With climate change in mind, the Canadian government has assessed various pathways to net zero emissions by 2050, in order to meet the Paris Agreement commitments. Energy providers are also focused on how to achieve net zero energy-related energy emissions, and Enbridge Gas is no exception.
“We have been thinking about the energy transition for a long time. More than a decade in fact,” says Malini Giridhar, vice president of business development and regulation at Enbridge Gas. “We are committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050 in our operations and have made it a priority to understand the transition of Ontario’s overall energy systems, what is the optimal path and what is our role as gas company? »
This transition is no small feat because today three-quarters of Ontario families use natural gas for heating, and provincially, natural gas provides twice as much energy for homes, businesses and industry than electricity.
“Energy providers, policymakers and regulators are all focused on how to meet our future energy needs in a way that ensures Ontarians have sustainable, reliable and affordable energy,” Giridhar said. “Opinions abound and we wanted to know the facts. To help us better understand this complex issue, we engaged external experts to undertake a deep dive into Ontario’s energy landscape and assess different pathways to net zero energy emissions.
New study highlights the benefits of a diverse path to net zero
On September 19, Enbridge released a “Pathways to net zero” study by management consulting firm Guidehouse, which highlights the benefits of Ontario’s electricity and gas grids working together.
Two paths (intensive and diversified electrification) were evaluated based on cost, emission reductions, reliability and resilience of the energy system. The diversified option which includes a balance between electrification, low and zero carbon gas and carbon capture using gas infrastructure, has proven to be:
• Save consumers more than $200 billion by 2050 by reducing the amount of new electricity transmission needed to meet peak demand.
• Reduce the cost of replacing home heating systems.
• Provide consumers with more heating options, including reliable hybrid heating that uses both electric and gas systems.
• Provide sustainable solutions for heavy industrial processes that cannot practically be electrified.
The need for such a study has been a concern for Enbridge for the past three years. “Largely because we feel that emission reductions have become synonymous with electrification,” says Giridhar. “There are several ways to reduce emissions. We specifically wanted to understand the role and benefits that gaseous fuels can play in getting us to net zero.
There are multiple paths to net zero emissions
“We don’t see gas and electricity as alternatives. In fact, we want to ask the question: “How can gas complement electrification?” adds Giridhar. In all scenarios, she insists that increased electrification is still needed to meet climate goals.
Andrea Roszell, director of Guidehouse, notes that having a fuel system in place that works with the electrical system can ensure needs are met no matter the time of year or industry. “It’s about targeted electrification. There are some end uses where it makes more sense to electrify and there are others where it’s very difficult,” Roszell says.
“One of the issues with electrifying everything is that there’s a significant amount of new infrastructure that would be needed from a surge capacity perspective and then the transmission infrastructure to support, if you don’t have the gas system to complete,” Roszell says. “It’s about complementing each other and finding a role for everyone.”
A key example that can be used in homes and buildings is hybrid heating, achieved through a heat pump. This device extracts heat from the cold outside air and, through a compressor, uses electricity to raise the temperature of the heat and redistributes it throughout your home. The heat pump can also do the reverse and convert warm outside air into cooler air.
Giridhar explains that pairing a furnace with a heat pump would provide very efficient heating and cooling, but still allow the use of your gas furnace on extremely cold days when those appliances aren’t performing as well.
“Over time, as you increase the amount of electricity in your grid, you can use hybrid solutions differently,” she says. “But today it allows you to maximize GHG reductions with the system you have.”
Like renewable electricity, the pipeline network will shift to carrying cleaner sources
“Just as the electric industry has transitioned over time from coal-fired electricity to cleaner sources, the pipeline system will also deliver increasing levels of green fuel content, including renewable natural gas and fuel. ‘hydrogen,” Giridhar said. “And there are three additional aspects to the value the gas system can provide Ontario in a net-zero future,” Giridhar said.
The first is greater accessibility. Even with recent increases in the price of gas, Giridhar notes that gas is cheaper than electricity. She says it costs Enbridge $6 billion to distribute 30% of the energy to the province; while electricity accounts for 18% of the sector and rings in at $20 billion.
The second value is resilience. “Underground gas infrastructure tends to be much less impacted by extreme weather events,” says Giridhar.
The third is the physical properties of gas, which allow it to be compressed and stored in ways that electricity cannot.
The study is not a definitive plan. It is a unique information tool that can help inform Ontarians’ understanding of potential pathways to net zero emissions, leveraging systems already in place. “We want this study to stimulate collaboration and conversation between the energy industry and policy makers and government, as well as policy enthusiasts and ultimately the customer,” Giridhar said. .
Roszell further emphasizes the need to educate consumers. “A challenge in the sector in general is the lack of understanding of what the transition to net zero means and the role a gas system can offer to this.”
Sure Bet Actions
In the study, Giridhar says the “safe bets” summary includes the actions needed in any scenario to reach net zero. The first is maximizing energy efficiency. “More political support for expanding conservation initiatives is critical to the success of any path to net zero,” Giridhar said.
Enbridge has implemented energy efficiency programs since 1995 that have reduced 56 million tonnes of greenhouse gases, and hopes to collaborate more on any future initiatives.
The second action is the optimization and integration of energy system planning. “Coordinated gas and electricity systems and planning are essential to maintaining a reliable and resilient energy supply in Ontario,” said Giridhar. “Hybrid heating is a good example of systems working together. It combines a gas furnace, electric heat pump and smart controls to reduce emissions in a practical and affordable way. Upgrading equipment, rather than replacing it, is simpler and lowers costs for Ontarians.
The third safe bet is to invest in low-carbon gas, including hydrogen and renewable natural gas, which are crucial in both pathways, especially for processes that can hardly be electrified. And these gases can be mixed with the gas grid to green the gas supply.
“We are the first utility in North America to integrate hydrogen into our gas grid,” says Giridhar, describing the pilot project that is working for 4,000 customers in Markham.
The final safe bet is to advance carbon capture and storage, needed to produce low-carbon hydrogen and decarbonize hard-to-scale industrial processes. There is suitable geology to sequester CO2, especially near areas like Sarnia and Hamilton where there is a lot of heavy industry that emits carbon,” Giridhar said. “We would like the government to change the legislation to allow carbon sequestration and create a regulatory environment where we can do these projects.”
Enbridge has been focused on the net zero transition for some time and is innovating and investing in sustainable initiatives in three areas:
1. Help customers use less energy through conservation programs for homes, businesses and industry.
2. Increase the supply of hydrogen and RNG, and programs such as opt-up and hydrogen blending that use the existing gas system to economically deliver clean gases to consumers.
3. Advance the adoption of clean technologies for heating and transporting buildings.
“With our expertise, we can play an important role in the deployment of new technologies,” says Giridhar. “This includes raising awareness, testing products, evaluating the customer value proposition, and designing a program that will work for customers.”
Although Ontario is a large province, it is looking at opportunities to connect with New York and other provinces and states to create a strong network. “We want to collaborate across North America. For some of these things you really need scale,” says Giridhar. “It’s a movement. We want to educate Ontarians about this and we also want to be able to leverage the combined weight of other entities.
Giridhar recommends visiting the Enbridge website to receive more information regarding sustainability.
“The study helps us to better define the favorable circumstances to achieve net zero,” says Giridhar. She believes this will help lay the groundwork for what the next few years may bring. “In many ways it’s an exercise in vision, but it’s also a roadmap to that future.”
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