No question, 2015 will be remembered as a banner year for clean energy in Canada. Perhaps surprisingly Alberta led the way as the new government there pledged to invest in clean energy.
"Alberta is going to move away from coal and towards clean power," said Premier Rachael Notley when, in November, she announced a sweeping plan to accelerate the phase out of coal electricity and replace two thirds of it with renewable energy by 2030. She also said Alberta will put a price on carbon pollution and reinvest the money in clean research and technology, green infrastructure, renewable energy and energy efficiency.
These announcements were made just days before the climate change meetings in Paris. Combined with the new federal government's commitments to address climate change, Canada has been thrust into the world spotlight overnight, seemingly reclaiming some of the country's lost reputation and social license.
It was telling that Canada appointed Catherine McKenna as its first ever Minister of the Environment and Climate Change and pledged to invest in "green research" and "green infrastructure."
Then in November Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall surprised many with his announcement that Saskatchewan would get 50 per cent of its electricity from renewable energy (primarily wind) by 2030.
All of these announcements come on the heels of some pretty stunning global statistics: that the renewable energy industry employed 7.7 million people worldwide by the end of 2014, the U.S. already has 174,000 solar jobs and the province of B.C. in Canada, even in these early stages of distributed energy, has 14,100 clean energy jobs.
Early in 2015 we told the story of how the Cowessess First Nation from Saskatchewan partnered with the Saskatchewan Research Council to test energy storage attached to a wind turbine. Only about eight per cent of Saskatchewan electricity generation capacity is wind today. The results indicated battery storage can significantly smooth the power production of a wind turbine out over time and even save energy for times of peak demand.
Well before the Paris talks in December, we interviewed Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson about the city's energy transition plan. Iveson said times have changed: "What's different is that we have provincial and federal governments who are not denying that climate change is anthropogenically connected; they're prepared to go to Paris and talk about what we're going to do. But if they want to be successful, they're going to need to plug into specific and achievable and measurable and cogent local strategies, which we've provided here," says Iveson. The new strategy is designed to reduce emissions and promote renewable energy in the city. We posted a 30-minute interview with Iveson in our episode on Edmonton's energy transition strategy.
Cities going 100 per cent renewable
Indeed, it has been cities that are leading the way with clean energy. In 2015 Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson pledged his city is going 100 per cent renewable joining a growing contingency of cities around the world making the same pledge.
"We see this as a huge economic opportunity for Vancouver," said Robertson. "We're partnering with a group of 17 cities around the world that are looking at how we do this, how we work together, share best practices and really develop a framework for all the cities of the world to go 100 per cent renewable."
Even Banff, Alberta weighed in early in 2015 when they launched the first solar municipal feed-in tariff in Canada. The program was small, but the leadership was noticed across Canada. What made the program unique is the support was calculated to ensure participants received a seven-year payback on their solar investments which means the solar systems will produce electricity for at least 18 years after they are paid for.
And this year we also visited the very beautiful City of Kimberley, B.C. where they have planted a sun-tracking, one-megawatt solar farm on the old contaminated brownfield left behind by one of the world's largest lead-zinc mining operations that had closed in 2001 taking 600 jobs with it. The SunMine solar project is a baby step towards a new tourism, knowledge and clean energy based economy, but Kimberley has room for another 200 megawatts of solar if it works out.
For years we've done stories about innovative Alberta farmers, municipalities and individuals working hard to push the cost of solar down and in 2015 the fruits of these collective efforts seem to bear fruit in the form of a two-megawatt Green Acres Hutterite solar farm near Basanno, Alberta. It's the largest solar system in Western Canada and it was built with no subsidies for the very low price of $2.40/watt. The project powers a recycling operation, hog and chicken operations and the residences at the Green Acres Colony.
2015 has to be described as a breakthrough year as renewable energy seemed to reach a tipping point and is transitioning from a few keen farmers and municipalities to provincial and perhaps even national scale initiatives. This is good news for climate change and emissions reductions, but it also represents investment in new jobs and industries with plenty of future potential.
MORE ON HUFFPOST:
Highlight of 2015 - “Alberta is going to move away from coal and towards clean power,” said Premier Rachael Notley at the announcement of Alberta's Climate Leadership Plan in November. Photo Dave Cournoyer daveberta.ca
Highlight of 2015 - Catherine McKenna, Canada's new Minister of Environment and Climate Change has pledged to invest in green energy research and green infrastructure and completely changed Canada's posture from antagonist to leadership at the Paris climate talks in December. Source: National Observer/McKenna’s website
Highlight of 2015 - Saskatchewan Premier Brad surprised many when he committed his province to getting 50 per cent of its electricity from renewable energy, primarily wind power by 2030 before the Paris climate talks. This is the Cowessess Enercon wind turbine near Regina, Saskatchewan. Photo David Dodge, greenenergyfutures.ca
The Cowessess First Nation partnered with the Saskatchewan Research Council to build a wind/energy storage project east of Regina, Saskatchewan. The results show combining batteries with wind power can smooth out energy delivery significantly. Photo David Dodge, greenenergyfutures.ca
The Cowessess Wind Energy Storage Project used Saft’s Intensium® Max, a ready-to-install containerized lithium ion battery solution system at the megawatt scale in their research on energy storage with the Saskatchewan Research Council. As energy storage comes down in price it will revolutionize how we produce and use energy. Photo David Dodge, greenenergyfutures.ca
Ryan Jansen of the Saskatchewan Research Council research shows batteries can increase a wind turbine's capacity factor significantly, allowing grid operators to incorporate more wind turbines. Photo David Dodge, greenenergyfutures.ca
Highlight of 2015 - Edmonton's mayor Don Iveson installs a solar module. In 2015 Edmonton unanimously passed it's Energy Transition Strategy that seeks to reduce emissions by 35%, reduce individual energy use by 25% and get 10% of our electricity from local renewable energy sources by 2035. Photo David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures.ca
Highlight of 2015 - To heat its planned green community called Blatchford, Edmonton is looking at using district geo-exchange heating and heat exchange in the sewage system, just like they do at the False Creek Energy Centre perched under the Cambie Bridge in Vancouver. Photo David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures.ca
Exhaust stacks in the shape of a hand at the False Creek Energy Centre district heating facility in Vancouver. Heat exchangers take heat out of the Vancouver sewer system to heat a dozen buildings in the False Creek area. Photo David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures.ca
Highlight of 2015 - Mayor Gregor Robertson of Vancouver announced his city wants to be powered by 100% renewable energy by 2050. The announcement is part of a growing movement around the world. Photo David Dodge, GreenEnergyFutures.ca
Follow David Dodge on Twitter: www.twitter.com/greenergy_dave