A New Energy Vision for Canada

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Our foundational 2011 report offers an inspiring snapshot of a prosperous future Canada that has largely moved on from fossil fuel dependence. The New Energy Vision details the future we are working towards, and continues to serve as a catalyst for conversations about the best path forward to a low-carbon future.

A New Energy Vision for Canada

What might the new-energy transition look like on the ground?

Below, we outline several of the key components of a proposed energy vision for Canada in 2050.

The picture we begin to paint here sounds ambitious—and it is. Some may scoff and dismiss it outright. And yet almost everything we describe already exists somewhere in the world, in one form or another.

Our challenge will be to select the best of these examples and models, and adapt them to our unique circumstances and needs.

  • New Models of Home and Neighborhood

    By 2050, the average Canadian home could become a net producer of renewable energy. once retrofitted for performance and connected to a sophisticated and reliable grid, homes could be providing energy for comfort, illumination, entertainment, and other needs. They could also provide their owners with a measure of security against energy price increases, because the renewable “fuel” to heat, cool and power such a home would be free. In our vision, Canadian homes would be at once beautiful, accessible to a wide range of ages and lifestyles, and straightforward to operate and maintain.

    Canada’s cities and towns could become integrated energy systems that enjoy remarkable efficiencies by considering together the needs and opportunities of services such as water and resource recovery with those of buildings and transportation. Unobtrusive and non-polluting district heat and power plants could provide resilience and a sense of community ownership over energy. In the neighbourhoods of 2050, we envision all the pieces of urban infrastructure working together, dynamically and seamlessly sharing resources and information for maximum efficiency.

  • Efficient Modes of Transportation

    A business trip between Toronto and Quebec City could take just under two-and-a-half hours, from office to office, aboard a comfortable, reliable, and Canadian-built high-speed train. We expect virtually all passenger cars would be powered by electricity generated from renewable sources, while buses might be powered by hydrogen fuel cells or other alternative low carbon sources of energy. Clean, efficient, and reliable public transportation, such as streetcars, could connect neighbourhoods with schools, shops, and services.

    As a trading nation, we could also realize significant opportunities in freight. We might move far more of our shipments via efficient rail and marine modes, while trucks might be powered with liquid renewable biofuels. In urban areas, fleets of electric delivery vehicles might help move commercial goods to market. Aviation will likely remain one of the last sectors to transition off fossil fuels.

  • Leadership in Renewables and Energy Services

    In the new energy economy of 2050, we envision that Canada will overwhelmingly derive its energy from clean and renewable sources— wind, solar, water, biomass, and geothermal resources—instead of fossil fuels. our industrial sector will remain vibrant while significantly different from that of 2011. When Canadians extract resources from their land and water base, they might do so with the smallest possible impacts and maximum possible value. Canadians could be key players in the closed loop of recovery and re-use of materials such as aluminum, steel, and asphalt. The nation’s commercial infrastructure might itself be part of the integrated energy system, and produce its own heat, electricity, and mobility.

    We expect petroleum companies will, by 2050, have transformed into predominantly renewable energy and energy-services companies. They will no longer be selling energy commodities, but will instead deliver a wide range of energy services to Canadians.

  • Economic Prosperity

    In 2050, Canada could be enjoying a vibrant, diverse economy and an international reputation as a developer of energy production and conservation technologies, innovative transportation products, and other value-added innovations. our economy would produce a much higher rate of GDP per unit of energy consumed, drastically improving our energy productivity. rather than bulk exporters of hydrocarbons, Canadians could be global leaders in the design, engineering, and manufacturing of sophisticated energy services.

    This prosperity could be the direct outcome of a joint industry-government innovation fund that might set aside a portion of oil and gas revenues. Such a fund could establish leading-edge research facilities and support job training programs across the country.

  • New Energy Attitudes

    By the middle of this century, we expect Canadians will have completely transformed their relationship with energy. In our vision, they would no longer assume that energy is free and ubiquitous, nor take the services it provides for granted. Instead, they would prioritize conservation and efficiency above all other considerations when making a decision in the home or marketplace.

