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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.