Countries all over the world are transitioning to renewable power sources for an increasing amount of their electricity needs. A couple of case studies shed light on the experiences of our global neighbours and highlight some of their successes and challenges. The information can both inspire and caution Canadians as we make decisions about the future of electricity production in our country.
Germany is recognized as a world leader in clean power generation. In 2018, renewables accounted for more than 40% of its electricity production, overtaking coal for the first time in their history. The move to renewables has been controversial and costly, with an estimated price tag of 189 billion euros, or about $222 billion (US) between 2000 and 2017. The rapid increase in wind, solar and other renewable power sources outpaced power grid capabilities, and an estimated 7000 kilometers of new routes are needed to accommodate the new generation sources. Proponents of Enegiewende, as the program is called, see the transition as a journey and are willing to navigate the road, complete with bumps and potholes, toward a national goal of 100% renewables by 2050. Detractors feel that the economic burden is excessive and point out that German households pay some of the highest electricity rates in the world.
In the United States, Hawaii was the first state to set a goal of 100 percent renewable power generation by 2045. The reasons behind this ambitious goal are both environmental and economic. Hawaii has a closed electricity grid and historically has generated most of its electricity from expensive imported oil, causing electricity prices to be more than double the US average. According to the Hawaii State Energy Office, residential power bills trended downward between 2011 and 2017 as reliance on oil decreased and renewables increased. Rooftop solar installations are a common sight throughout the islands, and commercial scale projects utilize wind, biomass, geothermal and solar. Oahu recently made headlines with two new solar projects that will include large lithium ion batteries. They will send clean solar energy onto the grid for four hours after sunset, a major advancement in power storage, but not enough to make them a 24 hour a day power source.
Canada differs from both Germany and Hawaii in many respects, and no suggestion is made here that we copy either model. We are in the midst of a global movement that is changing the way we produce electricity. By observing our international neighbours, we can weigh alternatives and make choices that are both economically and environmentally sound.