Abundant, cheap fossil fuels have driven explosive technological, industrial and economic expansion for more than a century. The pervasive infrastructure developed to accommodate this growth makes it difficult to contemplate rapidly shifting away from coal, oil and gas, which creates a psychological barrier to rational discourse on energy issues.
The ecological and true economic costs of energy use force us to scrutinize our way of living. And because our infrastructure doesn’t allow us to entirely avoid fossil fuels, we must face the contradiction between how we should live and constraints against doing so.
Canada has no national energy plan, other than governmental desire to be a fossil-fuelled energy-export superpower. Given the consequences of human-induced climate change already hitting home, you’d think the highest priority of governments at all levels would be to decide on the lowest-emission energy path. But politicians focused on election intervals have difficulty dealing with generational issues.
Real, important conversations and decisions are instead delayed by diversionary and often irrational arguments and tactics: accusing critics of being hypocrites, claiming foreign money drives environmental agendas and labelling activists as eco-terrorists or enemies of Canada among them. In place of true progress, we get consolidated political power and greater corporate profit and control. Enough already!
Sustainability requires conservation and abundant energy employed with minimal ecological upset. Yet the inability to consider the need to shift quickly from fossil fuels means governments and industry look to mega-technologies like carbon capture and storage to justify inaction on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, while dismissing solar and wind as impractical, too expensive or unable to meet energy needs. Nuclear power may be an alternative to GHG-emitting fossil fuels, but it’s extremely expensive and would not be online were it not for enormous subsidies. Nuclear fuel is also finite, so costs will rise while the problem of radioactive-waste disposal remains unsolved.
As a northern country, Canada is especially vulnerable to climate change. Polar regions heat faster than temperate and tropical zones—Inuit have noticed the growing impacts for decades. With the longest marine coastline of any country, we’re also subject to sea-level rise. And our economy relies on climate-dependent activities such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries, tourism and winter sports, all of which are already feeling climate change impacts.
Where is the political leadership and will to confront climate change? We’re seeing some from individuals, grassroots organizations and municipalities. But what about our provinces? Just as the catastrophic loss of northern cod off Newfoundland warned against unsustainable practices, the destruction of $65 billion worth of B.C. trees by mountain pine beetles—once kept under control by winters with temperatures below -30 C for a week or more—should make the province take notice.
Where’s the leadership? Once lauded for policies such as the carbon tax and energy agreements with California, B.C.’s political leaders have now embraced liquefied natural gas, claiming industry expansion will create hundreds of thousands of jobs and add billions of dollars to provincial coffers—never mind that no one in power now will be held accountable for these promises because they’re several elections from being realized.
LNG should be labelled LFG: liquefied fracked gas. Hydraulic fracturing—fracking—requires pumping millions of liters of chemical-laced water deep underground to shatter shale and liberate embedded gas. It’s a short-term way to get energy with long-term ecological impacts on water and whatever organisms might be down there. (It was once thought life disappeared at bedrock, but we now know bacteria are found at least 10 kilometres down).
Fracked gas is mostly methane, a greenhouse gas more than 30 times as potent as carbon dioxide. Studies reveal leakage around fracking sites may be high enough to affect climate change more than coal! Calling it a “transition fuel” between coal or oil and renewables is nonsense. And fracking is known to cause seismic activity.
If our leaders are serious about long-term health and prosperity, they need to stop focusing on short-term profits from rapid fossil fuel development and export and start engaging in serious conversations about our energy future.
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By Harry Kretchmer
By 2030, almost a third of all the energy consumed in the European Union must come from renewable sources, according to binding targets agreed in 2018. Sweden is helping lead the way.
Sweden is a world leader in renewable energy consumption. Swedish Institute/World Bank
Naturally Warm<p>54% of Sweden's power comes from renewables, and is helped by its geography. With plenty of moving water and 63% forest cover, it's no surprise the <a href="https://sweden.se/nature/energy-use-in-sweden/#" target="_blank">two largest renewable power sources</a> are hydropower and biomass. And that biomass is helping support a local energy boom.</p><p>Heating is a key use of energy in a cold country like Sweden. In recent decades, as fuel oil taxes have increased, the country's power companies have turned to renewables, like biomass, to fuel local 'district heating' plants.</p><p>In Sweden these trace their <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank">origins back to 1948</a>, when a power station's excess heat was first used to heat nearby buildings: steam is <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/district-heating-system" target="_blank">forced along a network of pipes</a> to wherever it's needed. Today, there are around 500 district heating systems across the country, from major cities to small villages, providing heat to homes and businesses.</p><p>District heating used to be fueled mainly from the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140" target="_blank">by-products of power plants</a>, waste-to-energy plants and industrial processes. These days, however, Sweden is bringing more renewable sources into the mix. And as a result of competition, this localized form of power is now the country's<a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> home-heating market leader.</a></p>
Sweden is using smart grids to turn buildings into energy producers. Huang et al/Elsevier
Energy ‘Prosumers’<p>But Sweden doesn't stop at village-level heating solutions. Its new breed of energy-generation takes hyper-local to the next level.</p><p>One example is in the city of Ludivika where 1970s flats <a href="https://www.buildup.eu/sites/default/files/content/transforming-a-residential-building-cluster-into-electricity-prosumers-in-sweden.pdf" target="_blank">have recently been retrofitted with the latest smart energy technology</a>.</p><p>48 family apartments spread across 3 buildings have been given photovoltaic solar panels, thermal energy storage and heat pump systems. A micro energy grid connects it all, and helps charge electric cars overnight.</p><p>The result is a cluster of 'prosumer' buildings, producing rather than consuming enough power for 77% of residents' needs. With <a href="http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1232060/FULLTEXT01.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high levels of smart meter usage</a>, it's a model that looks set to spread across Sweden.</p>
<div id="d7bf9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8757b138d5570bec9d6aad18074a429a"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1273556364263071744" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Read more about Western Harbour and book a visit: https://t.co/ujSmVs9rNK 🏡🌳🌊 https://t.co/C5PuPziqIM</div> — Smart City Sweden (@Smart City Sweden)<a href="https://twitter.com/SmartCitySweden/statuses/1273556364263071744">1592474473.0</a></blockquote></div>
Scaling Up<p>A recent development by E.ON in Hyllie, a district on the outskirts of Malmö, southern Sweden, <a href="https://www.eonenergy.com/blog/2019/February/sweden-smart-city" target="_blank">has scaled up the smart grid principle</a>. Energy generation comes from local wind, solar, biomass and waste sources.</p><p>Smart grids then balance the power, react to the weather, deploying extra power when it's colder or putting excess into battery storage when it's warm. The system is not only more efficient, but bills have fallen.</p><p>Smart energy developments like those in Hyllie, Ludivika, and renewable-driven district heating, offer a radical alternative to the centralized energy systems many countries rely on today.</p><p>The EU's leaders have a challenge: how to generate 32% of energy from renewables by 2030. Sweden offers a vision of how technology and local solutions can turn a goal into a reality.</p>
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By Jessica Corbett
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