Alberta Premier Jason Kenney at Queen’s Park in Toronto on May 3, 2019. Photo by Tijana Martin
It survives only because it’s more compelling than the subtext Albertans probably hear in our climate campaigning: “We’re good, you’re bad. You need to be stopped for the good of other people’s families, even if it hurts your own.”
…The consensus among international energy analysts is that, after an era in which coal gives way to liquefied natural gas (LNG), LNG will give way to zero-emission hydrogen for long-distance energy trade, with the hydrogen used in industry, power generation and transportation, primarily in larger vehicles (long-distance trucks, trains, boats, planes) where batteries remain an unsolved engineering problem.
Yes, in the near term, fossil fuels will remain the cheapest means of producing clean hydrogen, even after factoring in the cost of carbon capture and storage. But the falling cost of renewable electricity suggests that within a few decades, and then forever after, hydrocarbons won’t be a factor in the hydrogen calculus.
…Hydrogen is how climate advocates can pursue emissions reductions while keeping Alberta on-side and while embracing Albertan resources. Not only is Alberta building its “Carbon Trunk” pipeline for sequestering carbon dioxide — which could eventually sequester 14.6 million tonnes of the greenhouse gas per year, almost one-quarter of British Columbia’s annual emissions — but recent auctions have also established Alberta as the cheapest place in Canada to build new renewables.
In the short term, Alberta’s energy sector can win with hydrogen from hydrocarbons; in the medium term, with hydrogen from both renewables and hydrocarbons (with carbon capture); and in the long term, with hydrogen from renewables. The Alberta research institute CESAR has already calculated that the province could generate at least twice the economic activity, on a dollar-per-unit-of-energy basis, by producing more hydrogen than it currently generates with its oil.
“This will not only mean jobs, but the earnings from the production, wholesale and retail sale of hydrogen will contribute to the province’s gross domestic product, royalty and tax revenue,” the report says.
Not boxing, But aikido
How might clean hydrogen change how we view fossil fuel infrastructure such as pipelines and export terminals, and our fellow Canadians’ expertise in building and operating them?
Instead of seeing it as a permanently polluting monolith to be toppled, we can approach our fossil-energy expertise as a temporary apprenticeship en route to mastering the craft of clean-energy exports.
The former is a boxing worldview, premised on overpowering the other party: shutting infrastructure requires advocates to out-endure industry, its employees and their communities at every turn. If our cousins feel an imminent threat to their livelihoods, they will fight us as ferociously as coastal First Nations have opposed the Trans Mountain expansion, and probably flock to Kenney’s deceitful embrace. As we might, if we were in their shoes.
The latter is an aikido perspective, turning the other party’s momentum into an advantage. While some specifics such as preferred pipeline materials may differ, most of the talents our energy sector have mastered will still apply tomorrow with hydrogen. With a combination of policy and public pressure, we can channel Canada’s energy expertise toward an Alberta-inclusive climate-positive goal. MORE