1880s, the completion of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959 and many other examples throughout Canadian history. The construction and subsequent operational phases of these projects have resulted in significant job creation, cascading throughout the economy and the land, over time. When big projects were underway, necessity became the driver of innovation, and focused innovation led to successful enterprise. These projects also resulted in continued wealth generation, increased GDP and a higher quality of life for the Canadian population over many generations.
Canada’s “big project innovation strategy” applied to the energy sector has the potential of transforming Canada into a true sustainable, environmentally sound energy superpower. Canada is fortunate to have massive supplies of non-renewable and renewable energy assets. Coupled to this opportunity are: a strong banking system — possibly the strongest in the world at the present time — and a sound economy; a highly ranked post-secondary education system which develops students into skilled workers, well-qualified personnel, and greatly-recognized project managers and researchers; world-class engineers with the abilities to develop the next generation of energy technologies and implement big projects; and proven industrial capacity and capability to design, manage, build, commission and deliver large, nation-building projects. Here we present seven of Canada’s next big projects that have the potential to propel Canada towards becoming the world’s first sustainable energy superpower.
Adapted from a report and a book prepared by the Canadian Academy of Engineering and edited by Richard J. Marceau and Clement W. Bowman.
Canada should connect existing provincial grids through a new high-capacity transmission system. This would enable significant reductions in Canada’s carbon footprint by incorporating distant low-emission power sources like hydroelectric and tidal generating stations when they are retired - and meet new demand. Additionally, this would improve the business case for intermittent renewables such as wind and solar, assist in the management of regional peak loads, release stranded power and thereby reduce power costs in some markets, enhance energy storage capability and provide strategic security advantages through a high capacity transmission backbone.
Canada should connect existing provincial grids through a new high capacity transmission system.
The Alberta oil sands contain at least 1.6 trillion barrels of bitumen, of which 300 billion barrels is expected to be recoverable. Production from the oil sands is poised to triple within the next two decades. New plants should be built to upgrade the bitumen from the oil sands to fuels and chemical products, thus capturing more than $60 billionper year in value-added products and commensurate jobs inside Canada. Current plans would see more than 50 per cent of the bitumen upgraded outside Canada. The enormous assets of the oil sands have been one of the foundations for Canada’s energy superpower vision, and Alberta must continue its environmental advances to achieve that goal. Alberta and Ontario should work together to develop and apply new environmentally-advanced upgrading technologies, optimizing the use of available labour and facilities at both the Alberta IndustrialHeartland hydrocarbon processing region and the Sarnia-Lambton Refining and Petrochemical Complex.
New plants should be built to upgrade bitumen from the oil sands to fuels and chemical products.
Shell Canada’s Scotford upgrader near Fort Saskatchewan, Alta. uses hydrogen addition to upgrade bitumen from the Muskeg River oil sands mine into synthetic crude oils, much of which is sold to the adjacent refinery or to Shell’s Sarnia, Ont. refinery.
Photo credit: APACHE CANADA LTD.
Over the next 20 years, global demand for natural gas for use in electricity generation, heating and transportation is expected to rise dramatically. Natural gas is the world’s cleanest-burning fossil fuel emitting up to 60 percent less CO2 than coal when used for electricity generation and has a key role to play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Canada as well as abroad. China and Japan are both pursuing new supply - China to fuel its massive modernization, and Japan to diversify its fuel supply. British Columbia is developinga ‘big project’ opportunity for liquefied natural gas (LNG), with the first commercial LNG export facilityscheduled to open in Kitimat in 2015, and with three facilities in operation by 2020. Several other countries will be competing for Asian LNG markets. Canada needs to have a national strategy [including an appropriatepolicy framework] to realize the potential of natural gas and LNG, building on these BC projects.
Canada needs to have a national strategy to realize the potential of natural gas and LNG.
Schematic of the proposed Kitimat LNG facility in British Columbia.
Photo credit: APACHE CANADA LTD.