    When Canadians do require power and heat for buildings, transportation, communication, entertainment, and so on, we envision they would be generating it from renewable sources. They might also be producing this heat and power closer to where they use it, and use it sparingly—not because they would somehow be compelled to sacrifice their lifestyles, but because they would simply need less energy to conduct the business of daily life. They would quite literally be doing more, with far less.

    Similar to this country’s success in largely eliminating illiteracy, by 2050 Canadians could become very knowledgeable about the close connections between our energy system, economy, and ecosystems. We imagine they might cultivate a strong sense of stewardship and pride of ownership over their energy services.

  • A Changing National Identity

    As a country that built its wealth and power on the back of its substantial natural resources, Canadians have long seen themselves as hewers of wood and drawers of water. But our leadership in sectors such as telecommunications and transportation point the way to a different kind of national identity—one based less on extraction and more on the potential of adding value and delivering a range of energy services innovations to domestic and export markets.

    While we will still be exporting raw materials for decades to come, we could also be offering the world an increasingly sophisticated and diversified portfolio of energy innovations.

1 – Dare to Dream Big

First came the arms race. then, the space race. Now, the nations of the world are in the throes of a different competition—the new-energy race—and the stakes are no less dramatic. The winners will effectively lead their economies into an era of unprecedented prosperity, security, and abundance—with strong employment, strengthened ecosystems, lowered public-health costs, and improved quality of life, among other benefits.

The United States, China, Great Britain, and many other nations are working today to rapidly transition off hydrocarbons and reorganize their cities and societies to provide energy services in ways that are environmentally and socially benign. These countries are making big investments, training the brightest, hiring the best, incubating new technologies, and moving rapidly into a future that will look very different than the present.

All are pursuing an immense opportunity. The International Energy Agency is calling for global renewable-energy investments of $430 billion by 2020 and $1.2 trillion by 2030.

Where is Canada situated in this global race? With outstanding universities, a proud history of innovation, and a wealth of natural resources, we have assets that position us well as leaders, and a stable financial system to manage the transition. Ernst & Young cited this latter quality last year, when the firm ranked Canada 9th out of 27 economies for renewable-energy investment attractiveness.

We also have the hydrocarbons necessary to support us through this shift, tremendous efficiency potential, technologies needed to provide energy services with much less input energy, myriad sources of clean energy, and the research capacity to create the innovations that will ultimately become some of our leading export products. Further, we have a favourable national character to embrace transformation; we are one of the few jurisdictions in the world with a demonstrated ability to find common ground on complex challenges. Come crunch time, Canadians have a proven ability pull together and get the job done.

however, while Canada has an enviable opportunity to thrive in this new energy era, we have some catching up to do. We must activate our considerable potential to achieve this opportunity. The world is moving quickly, and we risk being left behind. We can no longer afford to stand on the sidelines.

In January, President Obama instructed his nation’s scientists and engineers to focus on the most difficult clean energy problems, and assured them his government would fund what he called “the Apollo projects of our age.” A new U.S. Department of Energy program called SunShot is working to bring the price of solar photovoltaics down to $1 per watt— competitive with natural gas—within six years. Meanwhile, Shanghai recently minted the world’s first wind-energy billionaires. In 2009, Chinese investments in new energy topped $34.6 billion, almost double those of the United States.

For its part, Canada has invested little in new energy. others are looking to wind, solar, enhanced geothermal and more, but
we haven’t yet meaningfully embraced these energy solutions of the future. Before we can join this vanguard and occupy a position of leadership on the world energy stage, we must fully embrace the possibilities of a post- petroleum era. We must identify our strengths, dare to dream big, then roll up our sleeves and get started.

2 – Our Challenge

As leading economies work to reduce their reliance on imported petroleum, Canada’s deepening commitment to hydrocarbons could leave our economy vulnerable and exposed in the coming decades. Spurred by a range of factors our nation’s two largest export markets—the United States and China—are competing to develop energy services and solutions based on clean and abundant sources that will never run out.

Canada is doing little to join this race and take advantage of the many opportunities presented by the new-energy transition. Instead, our economic strategy appears to be rooted in an assumption of ever-increasing global demand for our petroleum products. In this respect, we are concerned that we may be sacrificing Canada’s long term stability for short term gain. When everyone else has moved ahead in the new-energy transition, we may well find ourselves scrambling to assemble the necessary talent, incubators, and research facilities to compete on the world stage and uphold our reputation as responsible global citizens.

