The energy-efficiency sector in Canada is poised for a major breakthrough as a job creator and agent of change that will enable Canada to take its place as a leader in the fight against climate change, delegates attending a Mechanical Contractors Association of Canada (MCAC) conference in Toronto were told recently.
Efficiency Canada executive director Corey Diamond said while the sector is the fastest-growing part of the energy industry in Canada, it’s diverse and scattered. But if Canadians adopt the right policies, harness private sector financing and co-ordinate action in pursuit of Canada’s Paris climate action commitments, there could be 188,000 jobs created in the sector each year, he told MCAC members during the conference’s keynote luncheon April 16.
The signs are everywhere that the breakthrough is imminent, Diamond said, and it’s going to happen because it has to — inaction is not an option. Not only are there waves of climate reports being released in recent times that reinforce the ecological and economic crises that Canada faces, but industrially, Canada is the least productive energy producer in the G7, he said. That’s puts Canada at a huge competitive disadvantage.
“Energy efficiency touches every single sector of the economy,” said Diamond.
“The more that we bring alongside folks like yourselves and others sectors of the economy and look at energy efficiency through the lens of the economic opportunity this has for our country, the more we are going to be able to win,” said Diamond.
Put another way, Diamond said, energy efficiency is Canada’s most plentiful and lowest-cost energy resource.
“You have to think of it as something could you dig out of the ground and burn,” he said. “If we treated it as a resource, it could meet 40 per cent of our energy needs by 2050.”
The four keys to the sector taking the next step will be moving beyond mere incremental change, unlocking private sector capital, moving towards a more comprehensive “value chain” of efficiency and mobilizing the message, said Diamond.
If you can get leaders to lead, you can transform the market over time
— Corey Diamond
All are reasonable, achievable steps, he asserted. Efficiency Canada, a think-tank launched last November as the self-described new “national voice for an energy efficient economy” with tiers of supporting advocates such as Enbridge, Energie NB Power and RDH Building Science, has plans to tackle the message mobilization function with an awareness campaign next month.
The campaign will promote the slogan #OurHumanEnergy.
“We will be reaching out to people across Canada who deliver energy efficiency to self-identify, ‘I’m proud I deliver energy efficiency in this country, I’m proud of making hospitals operate more efficiently, I’m proud of making schools better places to learn, I’m proud of helping homeowners reduce energy waste and save money,’ ” explained Diamond.
“We want construction, the trades, the financial sector to say, ‘I am part of our human energy and I am proud of that.’ ”
Diamond noted some examples of energy efficiency and environmentalism on the cusp of taking the next big step forward worldwide:
Last summer 15-year-old Swede Greta Thunberg stood alone to fight inaction on climate change by cutting classes; now hundreds of thousands join her.
In the Netherlands, as part of the Energiesprong movement, it’s not unusual to see teams of energy retrofitters driving around installing portable efficiency envelopes around single-family homes, with multi-storey buildings the next target.
Sophisticated financing schemes are emerging, with one American bank fund, the Connecticut Green Bank, raising $1 billion in private capital for efficiency projects and other co-investing, risk-reduction and aggregation plans gathering steam.
BOMA (the Building Owners and Managers Association) has become engaged in programs across Canada, with last year’s BOMA Quebec Building Energy Challenge, a competition aimed at reducing the energy consumption and GHG emissions of Quebec’s commercial, institutional and multi-residential buildings, one of several initiatives.
“If you can get leaders to lead, you can transform the market over time,” said Diamond of BOMA’s engagement of top energy efficiency advocates.
“The top seven or eight members of BOMA Canada, they are the ones doing the majority of the energy-efficient retrofits in commercial real estate, and they’ve actually pushed the sector to do a lot more,” he said.
While it’s disappointing that a change in government can slow momentum, Diamond said, referring to the Doug Ford government in Ontario, a lot of the bold energy-efficiency moves that take place are invisible and independent of the government of the day. Mandatory changes in furnace efficiency and the BC Energy Step Code, a voluntary energy-efficient provincial standard, are two examples he cited.
But still, 70 per cent of global energy investments are driven by governments, Diamond said, and governments will continue to play a major role in pushing energy efficiency.
“If you want to do anything related to energy usage, it has to be a decision that government approved,” he said. “Energy efficiency is no different. However energy efficiency plays out, certainly there will be private-sector money that flows in and certainly there will be people demanding this but a lot will come from the government which will say, we don’t believe in having waste in our economy.”