A few weeks ago I attended Keith Halliday’s talk at the Yukon Chamber of Commerce luncheon and I’ve been listening to the exchanges on energy in the legislature.
It seems to me that we Yukoners are having a crisis of faith.
Scientists all over the world keep warning us that our planet is in trouble because we’re consuming too much fossil fuel.
I believe most Yukoners are concerned too. But many of us are feeling helpless that we can’t do much about it. In the Yukon 80 per cent of our energy comes from fossil fuel. Most of that goes to transportation and then to space heating. The other 20 per cent is from renewable hydroelectricity.
So the Yukon’s challenge is to convert that 80 per cent fossil fuel energy into renewable energy. Tackling this problem seems like a tall order. But it’s a huge economic opportunity.
The building of new hydro is certainly a good idea and in fact it is the anchor of our energy foundation. But hydro requires long lead times to build.
Right now the low hanging fruit of renewable energy in the Yukon is with wind. It’s no secret that wind is the fastest growing source of new energy in the world today. Canada’s installed wind capacity grew by 14 per cent to over 6,500 megawatts in 2012. In the same year the global wind capacity grew by 19 per cent to a total of 282,000 megawatts. Alaska, our neighbour, saw a staggering growth of 80 per cent last year to a new total capacity of 59 megawatts. Wind energy has matured.
In the Yukon there is a vast potential for growth in the wind energy sector. The mountaintop winds follow both the electricity grid demand and the space heating load. And because wind energy is intermittent we need storage capacity to take advantage of it.
Storage already exists with our hydro reservoirs and the diesel fuel that we use on the margin. But there are also storage opportunities with space heating and electric cars.
In space heating there is the electrical thermal storage (ETS) technology which are simply an insulated box with bricks and electric heating elements inside. The ETS can be programmed to recharge at night when grid demand is low or during times of excess wind energy on the grid. Electric cars have batteries which can be programmed to recharge the same way as the ETS. To make all this work will require us to smarten up our electricity grid and to apply financial incentives to make these devices attractive to homeowners.
The fuel from wind and hydro is free. The economic and environmental costs of fossil fuel will only go up.
The mines simply provide us with an economic bridge to a renewable energy future.