Three Misconceptions about Renewable Energy in Alberta
One of the biggest things holding back Alberta’s transition to renewable energy is, unfortunately, misinformation. There are so many misconceptions out there about how renewable energy will work in Alberta, how viable it is and how it will affect the province and its economy. There are so many misconceptions in fact that The Green Medium decided to put together a document which compiles and challenges many of them. We were able to write this document with the generous support of the Alberta Emerald Foundation. But since that document is yet to be published, here are three common misconceptions holding back Alberta’s energy transition.
1. “Alberta’s economy can’t survive without oil and gas”
No one can deny that the fossil fuel industry in Alberta is a major part of the provincial economy. The industry provides millions in tax revenue every year and employs tens of thousands in the province. However, renewable energy also has the potential to become a major part of Alberta’s economy and to employ thousands in the coming years.
Renewable energy, especially solar and wind power, represents a significant economic opportunity for Alberta. Calgary Economic Development, a non-profit organization established by the City of Calgary, estimates that “every 150 MW of installed solar energy capacity [in Alberta] represents $310 million in investment, 1,875 direct full-time equivalent construction jobs and 45 permanent direct jobs in operations.” Wind power has a similar potential with “every 150 MW of installed wind energy capacity represent[ing] $316 million in investment, 140 direct full-time equivalent construction jobs and 10 permanent direct jobs in operations.”
As these statistics show, renewable energy, like solar and wind power, has the potential to have a big impact on Alberta’s economy, especially since the current government has promised to add 5,000 MW of renewable energy to the grid by 2030. And as Jim Sandercock, the chair of NAIT’s Alternative Energy Technology Program, points out, Alberta’s continued commitment to renewable energy will only give more certainty to investors. With greater certainty, investors will be more likely to fund renewable energy projects, leading to more jobs and more money for workers and businesses.
Ultimately, while fossil fuels will continue to have a larger impact on the province’s economy for the coming years, this will certainly change. As renewable energy becomes more widespread, the technology behind it matures further and the price continues to drop, the economic potential of renewable energy will only continue to increase.
2. “Alberta doesn’t have any good sources of renewable energy”
This is a big misconception. Not only does the province have two great sources of renewable energy but, more importantly, the province’s renewable energy needs won’t be met by any one source.
Solar energy is one promising source of renewable power for the province. According to Jared Donald, Vice President of Originating and Structuring at Amp Solar, Alberta “has the best solar resource in Canada.” In fact, Okotoks has a better solar resource between the months of July and October than Miami does.
Geothermal power is also a potentially strong source of reliable renewable energy for the province. In fact, Alberta is uniquely positioned to take advantage of geothermal energy for one unlikely reason: the oil and gas industry. The process of drilling for oil and drilling for hot water, the source of geothermal energy, are actually quite similar. Accordingly, some of the province’s drill workers and equipment could be put to work in the geothermal industry as Alberta undergoes its transition to renewable energy.
Finally, the idea that Alberta’s renewable energy needs will be met by one province-wide source is misguided. In reality, the province’s renewable energy needs will be satisfied by a range of different renewable resources. This is because each type of renewable energy has advantages and disadvantages, so using a combination of different types is more likely to ensure Alberta has reliable renewable power.
3. “Renewable energy can’t stand up to harsh Albertan winters”
While Alberta’s winters can pose a problem for renewable energy, the situation is far from infeasible. Some forms of renewable energy, like solar and geothermal, are little affected by the extreme cold and heavy snow. As well, solutions are already being developed to address the winter-related issues faced by other forms of renewable energy, like wind and biomass.
Alberta’s harsh winters don’t pose a significant problem for solar energy. In fact, solar photovoltaic systems are actually more efficient in colder climates, according to Gordon Howell, an Emerald Award-winning solar expert with Howell-Mayhew Engineering. Howell also says that snow cover is not a big issue either, with an average solar system only losing five to fifteen percent efficiency when covered in snow.
Geothermal energy is also unaffected by the extreme conditions found during Alberta’s winters. As making geothermal energy involves pumping up hot water from below the frost line, extreme temperatures do not affect the efficiency of a geothermal system. As well, Alberta’s drilling equipment is already well suited to handle heavy snow and extreme cold.
When it comes to wind energy, it is a different story however. Ice collecting on the blades of wind turbines is a real problem and can cause stoppages and slowdowns. Some solutions are already in place to prevent this but further solutions will need to be researched.
Extreme cold also poses a problem for biomass energy. As the material used is usually wet, ice can form and accordingly cause problems. However, if the system is designed to take into account the build-up of snow and ice, Alberta’s extreme temperatures should pose no issue.
(Cover image taken from Pexel, a free photo stock website)