2020 will be remembered as the year the world changed. No, not for COVID-19, but for some important economic/technical changes which have mostly gone unnoticed that will affect all of us in a good way.
The first change is in electricity generation. Wind and solar energy plummeted in price. For most of the world solar energy is not only the cheapest way to generate electricity, it now generates electricity cheaper than any other way ever has. The United Arab Emirates (an extreme case, admittedly) is building a 4GW solar farm generating electricity at 1.75 cents(CDN) per kWh. [Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article put that rate at $1.75 per kWh. The Progress regrets the error.]
Contrast our site C project at over 10 cents per kWh and increasing with every cost overrun.
Using our existing hydro dams as backup energy storage, solar can expand rapidly in B.C., presumably in our deserts, and we can all enjoy lower electricity bills.
But solar isn’t just cheap here. In Asia the decision makers are facing a choice of buying liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Canada and generating expensive electricity with it while draining money from their economy to ours, or they can more cheaply generate their own energy at home. I think we can all see what their decision will be.
The second change is in the efficiency of heat pumps, which can now work down to (roughly) -20C for air-to-air. In Chilliwack’s climate using natural gas or a heat pump are about the same cost. But if electricity prices were to reflect the cost of solar and be allowed to drop, gas would not be competitive. Our natural gas industry is about to shrink. Considering natural gas from fracking creates more greenhouse gasses than even coal, this is also great news for our children who otherwise would not live as long as I have.
The third change is in the drop in the price of lithium ion batteries which determines the price of electric vehicles. According General Motors’ vice president (and others), it is now cheaper to buy and run a new electric car than a new gas vehicle. The upfront cost of the electric car may be higher, but this is more than made up for by lower running costs. This is also true for commercial vehicles. For example a 800-to-1000 kilometre range Tesla semi will cost $180,000(US), but over its lifetime it will save $200,000(US) in running costs.
If our governments accepted free enterprise as a strategy, the sustainable industries would quickly expand, employing the workers from the shrinking gas and oil industry. Only 0.3 per cent of jobs in Canada are in oil and gas, so this will not be a change we would even notice in Chilliwack, apart from our air becoming cleaner and our roads quieter.
But free market governments are not the norm. In Canada, $55 Billion (CDN) annually of taxpayer’s money subsidizes the fossil fuel industry (according to the International Monetary Fund). The profits of this sector go mostly to its foreign owners. This subsidy distorts the market and slows the transition. Removing this subsidy is politically difficult, but putting an offsetting tax on carbon can achieve the same result. To offset the subsidy would require a carbon tax of about $75 per tonne of carbon dioxide. As a bonus, if these subsidies ended we’d each have to pay $1,650 less in tax; I can go for that.
The future is bright for Canada, but we have to let our old ways go, let our kids live. We can do this. Please look into your next car being electric, your house/building heated by heat pumps and of course vote for clean and free enterprise.
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