If we settle for an approach, strategy, or suite of policies that does not drive deep change with the appropriate scope, scale, and speed—we will leave our nation vulnerable to forces beyond our control, and ultimately endanger Canada’s economic future.

  • 2.1 A Call to Action

    In Canada, energy resource development is presently a strong economic driver. hydrocarbon export revenues contribute to GDP and help fund public services such as healthcare and education. But profound change is coming, and we must be ready for it. We must prepare for a day when we fund these critical public services with alternative revenue sources.

    Canadians already sense this to be the case. A recent Decima research poll produced for Natural resources Canada found that a majority of citizens believe the energy sector is one of the most important parts of Canada’s economy, and that the federal government should lead the way in finding alternatives to oil.

    “There is not an expectation that Canada should transition overnight, but rather start the process of moving toward more environmentally friendly (but still reasonably cost-effective and reliable) sources in the medium term, and then further up the environmental continuum in a longer term future,” the report’s summary states. “[Canadians] believe that this may not happen without some form of leadership, with objectives and time frames in place for this transitional process, and ideally, investments made in facilitating this transition.”

    Indeed, the transition will take time. reinventing our approach to something so core to our lives and economy will likely prove one of the most difficult tasks we have ever tackled as a nation—similar in ambition to building the transcontinental railway. But like that project, this one must be undertaken if we are to remain strong as a nation and competitive in tomorrow’s marketplace of resources and ideas. The longer we wait, the more it will cost us.

    Demand-Side Opportunities: Efficiency and Conservation

    Canadians are some of the highest per- capita energy users in the world. In a recent oECD survey of 31 economies, using total primary energy supply per capita—which accounts for climate and distance factors— Canada ranks as the third least-efficient country, slightly less efficient than the United States. Cold countries such as Sweden and Finland use a fraction of the energy that Canada does. While discouraging on its surface, the statistic points to the tremendous opportunities to be found on the demand side of the spectrum. Conservation opportunities are largely driven by behavioural and social factors, while efficiency wins are largely an outcome of how we design and manage our appliances, cars, homes, neighbourhoods, and entire cities.

    Opportunities in the efficiency sector include technical solutions such as efficient building-envelope materials and software solutions that continually audit buildings for energy anomalies. others exist in professional services such as planning, architecture, and design, and the skilled trades needed to retrofit, redesign and rebuild our homes and communities to make them more complete, compact, and livable. If we drastically reduce our overall need for energy through design improvements, compact, transit-oriented communities, and innovations in building materials, we build-in resilience to future energy price increases.

    When it comes to building-envelope design, Canadians have a reputation as pioneers. In 1977, Canadian ingenuity built the Saskatchewan Conservation house—a prototype home that required only a bare minimum amount of energy for heating and cooling. Eventually, the design informed the development, in Austria, of the Passivhaus performance standard. We can lead in this innovation again.

    Supply-Side Opportunities: Renewables and Energy Services

    One of the more subtle, but critical, characteristics of the new energy era is that it requires a philosophical shift from thinking of energy not as a product, but as an enabler of services.

    Consider transportation. Economists often speak about “demand for oil.” But the truth is, there is no demand for oil. Instead, there is an appetite for the energy service of safe, affordable, and reliable mobility, or whatever other service oil consumption currently provides. Despite the headlines, China doesn’t have a growing thirst for petroleum; it has an increasing need for the energy service of transportation, and is presently making unparalleled new energy investments to address it. It is increasingly plausible that China’s solution to meeting the demand for personal mobility will not require imported oil.

    There are numerous ways to meet the demands for energy services from renewable sources. The nations that invest today to find new ways to fulfill these demands tomorrow via clean, abundant, and non-polluting sources will dominate the global new-energy economy.

    The five drivers of change

    The vision offered here presents exciting new opportunities for innovation, global cooperation, and trade. Each year, investors pour some $120 billion into renewable energy representing a total market value of more than $1 trillion. A recent HSBC assessment of stimulus packages notes that global governments invested $430 billion in climate-change related infrastructure projects in recent years.

