Endless Energy - BC could be energy self-sufficient by 2025

Vancouver, Canada (GLOBE-Net) – British Columbia could be energy self-sufficient by 2025 from renewable sources alone. Over that same period, greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced to well below year 2000 levels. These are the conclusions of a new report from the GLOBE Foundation which examines the feasibility of moving BC towards a sustainable energy future.

The Endless Energy Report confirms that unlike most areas of the world, a sustainable energy economy in British Columbia based on renewable energy sources is possible. The province’s renewable energy potential is such that it could be 100% energy self sufficient within 20 years without undue social or economic hardship. Not only would this provide long-term, secure and stable energy supply for the provincial economy, it would provide some insulation from world energy shocks.

The goal of the Endless Energy Project was to develop a model for a sustainable energy economy and to develop the tools to deploy this model in various jurisdictions. The first test of the model was in British Columbia, a region rich in renewable energy resources. That work was undertaken by the GLOBE Foundation with support from BC Hydro, Day 4 Energy, the Power Technology Alliance, the National Research Council of Canada, and Western Economic Diversification.

The project begins with the observation that rising energy prices, insecurity of energy supply and global warming are issues of great concern everywhere and this has accelerated the search for new energy sources and efforts to reduce energy consumption. Even so, there remains great uncertainty about what the global energy economy will look like in 2025.

The Endless Energy Model clarifies uncertainties about the future of the energy economy and sets out a practical guide to achieving energy self-sufficiency through market driven conservation and cleaner, greener energy sources without diminishing quality of life. The net effect is low-to-no emissions and a truly sustainable energy economy for generations to come. The Endless Energy Model provides a tool that can describe an entire energy economy, both in terms of demand and as an energy supply system. It views the built environment (buildings and municipal infrastructure) as the primary interface between energy supply systems on the one hand, and all the ways we use energy (the demand side) on the other.

Key energy demand management roles of the built environment include the design and construction of transportation infrastructure, municipal planning to cut energy demand, and buildings designed to reduce space-heating requirements. Energy supply management in the built environment includes the development and installation of waste collection systems for potential energy supply, planning and installation of district scale energy systems, and the installation of on-site renewable energy supply systems in individual buildings.

For citizens at large, saving energy at home, using less gasoline for transportation, and recycling are now part of everyday living. New building designs are increasingly energy efficient, as are new appliances and new automobiles. The use of renewable energy sources is also taking hold, not only to cut GHG emissions, but also to gain greater control over rising energy costs. More and more new buildings are using renewable energy systems such as solar hot water and geo-exchange space heaters.

Viewed this way, it is possible to provide facts-based answers to a number of fundamental questions surrounding the long-term sustainability of a particular local, regional or national economy. It also makes it possible to plan cuts in GHG emissions and to assess the degree to which a particular economy or region could become energy self-sufficient, which has enormous implications for economic competitiveness and business development.

The report highlights the importance of decision making by municipalities – who to a large extent are the shapers of the built environment, building infrastructure, district-scale energy supply systems, and local transportation infrastructure. It shows that district scale energy supply systems, together with on-site renewable energy systems in buildings, could supply twenty percent of B.C.’s entire energy demand in 2025. By way of comparison, this is more energy than is currently supplied from B.C.’s hydro-electric dam system.

It also underlines the importance of changes in vehicle fuel consumption. It proposes that continual increases in the price of gasoline, coupled with concerns about security of supply and vehicle emissions would lead to a predominantly hybrid vehicle fleet in 2025. As well, fuel cell vehicles and plug-in hybrids would each make up 10% of the overall vehicle fleet. This would translate into a 40% drop in overall fuel consumption, even with a 30% increase in vehicles on the road.

For corporations and businesses, the report provides a clear and concise review of energy use and supply trends that will assist business planning and help maximize economic returns to shareholders. In particular, the Endless Energy model provides the insights needed to develop strategies for a more robust economy.

What could BC look like in 2025?

A sustainable energy economy in British Columbia in 2025 would be powered by renewable electricity generation and by biomass energy. In essence, it would be a ‘bio-electric’ economy. The built environment (buildings and municipal infrastructure) would be utilized as the primary interface between energy supply and demand to both improve energy efficiency and expand the use of clean energy technologies.

