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Decarbonizing Canada Through Electrification

Posted to Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) in the Utility Management Group
John Bistline's picture
Principal Project Manager EPRI

Dr. John Bistline is a Principal Project Manager in the Energy Systems and Climate Analysis Group at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). His research analyzes the economic and...

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This week EPRI released the findings for our Canadian National Electrification Assessment, the latest in our series of assessments which investigate potential pathways to use electrification to achieve decarbonization goals. Canada, like many countries, has steadily increased its commitments to decarbonization through new policies and an ambitious country-wide net zero emissions goal by 2050. The assessment shows that adopting electric end-use technologies in place of fossil-fueled alternatives can deliver significant emissions reductions, which increase over time as electricity decarbonizes.

Achieving these decarbonization goals will be a collaborative effort. The Government of Canada acknowledges the collective support and engagement needed from all parts of society, including provinces, territories, Indigenous Peoples, youth, and businesses. Similarly, our research explores electrification opportunities at all levels of government and across the major sectors like industry, buildings, and transportation over the next three decades.

One of the most important findings in the assessment is that there are multiple pathways for the country to leverage electrification towards its decarbonization goals. The pathways vary based on three main scenarios ranging from a continuation of current federal and provincial policies and incentives to fully achieving net-zero economy-wide CO2 emissions by 2050 for each province. Within these scenarios, the pace and extent of electricity demand growth ranges from 29 percent to 51 percent above current levels by 2050. These changes have important implications for hourly load shapes and flexibility.

The range of impact also varies with energy efficiency, structural change, and fuel switching contributing to gross energy system CO2 emissions falling between 47 percent and 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. This impact has the potential to keep energy service costs flat, or even declining, as economic activity grows. When paired with other cost-effective decarbonization strategies, these pathways can lower emissions and energy while increasing economic growth, prosperity, and well-being. This finding further reinforces the evolving perspective that sustainability priorities hold the potential to build long-term strength, resiliency and even value creation for businesses and stakeholders.

Canadian National Electrification Assessment Key Findings

  • Electrification leads to a decline in emissions in all scenarios. Driven by customer choice and evolving technology, electrification is a central pillar to achieving decarbonization in all three scenarios. In recent years, the Canadian power sector has exhibited sharp declines in emission intensities, making up only 12 percent of energy-related emissions in 2018. These declines continue in all three pathways, especially the more ambitious economy-wide CO2 reductions targets.
  • Electrification and efficiency can reduce consumers’ total energy costs relative to continuing to use today’s technologies, allowing energy costs to stay relatively flat, or even decline, as services and economic activity grow. When paired with other cost-effective decarbonization strategies, these pathways can lower emissions and energy while increasing economic growth, prosperity, and well-being.
  • Transportation leads electricity demand growth with additional opportunities in industry and buildings. Passenger vehicle electrification offers the greatest potential to cost-effectively reduce CO2 emissions while lowering local pollution and providing vehicle load flexibility. Over the next decade, the potential for impact increases as EVs become lower cost than conventional vehicles for many consumers.
  • Emerging technologies play important roles in many scenarios. Although their deployment varies by province and scenario, new or nascent technologies are often part of least-cost decarbonization strategies. This includes small modular reactors and carbon capture in the power sector, direct air capture for carbon removal, and a host of emerging end-use technologies. Technology research, development, demonstration, and deployment are essential for reducing uncertainty about emerging technologies, improving performance and cost, and ensuring that these options are ready when needed. Integration of emerging technologies is a promising avenue for further research.

You can read more about the findings, including sector impacts, in the full assessment.

To learn more about this assessment, EPRI is hosting a public webcast on October 6, 2021 from 1:00 – 2:00 PM ET. The webcast is open to all stakeholders interested in Canadian electrification and decarbonization pathways. Register here

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