    But while these benefits entice us to join this new race to the future, there are also drivers in the form of larger shifts, trends, and pressures that we can no longer afford to ignore.

    We have identified five of these drivers:

    1. Increasing demand for energy services as world population grows, while petroleum and other non- renewable energy sources become increasingly challenging, risky, and costly to find, extract, and transport;
    2. The growing global interest in energy independence and security, including the desire to become less reliant on foreign sources of energy;
    3. The pressure to reduce the risks and impacts of fossil fuel extraction, distribution, and consumption, particularly with respect to greenhouse gases and climate disruption;
    4. The imperative to maintain Canadian competitiveness in the coming decades as other major economies increasingly shift to non-hydrocarbon energy sources; and
    5. The increasing demand from the world’s most vulnerable populations to address energy poverty and inequity, while simultaneously minimizing the risk of climate-change impacts on those same peoples.

    Whether it suits canada’s present business interests or not, these drivers are inexorably pushing us to an energy future that will be markedly different from the one we have today.

2.2 The Risks of Business As Usual

As the world’s large economies jockey for position in the race to a new-energy future, canada is languishing near the back of the pack. By one account, this nation has in recent years missed out on approximately 66,000 jobs because the federal government has failed to match the United States in clean-energy investments.

But while Canada is overlooking employment opportunities today, these losses are minor compared to the risk of serious economic disruption in the coming decades. A number of presently circulating Canadian energy-policy frameworks appear to assume an ever-increasing domestic and international demand for our raw carbon based energy commodities—particularly in rapidly developing and urbanizing nations of the Pacific Rim.

However, the recent dramatic surge in low- carbon infrastructure investments in these nations—particularly in the transportation sector—point to an increasing push to sharply reduce dependence on imported oil. China, for example, recently committed to place one million electric cars on the road per year. By 2020, that nation’s high-speed rail network is expected to connect all provincial capitals and cities with populations over a half-million, significantly offsetting domestic aviation and the petroleum it requires.

While China and other markets will, in the short term, increase their demand for oil, real risk exists that these economies will eventually leapfrog over 20th-century energy sources, and take advantage of the inevitable mass commercialization of more nimble, scaleable, and sustainable innovations brought to the global market by nations that are investing today in clean-tech research and development. By 2030 or so, we expect many nations will have reinvented their economies and retrofitted their cities to become more complete, compact, and liveable. These cities will use dramatically less energy in general, and far fewer hydrocarbons in particular.

Several recent assessments suggest that potential exists for a very different global energy system by the middle of this century. One recent study, conducted by Stanford University and the University of California, concludes that the world can meet all of its new-energy needs with wind, water, and solar by 2030, and can replace all pre-existing energy sources with these renewable sources by 2050.

We are concerned that, if Canada continues to place petroleum at the centre of its energy-planning future, that a rapid global shift away from hydrocarbons could ultimately jeopardize our long term economic stability, public services, and quality of life. Further, any economy that grows too dependent on any one commodity or sector stands to undermine other sectors. Canada has already lost manufacturing jobs as a consequence of our currency’s close link to the price of oil.

Beyond these economic vulnerabilities, there are numerous security, stability, and reputation risks associated with Canada’s current path of increasing fossil-fuel reliance.

Though Canada generates much of its electricity through hydropower, for the most part this nation meets its energy needs through fossil fuels, and helps other economies do the same. About 80 percent of our greenhouse-gas emissions are a direct consequence of the hydrocarbons we burn to make electricity, heat our buildings, power our transportation, and extract, upgrade, and refine petroleum. Canada is the world’s 9th largest overall carbon emitter, 8th most polluting on a per-capita basis, and 10th with respect to total cumulative emissions.

While some argue that our greenhouse-gas emissions are relatively low compared to those of other countries, the fact is, every nation must do its fair share. Our nation’s contribution to climate disruption more than doubled between 1990 and 2008—increasing by 121 percent. one of the largest areas of growth is in the fossil-fuel sector, including Alberta’s oil-sands projects. According to Environment Canada data, emissions from these operations have tripled since 1990. If all oil sands projects that are currently seeking approval or have been announced by companies proceed, production will more than quadruple today’s levels. Without widespread and aggressive deployment of carbon-capture and storage technology, which, despite significant federal subsidies, remains in its infancy, emissions will follow on a similar scale.