British Columbia has an impressive portfolio of energy supply options: world scale coal reserves, standing timber base, hydroelectric capacity, untapped natural gas, coal bed methane and off-shore methane hydrates, as well as large-scale potential for geothermal, solar, wind, biomass and ocean power. The province already obtains around forty percent of its energy from renewable sources, primarily forest biomass and hydroelectric dams which also provide an ideal storage system for energy from intermittent renewables.

Large scale utilization of natural renewable energy resources would increase substantially. Hydroelectricity would still be the backbone of BC’s electricity supply, with significant expansion of large and small scale facilities. Wind, solar, geothermal and ocean energy sources can all be deployed on various scales in British Columbia.

Along with the construction of utility-scale renewable energy projects, very small scale renewable energy installations for individual buildings would provide up to 14% of the total energy needs of homes and businesses in BC, primarily in new construction. Technologies such as solar water heating, geo-exchange systems, and solar photovoltaic systems could offer cost effective and reliable energy even during severe weather events when grid power is interrupted.

The use of district energy, in which a group of buildings or a small community draws electricity and heat from a central source, has strong potential in both urban and rural BC. Municipal waste, geothermal, solar and other renewables can be used at scales beyond the capacity of individual households and businesses. Together with energy supplied by very small scale systems, district energy supply could equal the energy output of the current BC hydroelectric dam system.

The overall impact of a major expansion in distributed energy generation (very small and district systems) could be a more robust and price predictable energy system for BC’s future economy. Because of these and other trends, municipalities will pay a greater role in determining BC’s energy future than they have in the past.

Biomass energy, based largely on the province’s forest industry, can also provide significant heat and power. The forestry sector itself can become self sufficient by continuing current trends of replacing natural gas with biomass, and increased co-firing and co-generation of forest waste could provide excess energy for sale. Generation of power from gasification of municipal solid waste and landfill gas could further help BC become a bioenergy leader.

The largely untapped well of energy efficiency and conservation will also need to be utilized for BC to become self-sufficient, both with respect to the built environment and for transportation. Employing energy efficient construction techniques and incorporating modern lighting equipment and systems such as “piped” daylight and grey water heat recovery systems could hold energy consumption in 2025 to year 2000 levels. This would mean a 15% overall cut in BC’s energy consumption.

Even with increased market penetration of hybrid cars, plug-in electric vehicles and fuel cell vehicles, a major challenge would be meeting the demand for automotive fuel from provincial resources. While BC has significant potential for production of ethanol, biodiesel, and hydrogen, the Endless Energy 2025 self-sufficiency scenario requires that the vehicle fleet of the future be very different from today, with a much larger role for public transit in major urban centers.

Cars and light vehicles would be hybrids (burning hydrogen or methanol in internal combustion engines or Fuel Cells), fully electric vehicles or Fuel Cell Vehicles running on hydrogen or methanol. Trucks and trains would be hybrids running on hydrogen or methanol, and public transit would be largely electric powered.

An achievable goal

There are challenges to be met in order to realize the Endless Energy vision, but given the rising price of conventional energy, energy security concerns, and the threat of climate change, meeting these challenges will be beneficial to all British Columbians.

In nearly all sectors of the economy, major investments are being made to cut energy costs now and gain better control over future energy expenditures.

The forestry sector for example, is switching to forest biomass energy at a rapid rate, while the trend in large building construction is for renewable sources like geo-exchange space heating and solar hot water to replace gas and electric heaters. In the vehicle fleet, where hybrid cars can cut gasoline consumption by up to 40%, many businesses are adopting alternative technologies.

The Endless Energy project has quantified these and many other trends and combined them to show that moving from 40% renewable supply in year 2000 to 100% renewable supply in 2025 is not only possible, but entirely reasonable and desirable.

Importantly, the scenario described implies little disruption in way people live and the way businesses operate. However, it does imply a major expansion in economic growth as a result of: increased energy and technology exports, major investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy, and replacement of petroleum imports with indigenous bio-fuels and electricity.

If British Columbia was successful in achieving energy self-sufficiency from renewable energy sources, or such sources in combination with clean fossil fuels technologies, the world would take notice, notes the report. As 80% of greenhouse emissions result from fossil fuels consumption, the effect on greenhouse gas emissions would be dramatic, and the public health and economic benefits would be widespread.

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