Canadian Energy Outlook 2021 – Horizon 2060

In response to the urgent need to ensure a truly effective energy transition across the country, the Institut de l’énergie Trottier at Polytechnique Montréal, in partnership with e3c Hub–HEC Montréal and the firm ESMIA, has published Canadian Energy Outlook 2021: Horizon 2060. The report, now in its second edition (see 2018 report), forecasts trends in Canadian energy production and consumption along with greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. To better gauge the impacts of reduction strategies, it compares transformation scenarios over the next 40 years, depending on whether Canada achieves carbon neutrality in 2045, 2050, or 2060. This energy modelling is based on the most comprehensive technology description of its kind in the country.

Summary conclusions by sector

The building sector offers the greatest potential for transformation (potential GHG emissions reductions compared with 2016 levels of 32% by 2030, and of 97% by 2050). In the area of heating, significant gains can be made over the short term by converting fossil-fuel-based systems to electricity.

However, carbon pricing alone is not enough to ensure a significant shift away from business-as-usual. Regulations that mandate carbon neutrality in new buildings and encourage better insulation in existing buildings as well as a massive transition to electric heat pumps will be critical.

Transportation will be the most difficult sector to decarbonize. Though crucial to the overall emissions reduction effort, the transformations required in this area are difficult and will take time to implement, given the higher costs, the need to develop significant infrastructure, and the technological challenges involved in freight transport. It will take decades for urban planning compatible with the net-zero objective to have an impact.

The modelling results show that decarbonization in industry demands a mix of technological solutions, including but not limited to carbon capture. Additional solutions are: technological innovation, switching fuels, changing products, emissions capture, and shifting a considerable share of energy production to bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS).

The best achievable overall GHG reduction for agriculture in the carbon-neutral scenarios is 31% by 2050. The pathways explored suggest that the sector will be responsible for one-third of all remaining emissions by 2050. Unless drastic changes are made to production methods and outputs, these emissions cannot be avoided and it will not be possible to capture them on site. This is thus an area where considerable research will be needed to investigate potential improvements in land-use management, dietary changes and alternative production methods.

Carbon capture and sequestration will be critical to achieving carbon neutrality. Even if significant emissions reductions are achieved where technology allows, there will still be a substantial quantity (between 155 and 167 MtCO2e per year) of emissions that cannot be avoided, reduced or captured using current technologies. These are mainly emissions from agriculture and waste, plus most of the emissions from industrial processes.

Not to be overlooked are the current risks and unknowns of continuous large-scale storage. While technological improvements may mitigate some of these risks over time, it appears essential that at least as much effort be dedicated to innovation in emissions reductions as to capture-based solutions.

It will be important for governments to focus their actions primarily on the industrial and commercial sectors. The role of citizens’ daily actions in achieving climate goals is, for now, limited to a few sectors. Less than 20% of all GHG emissions can be directly attributed to the direct choices of the population, including residential heating (6%) and personal transportation (individual vehicle 11% and air travel 1%).