As a northern nation, Canada is already witnessing the impacts of climate change in the Arctic. our northern residents are particularly vulnerable, especially indigenous peoples who have done little to contribute to the problem but who are now observing massive changes in weather, ice formation and movement, game migration, and more. These residents are also grappling with the opportunities and risks inherent in increased marine traffic through an ice-free northwest passage, including the possibility of increased petroleum exploration.

Canada has made a range of international commitments to reduce its own emissions and limit average surface temperature warming to two degrees above the pre-industrial era. To date, our governments have done little to meet these commitments. Despite well-documented economic benefits, this country is investing relatively little in new energy technologies, and is not committing significant resources to helping Canadians shape their future and understand the role of energy in their lives, and the many benefits of conservation and efficiency.

2.3 Benefits of a New Energy Economy

Although profound change is daunting, canadians have made such dramatic adjustments before and the potential rewards are great. The transition to a new-energy future promises benefits for a generous cross-section of Canadian society. researchers, engineers, and financial sector professionals will follow the flow of new-energy investment, building up Canada’s own brain trust while attracting the best and brightest from beyond our borders. The transition also presents new possibilities for partnerships with First Nations, Inuit, Métis, and other aboriginal groups. Meanwhile, the transition will enable the training, retraining, and advancement of many thousands of Canada’s trades workers.

Our success will leverage Canada’s innovative spirit, collaborative values, and our global diversity in culture and experience. It
will also build upon our northern climate—our agricultural exports may become critical to help feed a warming world—and our vast reserves of renewable biomass. We expect myriad other benefits will flow from this transition, including:

Socio-Economic Benefits

The drive to redesign, retrofit, and rebuild Canada’s cities and towns will create new jobs in design and planning, construction trades, building-material manufacturing and reclamation. The shift to decentralized and community-based energy systems will also generate local employment to manage and maintain those systems. Local stewardship of integrated energy systems will enhance a sense of overall community in how Canadians work, play, learn, and care for our children and elders. We will eliminate energy poverty, particularly in aboriginal communities, many of which presently rely on polluting and expensive diesel generators. No longer will a million Canadians have to choose each month whether to pay for their rent or their utilities. Through a national energy strategy, Canada will identify its competencies and niche strengths in energy-services innovation. We will become global traders of energy solutions, rather than raw materials.

Ecosystem Benefits

We can live within our means while safeguarding our air, lands, and oceans, and the services they provide. By embracing a new-energy future, we will eliminate our contribution to the buildup of heavy metals, fossil fuels, and toxics in our ecosystems, while dramatically reducing and eventually eliminating our contributions to climate change. In this new energy vision, we do not need to seek a “balance” between the environment and the economy; we strengthen both at the same time.

Personal Benefits

We will retrofit and densify our communities to lessen our dependence on motor vehicles and encourage walkability and other active- transportation modes, triggering multiple physical health and personal wellness benefits. A considerable body of research details the present public health costs of airborne particulates and smog on our communities.

In a new energy vision of steadily decreasing fossil fuel combustion, the incidence of such respiratory-related illnesses—the result of gasoline- and diesel-based transportation— will be dramatically reduced. This will offer myriad health benefits to Canadians and a corresponding reduced burden on public health care. Canadians would see a dramatically improved quality of life, and have more money to spend on things other than energy.

Reputation Benefits

Good things come to those who lead. As our investments begin to pay dividends—as we offer the global community Canadian-made and designed new energy innovations—this country will strengthen its reputation on the world stage as a leader and innovator. As international standing and respect flourish, multiple benefits and opportunities will flow our way, including further investments and potential new-energy trade alliances.

