Solar panels in Inuvik shortly before midnight on June 13, 2023. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
Notherners may be getting more electricity from wind and solar if Canada is to meet its net-zero goal by 2050, according to a federal report.
On Monday, the Canada Energy Regulator (CER) released its annual report looking at how possible energy futures might play out for Canadians. This year’s report is the first look at what reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 might look like.
In 2021, the federal government committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, meaning that, nationally, as many greenhouse gas emissions would be removed from the atmosphere as added. Meeting the goal is important for limiting global warming to 1.5C, as CBC reported.
At that time, federal minister of natural resources Jonathan Wilkinson asked the CER to analyze possible scenarios consistent with Canada’s 2050 goal.
To that end, the CER’s latest report explores three possible scenarios, two of which are consistent with Canada reaching net-zero. The analysis is based on economic and energy models. The authors warn the projections are not predictions or recommendations, but they say the information can help people visualize the goal and make informed decisions.
The first scenario assumes Canada achieves net-zero emissions by 2050 and the rest of the world reduces emissions enough to limit warming to 1.5C. In the second scenario, Canada reaches net-zero by 2050 but rest of the world moves more slowly to limit warming. Finally, the third scenario assumes Canada takes limited action to reduce emissions beyond the measures already in place.
In futures where Canada achieves net-zero emissions, electricity becomes the dominant energy source nationally, with everyday devices powered by fossil fuels being replaced by electric technologies — for instance, electric cars and heat pumps.
Low-carbon fuels, such as hydrogen and biofuels, as well as technologies that capture emissions from industrial processes and power generation also play a growing role in reducing emissions, according to the report.
Under a scenario with strong global climate action, demand for fossil fuels falls sharply, reducing oil and natural gas prices as well as Canadian production. By 2050, the authors project that Canadian crude oil production could fall by as much as 76 percent compared to 2022.
Net-zero in the North
While reaching net-zero could bring sweeping changes in Canada, the North’s future under this target looks different.
According to the report, diesel remains the territories’ main fuel source by 2050 under the two net-zero scenarios.
Over the projected period, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon are forecasted to add 86 megawatts (MW) of wind and 118 MW of solar capacity, according to the report. This would represent 18 percent of electricity generation by 2050.
That’s roughly nine times wind and solar’s current contribution. As of the latest data in 2021, the territories combined had about 12 MW of solar and wind capacity, representing less than two percent of electricity generation.
In the Northwest Territories alone, wind capacity is projected to grow to roughly 32 MW from 9.2 MW, and solar is expected to jump to roughly 42 MW from 2 MW.
Although the report’s authors do not point to specific undertakings in solar and wind in the North, several projects are underway. A major solar power project is in development in Beaver Creek, Yukon, for example, and a wind turbine in Inuvik is expected to be operational sometime this summer.