Humankind is facing two major challenges this century – to provide energy for the two billion people who currently have limited or no access to energy and to respond to climate change – and Canada has the potential to make a difference in both areas, say Richard J. Marceau and Clement W. Bowman, co-editors of the upcoming book Canada: Becoming a Sustainable Energy Powerhouse. With advantages like a wealth of resources and expertise in bringing big projects to fruition, what is needed are visionaries to point the way, and governments and industry to work together to implement the plans.
“We’ve built our country through big projects, massive undertakings that have stretched our resources to the limit and sometimes beyond,” says Dr. Richard J. Marceau, vice-president (research) at Memorial University and president of the Canadian Academy of Engineering. As examples, he gives the Rideau Canal, the Canadian Pacific Railway, the James Bay Hydroelectric Project, the Trans- Canada Microwave Network and the CANDU nuclear reactor.
The successful completion of these immense transportation, energy and communication projects is a testament to the strength of the Canadian innovation strategy, explains Dr. Marceau, adding that big projects are at the foundation of today’s prosperity. “A good recent example is the Newfoundland offshore petro- leum industry,” he says. “It’s made Newfoundland the most exciting and dynamic Canadian province right now.”
Coming out of the confluence of natural resource potential, private-sector enterprise and investment, as well as strategic government support, the Newfoundland offshore petroleum industry is thriving in an incredibly harsh climate, Dr. Marceau says, adding that its impact is impressive. As of 2010, this still relatively new industry was responsible for approximately 33 per cent of provincial real GDP and resulted in the average personal income being 6.5 per cent higher, the unemployment rate being 1.8 per cent lower and the province’s population 16,400 larger than they would have been without the industry. Future oil industry activity, and associated investments in infrastructure, education, training, R&D and businesses, is expected to deliver additional economic growth and diversification, says Dr. Marceau.
“How do we continue this nation-building?” is the question Dr. Marceau has examined. Canada has to carry on its tradition of big projects, which are “springboards for the future, creating new innovation ecosystems and releasing a torrent of entrepreneurial activity and technology that can propel capabilities and performances to new levels,” he says.
Specifically, the focus should be on energy, believes Dr. Bowman, associate, Bowman Centre, Sarnia/Lambton Research Park and chair of the Canadian Academy of Engineering Energy Pathways Task Force. “We started nine years ago with an understanding that an energy systems is important to the country. That understanding has now turned us into believers.”
Energy can be a principal driver of the economy as it is a sector where Canada can be a sustained leader, says Dr. Bowman, and a number of initiatives involving electricity could also help North America meet climate change targets.
“We have the capability to generate enormous quantities of electricity, way beyond our own needs,” he explains, adding that Canada currently only utilizes about a third of its resources for hydroelectric power and could increase nuclear energy production by a factor of 10. “Both sources have very low greenhouse gas emissions,” Dr. Bowman says.
“If we combine them with a national grid that connects from east to west across Canada and is linked to the U.S., we could provide electricity to the States.” Replacing some of the coal power generation in the U.S. could have a substantial impact on GHG emissions, he adds.
Big projects have a large impact, but most take years to ac- complish and require substantial investments at a time when economic benefits are far off, says Dr. Bowman, who believes they are not jobs for single companies or a single set of shareholders. They are national projects, serving a long-term national interest.
They also have the potential to strengthen Canada’s eco- nomic and social fabric, says Dr. Marceau. “We have the resources and expertise to produce something that the world continues to need. It’s an opportunity not just for economic growth, but also for bringing greater unity of spirit, thought and action to our country,” he says.
For Dr. Marceau, this is an example where the sum can be greater than its parts. “By developing these massive assets with the view of connecting them as a system, we can leverage them for greater impact,” he says, adding that the combined strength would provide a solid foundation for research and financial backing for “developing game-changing technology with the potential to reduce the accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere.”
Canada: Becoming a Sustainable Energy Powerhouse will be launched on June 26 at the AGM of the Canadian Academy of Engineering and will be available at www.cae-acg.ca/publications-of-the-academy/.
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