Towards a Renewable Alberta (& World)
With rising sea levels and ever powerful storms, it’s clear that climate change is a real and serious issue and that Alberta, along with the rest of the world, needs to address it. One way to address climate change would be to end our reliance on fossil fuels. But if Alberta and the rest of the world are going to stop using fossil fuels, like oil and coal, to generate power, are there any alternatives and are they actually viable? The answer is yes! There are already numerous other, more sustainable energy options out there and some are totally viable and reliable. Now is the time for Alberta, and ultimately the whole world, to undergo an “energy transition”, away from fossil fuels and towards renewable sources of energy.
What is an “energy transition”?
Simply put, an energy transition is the long-term societal transition from using one form of energy to another. In the modern era, the energy transition refers to the shift from fossil fuels to more sustainable sources of power, like solar or wind.
It’s important to note that transitioning from one form of energy to another is nothing new. Throughout the 1800s, much of the world transitioned from using wood as their primary source of energy to using coal. However, while previous transitions have happened more or less organically, this transition will have to be different. With the very real threat of climate change, the world can’t wait around anymore. We’re going to have to adopt renewable energy as quickly as possible.
What is renewable or alternative energy?
As the name suggests, renewable energy is electricity that comes from renewable sources: the sun, wind, moving water, etc. Renewable energy is also often referred to as alternative energy because it’s an alternative to what are considered more traditional sources of energy: fossil fuels like coal, natural gas and oil. However, alternative energy is quickly becoming a strong competitor to fossil fuels, no longer just an alternative.
Do we really need to transition?
Yes. Climate change is real and needs to be addressed, such as through adopting renewable energy. But besides fighting climate change, there are other good reasons to make the energy transition.
For one, transition is inevitable. All fossil fuels are limited resources and will eventually run out. In contrast, renewable energy is, well, renewable. Additionally, transitioning to renewable energy would be a major win for public health. Both mining and burning fossil fuels release chemicals into the air and water that can cause serious health conditions, from asthma to cancer. Finally, there are good economic reasons to transition. Since oil, natural gas and coal are globally traded commodities, price drops and market crashes can impact an economy that is heavily dependent on them, such as Alberta’s. Renewable energy, on the other hand, is far more stable and isn’t so susceptible to changing markets.
No one can say the energy transition is going to be easy. There are some big obstacles that need to be dealt with before renewable energy can become viable and reliable over the long term. However, many of these obstacles are already being addressed. The issue of cost is quickly disappearing as the price of solar and wind energy only continues to plummet. The “intermittency problem” – renewable energy is only available intermittently; the sun isn’t always shining, for example – is also being addressed as solutions, such as battery storage and smart grid technology, are further investigated. Finally, organizations, like NAIT with its Emerald Award-winning Alternative Energy Technology Program, are tackling the issue of a renewable energy workforce – people to design, build and run renewable energy projects.
Alberta is already transitioning to renewables
While things are still moving slowly, Alberta’s transition to renewable energy is already underway. This is due, in part, to two factors:
Government Policy – The Government of Alberta and many local governments across the province are helping to push the transition forward through a number of policies. The provincial government has pledged to have 30% of Alberta’s energy coming from renewable sources by 2030. As well, many local governments are now offering incentive programs to encourage people to install solar panels on their roofs. The City of Banff put together an impressive solar incentive program and won an Emerald Award in 2016 for their effort.
The Market – As time goes on, many forms of renewable energy are becoming more and more financially viable. The price of solar and wind energy dropped 85% and 66% respectively from 2009 to 2016, thanks in part to the technology further maturing and increasing adoption. In fact, solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy are becoming competitive with fossil fuels in some parts of the world, including in Alberta.
Ultimately, transitioning to renewable energy is not only an effective tool in the fight against climate change but is actually inevitable and has numerous other benefits. While there are still some obstacles to overcome, Alberta is already on its way to a renewable future. Along with government and market forces, the path to a renewable Alberta is being forged by business leaders and environmentalists, many of whom have been recognized by the Alberta Emerald Foundation. We’ll be exploring one Emerald Award-winning renewable energy program in our next article.
(Cover image taken from Pexel, a free photo stock website)