To be honest, when I first started researching this article, I wasn’t 100% certain what 100% renewable energy really meant. It sounded good, but I definitely couldn’t give you a definition of it. And that’s a little surprising, given how often it’s discussed by governments, academics and the media. But after I did some research on the challenge of switching to 100% renewable energy, I realized the reason I didn’t know how to define it was because it didn’t have a world-wide, iron-clad definition. Hawaii’s definition is different than Vancouver’s, and so on. Some would say it includes heating and transportation and some would say it doesn’t and some would say it counts either way. In this article, I’ve decided to use the least-stringent definition: 100% renewable energy is electricity generated solely by renewable resources, mainly solar, wind, and hydro.
Even in 2019, 100% renewable energy still sounds a bit like a crazy dream. It reminds me of “Shoot for the moon, and you’ll land among the stars” and other cliches about ambition. When I first heard about Hawaii legally committing to it in 2015 I thought, “Wow, they’re really embracing go big or go home”. I was impressed at their nerve, I was delighted by the innovation I was sure was going to happen. But I didn’t actually believe they’d manage it.
The thing is, 100% renewable energy isn’t nearly as difficult as it might sound at first. Right now, Iceland, Norway, Costa Rica, Albania, Ethiopia, Paraguay and Zambia are already running on or close to energy from 100% renewable sources. Hundreds of countries, states, and cities - Germany, Hawaii, Vancouver - have made binding promises to reach 100% renewable energy by 2050 or earlier. Governments have found it complex but nowhere near impossible to rework their electricity systems for renewable energy.
Hawaii, motivated by both the climate crisis and their pricey reliance on imported gas, has committed to an ambitious goal of 100% renewable energy by 2045. So far they’ve been on track to meet their targets despite issues like Kilauea's eruption sending the plants and plans for future geothermal use up in smoke. The small island of Moloka‘i has served as a testing ground for what a grid system based almost entirely on solar power would need to look like; admittedly, they’ve had more setbacks than success, but they’ve kept moving forward and their solutions give the rest of Hawaii - and the world - something to learn from and emulate.
But enough about Hawaii. Let’s talk about 100% renewable energy in Canada.
Canada is actually an ideal country for moving to 100% renewable energy by 2050. Currently, a little more than 65% of the energy Canada generates is already renewable, and around 60% of that is hydroelectricity, leaving us with plenty of room to expand solar and wind power. In fact, Canada produces the second most hydro power in the world. Provincially, over 95% of the electricity Quebec and Manitoba produce is from hydro power. B.C., Yukon, and Newfoundland and Labrador also generate large amounts of hydro power, with it ranging from 88% to 93% of the total amount of energy generated.. And PEI generates about a quarter of their energy with wind power every year.
Our reliable hydro energy gives Canada a head-start on 100% renewable energy, and also helps balance electrical grids. Due to its adjustable stream of power, we likely won’t have as many of the problems faced by grids powered by fluctuating energy sources like solar and wind. Following that, a study by Energy Watch Group and LUT University of Finland has shown that globally, solar power needs to increase by just 17% per year to reach 100% renewable energy by 2050. And that’s for 100% renewable energy across all sectors, including heat and transportation. The study also says that it will be cheaper than our current energy system, an analysis echoed by Citizens’ Climate Lobby Canada, who have projected that 100% renewable energy will cost Canadians $164 less money on energy per year.
The less inclusive definition of 100% renewable energy won’t make emissions from cars and heating go away, but it does create an easier, gentler path to removing them - a path where merely reworking something to run on electricity makes it sustainable. Electric vehicles’ batteries are useful in balancing renewable electricity grids as well and electricity will be perfectly capable of heating modern passive houses.
100% renewable energy is the world’s future. By 2050, the concept of 100% renewable energy won’t be a dream anymore; it will be reality. With Canada’s advantages, we could get there even faster. Imagine living in a country where energy is cheaper, our electronics are sleek and sustainable, and the grid of renewable energy stretches from coast to coast to coast in a web of light. Sounds good, eh?
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