Did you know that flipping a light switch on in Alberta generates nearly twenty times more CO2 than in Ontario, sixty-five times more CO2 than in British Columbia, and seven-hundred-and-eighteen more than in Quebec?!
The reason why has to do with carbon intensity. A province with a dirtier energy mix--where electricity is generated primarily by burning fossil fuels like coal--has a much higher carbon intensity than a province where electricity is generated via cleaner sources like hydro or natural gas.
So why the title of this blog? Well, the flipside of the carbon intensity equation is that clean energy is at its most powerful when it displaces dirtier energy. And because of this, Albertans currently have one of the most important roles to play in the fight against climate change.
Clean energy is at its most powerful when it displaces dirtier energy
Back to our first example, switching off that light in Alberta is sixty-five times more significant (in terms of CO2 reductions) than one in neighbouring British Columbia. Investing in a new 2 MW solar project to the grid in Alberta will help avoid twenty times more carbon than a comparable project in Ontario.
Investing in clean energy and conservation where it counts the most
Each Canadian province has a different energy mix. How dirty or how clean comes down to topographical luck of the draw. Thanks to Quebec’s bountiful water resources, 99% of their power comes from clean hydro (although it’s important to note that large-scale hydro often comes with other environmental challenges).
Compare this to Alberta and Saskatchewan, where the bulk of electricity is generated by burning coal and natural gas, or the far north where off-grid communities get their power from diesel generators, and you can start to see where adding new clean energy, or saving energy, can have the biggest difference.
Nowhere is this clearer than in CoPower’s portfolio of energy efficiency retrofits which include condo buildings across Ontario, BC and Alberta. (If you haven’t met CoPower, we’re Canada’s clean energy investing platform. Through our flagship Green Bonds, you can invest in clean energy and energy efficiency projects across Canada that pay good returns and reduce CO2).
..these numbers don't mean we should stop investing elsewhere, but they do point to an exciting opportunity to get a bigger carbon-bang for our buck.
When we first estimated the impact potential of the first Condo LED retrofit loan portfolio to back the Green Bonds, we based our projections on Ontario and BC’s carbon intensity data. We did so simply because most of the condos were located in BC and Ontario. At that point it looked like the carbon reduction impact of the portfolio would be approximately 461 tonnes CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas emissions avoided annually -- a solid, positive impact.
Before sharing news about the project publicly, we went back to calculate the exact impact adding in the Alberta portion of the project, and we were shocked by the difference.
After adding in the handful of condos in Alberta the impact jumped to 748 tonnes of CO2 avoided annually, equivalent to taking a total of 158 cars off the road.
In other words, 40% of the impact came from approximately 5% of the projects.
What does this mean for clean energy investors?
It doesn't mean that we stop investing in provinces with cleaner electricity grids. We still need to invest in both building clean energy and reducing energy consumption everywhere. Until the carbon intensity for each province is zero, clean energy is a worthwhile investment that reduces climate-change causing CO2, and we’ll continue lending to emissions-reducing projects across Canada.
That said, for CoPower and clean energy investors everywhere these numbers point to an exciting opportunity to get a bigger carbon-bang for our buck, by investing in clean energy and conservation where it counts the most.
Source: Canada's National Inventory Report 2017, accessible via the Government of Canada's Open Government database.