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Canada needs to speed up efforts to green its energy and transport sectors

MD Staff

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A reaffirmed commitment to fighting climate change has set Canada on a greener course, but the country needs to quickly implement planned measures to reduce the carbon intensity of its energy industry, particularly in oil sands, and green its transport sector in order to progress towards its 2030 emissions goals, according to a new OECD report.

The OECD’s third Environmental Performance Review of Canada says that although Canada has reached a stage where it can grow its economy without driving up energy use, air pollution and emissions, it remains the second most carbon-intensive OECD country (after Estonia) and the fourth-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. Rising emissions from transport and oil production mean that overall, Canada’s emissions have declined by just 1.5% since 2000 compared with an average decrease of 4.7% across the OECD area.

“We applaud Canada’s renewed determination under the current government to tackle climate change, and its leadership in international climate diplomacy at a crucial time,” said OECD Environment Director Anthony Cox. “That said, Canada’s own emissions-cutting objectives for 2030 will stay out of reach without swift and concrete policy action and greater use of economic instruments to wean the country off fossil fuels.”

While Canada’s electricity production is very low-carbon, with 82% coming from non-emitting sources like hydro or nuclear, the overall energy supply is not, with 74% coming from fossil fuels. The oil and gas industry – much of it in the province of Alberta and feeding both national needs and a large export market – accounts for a quarter of Canada’s total emissions, and the transport sector another quarter.

While emissions from electricity, heavy industry, buildings, waste and agriculture have fallen or stabilised, emissions from oil, gas and transport have risen significantly since 1990. Oil production from oil sands emits roughly four times as much greenhouse gas per barrel as conventional crude produced in North America. Alberta’s oil sands were behind much of the nearly 20% rise in emissions from oil and gas extraction in Canada over 2011-14.

In terms of progress on climate action, Canada has almost halved fossil fuel support since 2004, although support remains at provincial level. The announced phase-out of coal-fired power generation by 2030 and the planned establishment of a federal clean fuel standard should reduce C0₂ emissions from energy use. This shift is gaining international momentum with the newly launched Powering Past Coal initiative led by Canada and the UK.

Canada is also becoming a pioneer of carbon capture and storage and has made good progress on carbon pricing, with carbon taxes or cap-and-trade systems in place in the four most populous provinces and a plan under the 2016 Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change to introduce carbon prices nationally.

On the other hand, Canada’s use of environmental taxes is the third lowest in the OECD after Mexico and the US. In a country whose vast territory means it generates a great deal more road and rail freight transport per capita, and per unit of GDP, than the average, taxes on petrol and diesel for road use are very low, as are taxes on fossil fuels for industry, electricity and heating. Pickup trucks, which make up four of the country’s ten top-selling vehicles, are exempt from the “green levy” on fuel-inefficient vehicles.

Finally, the report calls on the federal government to fully factor in environmental impacts as it decides which projects to prioritise in its infrastructure investment programme.

Key recommendations in the Review include:

  • Ensure effective and timely implementation of the Pan-Canadian Framework and establish a mechanism for policy evaluation and adjustment.
  • Improve consultation with Indigenous communities on environmental issues and build their capacity to meaningfully participate in decision making.
  • Co-ordinate subnational climate policy and foster links between provincial carbon pricing systems. Exemptions aimed at smoothing the transition should be temporary and limited.
  • Review and adjust tax, royalty and subsidy regimes that encourage fossil fuel production to meet a pledge to phase out by 2025 inefficient subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption.
  • Review the taxation of energy use. In particular, reduce the petrol-diesel gap and revise taxes on fuel-inefficient vehicles to encourage the purchase of lower-emission vehicles.
  • Press ahead with the Canada-US commitment to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector, regardless of a US decision not to implement the commitment.
  • Increase tariffs for wastewater services to secure funding for system upgrades.

