An Energy Systems Approach

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Tracking energy and related material flows through the economy can help explore critical features of the net zero challenge. Energy systems involve the harvest of environmental resources, the conversion of energy into useful forms, and the transport of energy to where it is needed to power devices which deliver services to end users.

The largest sources of primary energy exploited in Canada today are fossil fuels, uranium, rivers that generate hydroelectricity, as well as some biomass, wind and solar. The illustration below shows some important features of the current energy system including our current dependence on fossil energy (which supplies three quarters of final consumption), the export orientation of our fossil energy industries (60% is exported), the largely decarbonized electricity supply (which mainly comes from hydro and nuclear), and the GHG emissions from energy supply and end use sectors.

An energy system perspective can also tell us something about the net zero energy systems of the future. Key elements of such a system will include:

  • A greatly enhanced role for decarbonized electricity
  • The use of hydrogen (or another net zero emission fuel) as an additional energy carrier
  • An important role for biofuels
  • Carbon capture and storage (CCS) and negative emissions technologies for remaining domestic use of fossil energy
  • Dramatic changes in technologies, business models and social practices

The illustration below captures key features of a net zero energy system.