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February 10 2021

Energized and leading the way: A bright energy future for Canada and Alberta

As a global energy player, Alberta is no stranger to the peaks and valleys of the energy market, and few years can compare to 2020 in terms of challenge and change. As global demand for low-carbon technologies increases, investment follows, with business economics becoming increasingly tied to innovation and decarbonization.

Herein lies the promise of a bright energy future for Alberta and for Canada. By leveraging our abundant natural resources, advanced skillset, and innovative spirit, we can lead and benefit from the low-carbon economy, within and beyond our traditional sectors of strength.

On February 24, 2021, the Calgary Chamber will convene a virtual conversation with the energy industry leaders who are pursuing this historic opportunity. In advance of that conversation, here is a primer on the challenges, opportunities, and trends that are shaping the future of the energy industry.

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Canada’s role in meeting global energy demand

Like many aspects of our daily lives, our demand for energy significantly changed this past year. According to the International Energy Agency, energy demand declined by an estimated average of 5 per cent in 2020 overall, with key fuels that Alberta produces also hovering around that mark:

Energy demand shifts due to the COVID-19 pandemic

8 per cent decline in oil demand

3 per cent decline in natural gas demand

7 per cent decline in coal use

While the COVID-19 pandemic is a significant shock and the road ahead may still be bumpy, the arrival of vaccines signifies that an eventual end point is in sight. Nevertheless, global energy demand will continue to shift into the future. The International Energy Agency has modelled the following overall global energy demand scenarios:

  1. A world where COVID-19 is gradually brought under control in 2021 and the global economy returns to pre-crisis levels; or
  2. A world where the pandemic persists and delays our recovery, and our existing climate policies remain; or
  3. A world where COVID-19 is gradually brought under control in 2021 and the global economy returns to pre-crisis levels, and ramped up and more serious clean energy policies and investment achieve sustainable energy objectives, including the Paris Agreement, energy access, and air quality goals.
The predictions for these scenarios are similar – over the next few years, global energy demand will increase, but oil demand will remain relatively flat or decline. 

These predictions speak to the global need for a wide variety of energy sources. Canada is well-positioned to meet this demand, given the breadth and depth of our energy industry:

The importance of Canada's energy industry

Broadly defined, Canada’s energy sector directly employs 282,000 people and indirectly supports over 550,500 jobs.

Canada’s energy sector accounts for over 10 per cent of nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Canada is the sixth largest energy producer, the fourth largest net exporter, and the eighth largest consumer in the world.

Canada’s energy innovation story

Canada’s energy industry has always been innovating. It is driven by companies and leaders who are constantly adapting, transforming, and innovating to grow their business and environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) performance.

These companies are changing the game as we know it – in how we network, the technology we use, how we think, and who is at the table. 

Here are just a few examples of this innovation at work.

Innovation in networking:

Clean Resource Innovation Network (CRIN) brings together oil and gas industry professionals, innovators, financiers, policy makers, incubators and accelerators, academics and students with the aim of fostering and developing a successful hydrocarbon energy sector that is a critical part of a diversified Canadian economy. CRIN seeks to spur innovation by connecting those stakeholders they see as innovators – researchers, investors, SMEs, government, NGOs – with resources such as funding opportunities, talent, labs, and facilities.

Innovation in technology:

Carbon Upcycling Technologies has pioneered a carbon utilization technology that creates solid materials from CO2 waste emissions, particularly from coal ash. Turning to electricity and heat, ADC Technologies is shaking things up too – they’ve trailblazed unique ways to develop cooling systems for data centers that focusses on re-using and recycling existing heat and energy.

Innovation in thinking:

Biome Renewables is a design and engineering firm that is thinking differently when it comes to renewable energy. Biome Renewables focusses on building solutions to renewable energy using the natural world, referring to this approach as biomimetic design philosophy. Others, such as Havelaar Canada, are turning current energy solutions on their head – Heavelaar’s suite of technologies is attempting to make obsolete the current initiative to build fast-charging infrastructure for electric vehicle (EV) batteries by improving the battery design themselves.

Innovation in participation:

Young Women in Energy (YWE) aims to increase female presence, development, and leadership for women currently in Calgary’s energy industry. Through a variety of initiatives, YWE strives to further the interests of women through creating community networking and connections.

Rising stars in Alberta’s energy future

With a growing need for energy and businesses innovating on all fronts, Alberta has an important role to play in the future of energy. We have multiple opportunities – from natural resources, to investment, to technology – that enable us to lead now and into the future.

Solar and wind resources:

The Canadian Renewable Energy Association and the Alberta Electricity System Operator, have collected data that confirms what most Albertans see out their front doors – we have a lot of sunlight and wind in Alberta, and almost half the province has enough resources to develop these renewable energy sources at a high rate.

Hydrogen:

As a fuel source, hydrogen’s unique advantage is that it significantly reduces industrial emissions and provides long-term energy storage at scale which, so far, few technologies have been able to do. As a leader in natural gas production and a province with higher industrial emissions, Alberta is well-positioned to harness this opportunity and be at the forefront of the economic and environmental benefits of this growth. Proton Technologies is a Calgary-based of a company that is taking advantage of this opportunity. Proton Technologies’ patented process has developed the methodology and techniques to capture hydrogen for use while leaving hydrocarbons underground.

Small modular nuclear reactors:

Alberta has scaled up its investment in small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) by joining Canada’s SMR Roadmap through Alberta Innovates, and through Memorandum of Understanding with other provinces on development. These investments and development could mean the production of clean energy to meet our climate goal, while costing less.

Carbon capture and storage:

Carbon capture technology provides a means of removing carbon from the atmosphere, thereby decreasing our emissions. The Alberta Carbon Trunk Line provides large scale transport of CO2 from industry to mature oil fields in Central Alberta for use in enhanced oil recovery (EOR) before permanent storage.

Harnessing the future of energy for Alberta

As the voice of the Calgary business community, we have a few ideas on how to position Alberta to continue its energy leadership:

  1. Our province must invest in the diversification of its industries, both within and outside of our traditional sectors of strength.
  2. We must strengthen and diversify our skill set through education and innovative immigration policies. This will further ensure Alberta is a player on the national and global stage.
  3.  We must support commercialization of both projects and technologies, while simultaneously expanding access to new markets. These goals should both have a focus on leveraging the sustainable technologies Alberta has invested in to date.
  4. The development of a federally funded Natural Resource Innovation Supercluster would expand ongoing innovation efforts and networks, particularly in terms of clean technology  and contribute to the low-carbon economy of the future.

The Future of Industry: Energy

Join us on February 24, 2021, for a virtual conversation with the energy industry leaders who are pursuing the future of energy, from the Eurasia Group, to Suncor, to the Canadian Nuclear Association.

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The Future of Industry Series

A four part digital event series on technology and innovation across four key sectors of Alberta's economy.