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Businesses Taking Lead in Climate Response

MD Staff

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Spurred by consumer demand for eco-friendly practices, many businesses across the U.S. are moving aggressively to reduce their carbon footprint, including a major embrace of renewable energy and alternative-fueled vehicles, according to Deloitte’s “Resources 2018 Study – Businesses Drive, Households Strive” released today.

The annual survey shows that businesses see addressing climate change as key to long-term industry resilience. Sustainability seems no longer optional – it has become important to fostering business growth and satisfying a wide range of stakeholders, including customers, suppliers, partners, employees and investors.

Although 86 percent of residential consumers believe government should be active in setting a vision and path for energy strategy, it is the private sector that is advancing the cause to manage resources for cleaner, more resilient, secure and affordable energy supplies.

“Businesses are not waiting for government to act on addressing climate change. They have picked up the gauntlet,” said Marlene Motyka, Deloitte U.S. and global renewable energy leader and principal, Deloitte Transactions and Business Analytics LLP. “They are now driven to double down on their energy management efforts as they view their long-term viability through the climate lens.”

Key findings

  • Of the 87 percent of businesses familiar with the U.S. pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, 4 in 10 are reviewing or changing their energy management policies in response, with 75 percent of those increasing their commitment and investment in energy management.
  • About 70 percent of customers are demanding companies procure a certain percentage of electricity from renewable sources.
  • The number of companies with carbon footprint goals has jumped to 61 percent in 2018, from just over half the year before.
  • Sixty-eight percent of residential consumers say they are concerned about climate change and their personal carbon footprints, outpacing the previous high of 65 percent in 2016.
  • Nearly three-fourths (74 percent) of residential consumers stated that climate change is caused by human action, up six percentage points from 2017.

Renewables rated key to energy independence, millennials tip the scale

More than three-fourths (76 percent) of survey respondents cited renewables as key for achieving energy independence, jumping five percentage points from 2017. This seems to represent a change in mindset with many respondents now seeing a connection that was once widely thought to be implausible.

In addition, many millennials – greener and “techier” than other generations – see renewables as the answer to their environmental concerns. In fact, 64 percent rank utilizing clean energy sources among their top three most important energy-related issues. Also, they are more likely to adopt new solutions, such as electric vehicles, home automation systems and time-of-use rates.

Businesses making EVs an easy choice

Many businesses not only say reducing their electricity consumption is important to staying competitive but they also are helping to transform the transportation sector as more consumers and employees eye electric vehicles and hybrids as a prime pick for their next vehicle.

Business respondents expect gasoline or diesel vehicles will make up less than half (49 percent) of their transportation fleets by 2020. If so, it would mark the first-time vehicles powered by alternative fuels will constitute a majority of corporate fleets. In fact, businesses are accelerating their efforts to support employees who drive electric vehicles, with well over half (56 percent), offering EV charging stations. Fifty-two percent of these businesses own the charging stations themselves, while 41 percent belong to the building owner.

Businesses Turn to Self-Generation for Greater Control Over Energy

On-site generation also is on the rise as distributed resources are increasingly viewed as being realistic and cost-effective, and as businesses desire greater control over their energy supplies in terms of price, quality and reliability. Fifty-nine percent of businesses now generate some portion of their electricity supply on-site, and of those businesses, 13 percent are using renewables, 13 percent use on-site co-generation and 10 percent are using on-site battery storage.

Nearly half of business respondents are working to procure more electricity from renewable sources, and nearly two-thirds (61 percent) said combining battery storage with renewable sources would motivate them to do more. Additionally, businesses are responding to increased power outages by purchasing backup generators, adding battery storage units, and expanding the amount of electricity they self-generate.

Smart home apps not catching on, cyber concerns cooling interest

Despite support for more innovative energy savings, only 20 percent of respondents have automated home functions, such as smart thermostats. In fact, amid growing reports of hacked home devices, 21 percent of respondents cited privacy and security concerns as a barrier to upgrading their thermostats, compared to 15 percent last year. In addition, penetration of smart thermostats and automation systems remains very low with only 4 percent using a home automation system and just 8 percent utilizing a programmable thermostat.

