A ‘business-as-usual’ perspective on Canada’s energy future to 2060

Posted on Tue, 02/24/2015 - 08:12

The Canadian government has committed to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 80% of 2006 levels by 2020 and to 30%-40% by 2050. Given that the auditor general1 has recently noted that we are not on track to meet these commitments, an obvious question is how far off are we?  Even more important from a policy perspective is the need to understand the potential of specific technologies or policies in helping to close this gap. 

Proponents of prospective technologies and policies actively lobby governments and industry, encouraging decision makers to implement ‘their strategy’. Unfortunately, each group uses a different approach to calculate costs and benefits and they often underestimate or entirely ignore adverse systems level implications or inter-provincial, and inter-sector opportunities and challenges.

With energy use accounting for over 80% of our GHG emissions, decision makers would benefit from a comprehensive model of Canada’s energy systems that is:

  • Technology-rich (including energy recovery, conversion and service technologies);
  • Scientifically-based (with a focus on life cycle analysis of energy flows and emissions);
  • An integration of 30+ years of historical government-based data resources2;
  • Calibrated to draw on the historical data analysis to provide integrated, coherent projections of possible energy futures, and
  • Transparent in the assumptions made in creating the model.

For the past few years, CESAR researchers have been working with whatIf? Technologies Inc to enhance and validate their Canadian energy systems simulator (CanESS) model and then use it to explore energy futures. Version 6 of the model has recently been completed, including a  ‘business-as-usual’ or ‘reference scenario’.

This scenario assumes a continuation of recent trends that are known to be significant drivers of energy supply and demand.  These include variables such as population and economic growth, oil and gas recovery rates, industrial production rates and energy conversion technologies. In some cases these trends were overridden to incorporate recent policy changes (e.g. fuel efficiency standards, off-coal policies) or sectorial objectives that most agree will be implemented. For more specifics on the assumptions see Appendix below.

Some highlights of this ‘reference scenario’ include:

  • In 2010 the primary use of energy is about 11.3 EJ/yr (=332 GJ/capita), a value consistent with other data3 (Fig. 1A).  By 2060, energy use was projected to increase to 18.3 EJ/yr (=373 GJ/capita) due primarily to population growth and more natural gas use in oil sands production;
  • National GHG emissions of about 700 Mt CO2e/yr in 2010 are consistent with government data4, and are projected to increase to 1084 MtCO2e/yr by 2060 (Fig. 1B). This is about 4.5 times higher than the federal government’s stated target of a ca. 65% reduction of 2006 emissions (i.e. ~240 Mt CO2e/yr) for GHG emissions in 2050.
  • Per capita GHG emissions are projected to be relatively stable through to 2060 at about 21-22 t CO2e/person/yr (Fig. 1C).  For Canada to meet its climate change commitments, mid century per capita emissions will need to be about 4.9 t CO2e/person/yr.

There will be many who will be uncomfortable with the projections of this ‘business-as-usual’ reference scenario, especially the fact that we are clearly not on a path to meet our climate change commitments. However, to change this projection, different policy and investment decisions will be needed to alter the underlying factors (see appendix) defining Canada’s energy future.

Indeed, the power of this modeling tool is that one can readily test the effect of different policies and/or technologies and compare them to the ‘Reference’ scenario presented in Figure 1. Because the CanESS model is provincially based, the alternative technologies or policies could be tested at either a provincial or a national level, and involved differences in energy recovery/ conversion technologies or in technologies or behaviour on the demand side.

If Canada is serious about meeting its climate change commitments, then decision makers in industry and government would benefit from an objective, critical analysis of energy systems choices that a model like CanESS can provide.

Appendix: Anatomy of CanESS 'Business-As-Usual' Reference Scenario

click on each figure for more details


1 In “Turning the Corner”, the government commits to reducing GHG emissions by 20 percent below Canada’s 2006 level by 2020. This commitment is reiterated in Environment Canada’s first climate change plan, (required by the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act) and this climate plan adds a commitment to reduce Canada’s total GHG emissions by 60 to 70 percent by 2050. These targets were repeated in the 2008 and 2009 climate change plans. (see Auditor General’s link)

2 Government Data sources include Statistics Canada, Natural Resources Canada, Environment Canada, Industry Canada, Transport Canada and National Energy Board as well as provincial agencies and international database resources such as the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), International Energy Agency (IEA) and the UNFCCC

3 Includes the total primary energy (crude oil, gas, coal, nuclear heat, wind / solar energy captured) produced or imported into Canada that is used in Canada (i.e. not exported). Similar values from NRCan data adjusted to remove energy produced for export, from Statistics Canada CANSIM table 128-0016 or from the EIA ;

4 Environment Canada or Table A12-2 in part 3 of the NIR

Log in or register to post comments.