Endorsers of A New Energy Vision for Canada


Aeolis Wind
Agentic Communications
AIR MILES For Social Change
Anderson Greenplan
Big Green Island Transportation
Biro Creative
Black River Hydro
Black River Wind
BluEarth Renewables
Borealis Geopower
British Columbia Bioenergy Network
C. Easton, Sustainability
Canadian Bioenergy
Canadian Geothermal Energy Association
Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association
Chambar Restaurant
Clean Air Landscaping
Clean Energy British Columbia
Cleantech Group
Climate Smart
Courtney Agencies Ltd.
Day4 Energy
Dynamic Cities Project
EC3 Initiative
Eclipse Awards International Inc.
Electric Mobility Canada
Endurance Wind Power
Exro Technologies Inc.
First Nations Engineering and Technical Services
Forest Products Association of Canada
Gobi Carbon Management Solutions
Greengate Power
Greengate Power Corporation
HB Lanarc
Integrated Power Systems
Junxion Strategy Inc.
Kerr Wood Leidal Consulting
King Pacific Lodge
Lanefab Design/Build
Lang Motors
MaRS Discovery District
MD Energy Solutions
Outlook Land Design
Quantum Lighting
Quantum Wind
Rain City Strategies Inc.
Roger Bayley Inc.
Rudy North
Saul Good Gift Co.
Scotian WindFields
Sea Breeze Power Corp
SEA Sustainability Now Consulting
Seaforth Energy
Stonebreaker Designs
Strategic Sustainable Investments
The Good Planet Company
The Green Mama
Westcoast NRG
Whistler Center for Sustainability
Woodland Bio Fuels


Atlantic Canada Sustainable Energy Coalition
B.C. Sustainable Energy Association
Canadian Association of Physicians for Environment
Canadian Association of Retired Persons
Cascadia Green Building Council
Centre for International Governance Innovation
Climate Action Network Canada
Conservation Voters of British Columbia
County Sustainability Group
Eco Justice
Ecology Action Centre
Ecotrust Canada
Environment Northeast
Environmental Defence
Falls Brook Centre
Fraserside Community Services Society
Friends of Wild Salmon
Georgia Strait Alliance
goBEYOND Campus Climate Network
Nova Scotia Environmental Network
One Earth Initiative Society
Ontario Sustainable Energy Association
Sierra Club Canada – Atlantic Chapter
Sierra Club of British Columbia
Sierra Club of Canada
Sightline Institute
Sustainable Prosperity
Sustainable SFU
The Borealis Foundation
The Ivey Foundation
The Pembina Institute
University Neighbourhoods Association
West Coast Environment Law
World Wildlife Fund Canada


City of Burnaby, British Columbia
City of North Vancouver, British Columbia
District of Saanich, Victoria, British Columbia
Gitga’at First Nation
His Worship Mayor Ken Melamed, Resort Municipality of Whistler, British Columbia
His Worship Mayor Mike Bernier, City of Dawson Creek, British Columbia
The Islands Trust


Andrew Weaver, University of Victoria, School of Earth and Ocean Sciences
David Keith, University of Calgary, Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering
Erica Frank, University of British Columbia, Faculty of Medicine, School of Population and Public Health
George Hoberg, University of British Columbia, Department of Forest Resources Management
James Tansey, University of British Columbia, ISIS, at the Sauder School of Business
John Robinson, University of British Columbia, Sustainability Initiative
Mark Jaccard, Simon Fraser University, School of Resource and Environmental Management
Nancy Oweiller, Simon Fraser University, School of Public Policy


Adam va-Adamah Environmental Society
Ahavat Olam Synagogue
Bishop of Trent-Durham Area & Suffragan
Bishop, Diocese of Toronto
Canadian Memorial United Church
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada
Faith and the Common Good
Noor Cultural Centre
Oikos Network
Orgyan Osal Cho Dzong Temple and Retreat Centre
Pax Gaia Educational & Retreat Initiatives
The Green Awakening Network
The Interfaith Coalition for Climate Justice, Halifax
The Palyul Foundation of Canada
Touching the Earth Working Group, Shambhala
Trinity College
United Church of Canada

We look forward to hearing from you.

Clean Energy Canada
Suite 721, 602 West Hastings Street
Vancouver, B.C. V6B 1P2
Telephone: 604-947-2200

Please see our team page for staff email addresses.

If you are interested in supporting our work, please contact our development advisor Natasha LaRoche via natasha@cleanenergycanada.org.

Media Enquiries

For media enquiries, please contact:

Trevor Melanson | Communications Manager
c: 604-341-5091 | e: trevor [at] cleanenergycanada [dot] org | @trevormelanson