A majority of both businesses and residential consumers want environmentally responsible, reliable assets, preferably close by, that they can control to optimize reliability, flexibility and cost. However, this year’s survey seems to emphasize that privacy and security concerns should be addressed by providers soon to maintain the momentum for a clean secure energy future.

“Utilities are being challenged to get to know their customers better, and the industry has a long way to go,” said Andrew Slaughter, executive director, Deloitte Center for Energy Solutions, Deloitte Services LP. “What appears clear is that the electric utility sector’s transformation will likely be one of decentralization, digitalization, and decarbonization driven by business and residential consumer demand for a cleaner, more resilient, secure and affordable energy supply.”

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Advancing Africa with Renewable Energy Auctions

MD Staff

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Driven by a growing interest in renewable energy technologies as a competitive mechanism for price determination auctions have become the fastest growing renewable energy policy mechanism globally — increasing at a rate faster than even feed-in tariffs and feed-in premiums.

But while renewable energy auctions in predictably sun-drenched locations like Saudi Arabia have been making headlines for years, less media attention has focused on “energy leapfrog” countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, where low-price renewable generated electricity can mitigate potential carbon emissions while providing reliable first-time energy access and opportunities for low-carbon economic growth.

IRENA’s new report, Renewable Energy Auctions: Cases from Sub-Saharan Africa, analyses the design details and price outcomes from three renewable energy auctions in Sub-Saharan Africa — specifically in Uganda, South Africa and Zambia — with the aim to unearth a set of lessons and recommendations that can inform good auction design in the context of emerging market economies.

Renewable Energy Auctions shows that in South Africa, auctions have driven the cost of solar PV and wind power down to less than the average cost of power supply from the national utility and the cost of new coal-fired power stations. Largely based on the country’s success, auctions have emerged as the preferred tool to procure electricity and set renewable energy prices in sub-Saharan Africa, with installed solar PV generation capacity increasing ten-fold across the region between 2012 and 2016.

Ghana, Mauritius, Uganda and Zambia have run renewable energy auctions, while at least 15 more sub-Saharan African countries are developing auction programmes. In these countries, price outcomes for solar PV have been similar, or even significantly below, global average prices — reflecting growing technology maturity and falling technology costs.

The report shows that to be successful, auctions should be independently managed and associated with transparent and well-designed power purchase agreements and other contracts. They should also be closely linked to wider national development policies, and can be justified with socio-economic and environmental considerations, as well as the need to boost power supply.

IRENA

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Is natural gas in good shape for the future?

MD Staff

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“Are we entering a Golden Age of Gas?” – That was the question the International Energy Agency asked in 2011 when examining the combination of market dynamics and policies that might allow natural gas to thrive in the future.

The idea of a “Golden Age” was built on a few pillars. On the supply side, the main thesis was that the abundance of unconventional gas resources would help to bring down supply costs, making natural gas more attractive and accessible worldwide. On the demand side, the main elements were an ambitious policy promoting gas use in China, lower growth in nuclear power and more use of gas in road transport.

Seven years later, most of these pillars are still at least partly in place. Today’s price levels are very much in line with those in the “Golden Age” analysis; China has reserved a strategic role in its energy policy for gas; the outlook for nuclear has indeed faded somewhat; the only area where natural gas has not made much ground is road transport, where electric vehicles have taken the lead.

Yet the mood in the natural gas industry, at least outside the United States, has not always been so optimistic since then. Demand has slowed considerably for most of the period since 2011, from an average of 2.8% per year between 2000 and 2010, to 1.4% per year from 2011-2016; lower prices squeezed revenues; traditional business models have been questioned without anyone being sure what will take their place; and the competitive landscape has become significantly more complex, as the traditional sparring partners for gas – coal and, to a lesser extent, oil – have been joined by the rising forces of renewables and energy efficiency.

What could the long-term outlook look like for natural gas? Every year, the World Energy Outlook chooses a fuel for an in-depth analysis. In 2017, that focus was on natural gas. The four chapters of that analysis, including a wealth of detail on the outlook for natural gas, are now available to download for free – and describe in detail the possible long-term opportunities and constraints that could face this fuel in the future.

