Powering a nation part two: The electrification movement

Canada’s electricity system is highly complex and sophisticated, similar to our vast transmission pipeline network. It is fueled by a combination of renewable sources like water, wind and solar, and non-renewable sources like natural gas, oil and nuclear.

Last week’s blog post looked at the current energy mix and the significant role natural gas will continue to play as Canada and the world move toward a lower-carbon future.

How Canada’s electricity is fueled is just one part of the story. The second part is how that electricity is used, which is expected to change dramatically over the next 30 years.

Around the world, electricity is powering more and more things. Vehicles that use electricity instead of gasoline; homes heated by electric heat pumps rather than natural gas; and industrial processes fueled by electric boilers and furnaces rather than conventional fuels. This movement is called “electrification”.

The transition to some of these forms of electrification will take longer than others, according to Michael Powell, Vice President of Government Relations with the Canadian Electricity Association (CEA).

“I see a future where we plug our personal vehicles into the wall, but the technology of moving people over long distances – whether it’s through trucks or trains or airplanes – is more likely to require some kind of combustible fuel,” said Powell.

“Industrial processes that are very heat intensive are probably less well-suited to traditional electrification. That’s where renewable natural gas, carbon capture or hydrogen could play more of a role.”

Still, the federal government expects Canada will need to double or triple the amount of electricity it produces by 2050 to meet the growing demand driven by electrification. Powell says that goal is achievable, but it leaves a role for other kinds of energy in Canada.

“Technology is advancing, and so the efficiencies that we will see in the future on relatively new technologies will become clearer as we go on. But we aren’t there yet,” says Powell. “Natural gas will be a backup to the system for a long time.”

As electricity’s role in Canada’s energy mix grows, and the sources of that power evolve, CEA says the transition must happen in a way that is reliable, safe, affordable and sustainable. This will take a collective effort by the entire energy industry, and government.

Canada’s transmission pipeline companies are an important part of that transition, by ensuring the natural gas and oil we will need long into the future, are delivered in the safest, most responsible way.

Thank you to Michael Powell, Vice President of Government Relations with the Canadian Electricity Association for his contribution to this blog post.