We need to triple our electric power supply. Why? Because we have to replace gasoline and diesel for transportation and we have to replace all our use of natural gas for heating and industry by 2050.
This is the key energy issue facing Canada. It sounds pretety tough, but lets look at the numbers.
In Ontario, 9% of electricity is supplied by wind. 28% is supplied by gas and oil. Solar and biofuels are trivial at the moment. Biofuels have very limited upside. Lets consider the what would happen if we try to decarbonize with just wind.
First we have to add three times the current wind power capacity to replace fossil fuel electricity generation. Then we need to add another eleven times current capacity to be equivalent to transportation fossil fuels. Then we need another 11 for heating.
Are your ready for 26 times the current area covered by wind farms? And most of that in southern Ontario?
It is feasible and it would actually increase the economic productivity of agricultural land. It could be done by 2050 at current rates of growth of wind power. Solar adds a second technology that will be increasingly important, but it probably isn’t needed in a purely technical sense.
We will need to install storage systems and do some sophisticated load-shifting, but these are technical problems that are either getting close to being solved or already solved.
But I have over-estimated the amount of power needed for transportation. The internal combustion engine is typically about 15% efficient. The electric motor gets close to 60% efficiency. That means that in a simple technology swap we only need one quarter the current energy used in transportation. Instead of adding 11 times current capacity we could just add triple the current installed capacity. It is starting to look pretty easy!!
There is more good news when we think about heating. Natural gas heats most homes and work-places in Ontario. It has to go. Electric heating is possible, but instead of just replacing the heat source, why not make building more efficient? Already we can build net-zero homes. They require no outside energy on average.
This means that a massive home and urban renovation project is part of our decarbonization roadmap. And if we pushed it far enough, fixed the building codes so new buildings don’t use gas, and exploited geothermal and waste heat, we would not need any additional electricity for heating buildings.
It is surprising how close we are. Really, all we need to do is start!