Three key trends highlighted in the WEO projections and in the IEA’s five-year forecasts also came through very clearly in new data on global energy and CO2 emissions trends for 2017.

China and other emerging markets are the consumers of the future

Natural gas demand rebounded and grew by an estimated 3% in 2017. China alone accounted for nearly 30% of global growth – with more than 30 bcm out of a total of nearly 120 bcm. This reflects a structural shift in the Chinese economy away from energy-intensive industrial sectors as well as a move towards cleaner energy sources, with both trends benefiting natural gas. As part of the official policy drive to “make China’s skies blue again,” there has been a strong push to phase out the practice of burning coal in industrial boilers (especially those in and around major cities) as well as reduce coal use for residential heating.

In the New Policies Scenario to 2040, global natural gas consumption expands at an average rate of 1.6% per year to 2040, lower than the estimated 3% achieved in 2017 but a much higher rate than oil (0.5% per year on average) and coal (essentially flat). More than 80% of this growth takes place in developing countries, led by China, India and other countries in Asia. The challenge for the gas industry is that much of the gas needs to be imported (and so transportation costs are significant); infrastructure is often not yet in place; and policy-makers and consumers are very sensitive to questions of affordability.

Gas-for-power is no longer the main growth opportunity

The data for 2017 show that most of the increase came from gas consumption by industry and for use in buildings. In the WEO analysis, power generation is no longer the main projected growth area, even though this is currently the largest gas-consuming sector worldwide. Competition from other sources of electricity generation, from renewables in particular, is fierce. Only where gas prices are expected to be very low (e.g. United States, Russia and parts of the Middle East) is it commercially viable for gas plants to run at high utilisation rates and provide baseload power. In most gas-importing regions, the primary role of gas plants is to provide mid-load and peak load power, implying significantly lower utilisation rates and hence lower gas burn.

In the New Policies Scenario, the largest increase in gas demand comes instead from industry. Where gas is available, it is very well suited to meeting industrial demand. Competition from renewables is more limited, especially for provision of high-temperature heat. Gas typically beats oil on price, and beats coal on convenience and on emissions (notably for air pollutants, a major policy consideration in many developing countries). A similar combination of convenience and environmental advantages helps gas to displace household coal consumption for heating and as a cooking fuel. Gas also has potential in some countries as a lower emissions alternative to oil for transportation, especially for heavy-duty vehicles.

Competitiveness is key

Gas consumers responded in 2017 to abundant and relatively low-cost supplies, underlining that – if natural gas is to gain a firm foothold in emerging markets – it is of crucial importance that suppliers keep the cost gap to alternative fuels, including solar and wind, as narrow as possible. Projected changes on the supply side are indeed maintaining some downward pressure on prices and increasing the comfort that importers can feel in the future security and diversity of supply. A period of ample availability of LNG, driven largely by new liquefaction capacity in Australia and the United States, is deepening market liquidity and the ability to procure gas on a short-term basis. New projects and exporters are increasing the range of potential suppliers and competition for customers. Destination-flexible US exports are reducing the rigidity of LNG trade. More and more gas is being priced on the basis of benchmarks that reflect the supply-demand balance for gas, rather than the price of alternative fuels. The contours of a new, more globalised gas market are becoming visible.

This re-writing of the gas rulebook is creating uncertainty for some producers, who have claimed that long-term contracts indexed to oil prices and other trade rules (notably take-or-pay clauses) are vital for the financing of capital-intensive upstream and infrastructure projects. In the WEO-2017, we argue that the emergence of a new, more flexible gas order, the rise of major company “aggregators” that maintain a diverse global portfolio of gas sources and market positions, and a marked shift towards LNG are interdependent developments. The risk of a shortfall of investment in new supply is real, but in our judgement there is scope for brownfield project expansions and smaller, less capital-intensive projects in the LNG business to underpin project development in the next ten years and prevent a hard landing for markets in the 2020s. As gas trade expands by more than 500 bcm over the period to 2040, LNG’s inherent flexibility give it the edge over most new cross-border pipeline projects and, as a result, LNG meets the lion’s share of the growth in long-distance gas trade in the period to 2040. Although the European Union remains the largest importer of gas, Asian countries lead the growth in global gas trade with the Asia Pacific region as a whole accounting for some 80% of the growth in net-imports.