Canada now has 73,000 megawatts of hydroelectric power in service, and another 163,000 megawatts could be developed for a total capacity of 236,000 megawatts. Canada should proceed with major hydroelectric projects to capture part of the country’s untapped hydroelectric power, and in so doing drive down our greenhouse gas emissions. This includes the development of Labrador’s Lower Churchill area; tidal energy in the Bay of Fundy and Ungava Bay; a flood-control infrastructure in the St. Lawrence River basin and the diversion of the major rivers of Bell and Waswanipi in Quebec's Matagami region into the Ottawa River; the completion of the northern portion of the La Grande Complex in the Great Whale region near James Bay; and the development of hydroelectricity projects in the western half of Canada including the watersheds of the Mackenzie, Churchill, Thelon, Nelson, Burntwood and Peace Rivers.
Canada should proceed with major hydroelectric projects to capture part of the country’s untapped hydro electric power.
The Peace Canyon Dam in the Peace River Canyon, B.C. generates power from the same water that flows through the W.A.C. Bennett Dam 23 kilometres upstream.
Photo credit: BC HYDRO
Applying nuclear-generated heat (rather than burning fossil fuel) to bitumen extraction and upgrading from western Canada’s oil sands would strengthen Canada as a sustainable energy superpower by conserving natural gas, improving the carbon emissions profile of the oil sands, and facilitating oil sands industry growth. Various established and new reactor designs are available, and we can anticipate advances within twenty to forty years in new fuel cycles and technologies that can resolve public concerns with early generations of nuclear technology by being extremely safe, proliferation-resistant, and very low-waste. But in such circumstances, to identify the most promising technology paths and to shorten them, an ambitious, multi-stakeholder technology development process is needed to explore these opportunities. Also, if Canada led the push to apply nuclear to process heat applications, this would give our resource industries a technical and economic edge, and add a new branch of nuclear expertise to our existing cluster of technological strengths, which already includes medical diagnosis and treatment, food safety and irradiation, electricity supply, uranium mining and exploration, and materials science.
If Canada led the push to apply nuclear to process-heat applications, this would give our resource industries a technical and economic edge.
One of the world’s largest nuclear generating facilities is located in Pickering, Ont. on the shores of Lake Ontario, just east of Toronto. Here, six CANDU reactors produce 3,100 megawatts of electricity, enough to power a city of one and a half million people.
Photo credit:ONTARIO POWER GENERATION INC.
Coal is the world’s most abundant and widely distributed fossil fuel - and Canada has more energy in its coal than oil and gas combined. Coal gasification has the unique ability to produce electrical power, hydrogen and high value chemical and pharmaceutical products. Gasification also has the ability to handle diverse feedstocks; to sequester or capture, store and utilize carbon dioxide for other value-added processes; and to capture sulphur and trace metals. Integrated gasification systems, which can process both coal and biomass, could be ideal for a country like Canada, where both resources are economically readily available. To become an energy superpower, Canada could be mastering the efficient utilization of coal resources in a clean manner, leveraging where possible international R&D underway in this area. Providing resources to the research and development of new gasification technologies, and sharing the risk with the private sector to scale up new technologies are essential actions to effectively utilize Canada’s abundant coal resources.
Canada could be mastering the efficient utilization of coal resources in a clean manner.
At the Swan Hills Synfuels in-situ coal gasification site in central Alberta, coal is heated to very high temperatures1,400 metres underground. The resultingsyngas is cooled in a closed glycol loop heat exchanger (above) at the surface. The demonstration project constitutes the deepestundergroundcoal gasification ever conducted.
Photo credit: SWAN HILLS SYNFUELS
Biomass resources in Canada are enormous. Approximately10 per cent of the world’s forests, or 450 million hectares, is in Canada. The total agricultural land in Canada is 67.5 million hectares. The Canadian forestry industry continues to seek new markets for its surplus capacity of approximately 30 million cubic metres of lumber due to the recent downturn in the U.S. housing sector. The development of bio-refineries, where bioenergy, bio-chemicals and other bio-products are produced from diverse biomass feedstocks, could lead to the emergence of a bio-economy in Canada. Integrated development options include the conversion of pulp and paper mills into bio-refineries and product diversification for sugar-based and cellulosic ethanol plants, which would maintain functioning economies in less dense population centres.
The development of bio-refineries could lead to the emergence of a bio-economy in Canada.
The book “Canada: Winning as a Sustainable Energy Superpower,” from which portions of this article have been excerpted, is due to be published this summer and is available online now at www.clembowman.info/EnergyPathways.html
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