The other key debate about natural gas that we focused on in the WEO-2017 is its role in the multiple energy transitions that are underway. This includes how gas might fare in a scenario that is consistent with the Paris Agreement and the sharp reductions in global emissions that are required to keep the rise in global average temperatures down to ‘well below 2 degrees’ and to improve the world’s air quality.

Two key attributes of gas come strongly into play in this discussion. First, versatility: gas can play multiple roles across the energy system in a way that no other fuel or technology can match, generating power, heat, and mobility. Second, the environmental dimension: combustion of natural gas does produce nitrogen oxides (NOX), but emissions of the other major sources of poor air quality, particulate matter and sulfur dioxide, are negligible. The combustion of gas releases some 40% less CO2 than the combustion of coal and around 20% less than the burning of oil. Taking into account the efficiency of transforming gas into electricity, a combined-cycle gas turbine emits around 350 grammes of CO2 per kilowatt-hour, well under half of what a supercritical coal plant emits for the same amount of electricity. Gas-fired power plants also have technical and economic characteristics that make them a very suitable partner for a strategy favouring the expansion of variable renewables.

However, the industry cannot take it for granted that environmental arguments work in its favour, especially in ambitious decarbonisation scenarios such as the Sustainable Development Scenario. As the cleanest burning fossil fuel and one that emits few local air pollutants, natural gas fares best among the fossil fuels in the Sustainable Development Scenario, with consumption increasing by nearly 20% between 2016 and 2030 before exhibiting a very gradual decline. However, the contribution of natural gas to decarbonisation in this scenario varies across regions, between sectors and over time. In energy systems that are currently heavily reliant on coal, notably in China and India, natural gas can play a sustained, positive role. It has much less potential to help emissions reduction in more mature gas markets, although in the United States and Europe there is a window of opportunity for gas to aid decarbonisation by accelerating the switch away from coal. With the rapid ascent of low-carbon technologies in this scenario, the principal function of gas is to provide flexibility to support the integration of variable renewables. For some industrial applications, and in some parts of the transport sector, the “bridge” for gas is a much longer one, as cost-effective renewable alternatives are less readily available.

Secondly, it is important to recall that methane – the primary component of natural gas – is a potent greenhouse gas and emissions of methane along the oil and gas value chain (which are estimated for 2015 at around 76 Mt of methane) threaten to reduce many of the climate advantages claimed by gas. In the WEO-2017, we present first-of-a-kind marginal abatement cost curves for methane emissions from oil and gas operations, which suggest that around 40-50% of today’s emissions from the oil and gas sector could be avoided using approaches that have zero or negative costs (because the captured methane can be sold). Implementing just these cost-effective abatement measures in the New Policies Scenario would have the same impact on reducing the average global surface temperature rise in 2100 as immediately shutting all existing coal-fired power plants in China. If natural gas is to play a credible role in the transition to a decarbonised energy system, this is an opportunity for action that cannot be ignored.

Ultimately, the prospects for natural gas will be determined by how it is assessed by policy-makers and prospective consumers against three criteria: is it affordable, is it secure, and is it clean? In each of these areas, there is homework for the industry to do, to keep costs under control, to ensure adequate and timely investment, and to tackle the issue of methane emissions. If the answers to these questions are positive, then gas can make a persuasive pitch for a place in countries’ energy strategies, underpinning further infrastructure development and opening new opportunities for growth.

The International Energy Agency will provide its updated 5-year gas markets forecasts in the next Gas 2018 publication, which will be launched at the World Gas Conference, in Washington D.C., on 26 June 2018.

IEA

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