Nov. 29, 2019

Canada seen as having key role to play in transition to cleaner energy

Former executive director of International Energy Agency advises country’s liquified natural gas industry to get its game face on

Canada’s natural gas industry has much to offer the world as it enters a unique moment in history, said a European energy expert at an event hosted by the Haskayne School of Business.

Liquified natural gas (LNG) has a “key role to play in the energy transition, and Canada has a great gas potential,” said Maria van der Hoeven, a retired Dutch politician who is a former executive director of the International Energy Agency.

“It’s a reliable, ethical player with which many countries around the world would love to trade, and it’s well-positioned to serve both Europe and Asia, where gas imports are expected to increase.”

Van der Hoeven was the featured speaker at Haskayne’s third annual PETRONAS International Energy Speaker Series. The lunchtime event Nov. 26 at the Westin Hotel was attended by about 500 people ranging from business and energy industry leaders to academics.

  • Photo above: Maria van der Hoeven was the featured speaker at Haskayne’s third annual PETRONAS International Energy Speaker Series. Photo by Kelly Hofer

Open mind seen as necessary 

LNG is regarded as less carbon intensive than coal for producing electricity, making it an important fossil fuel during the current transition to cleaner, more sustainable forms of energy, said van der Hoeven. As part of the $40-billion LNG Canada project, a pipeline will carry the gas from northeastern B.C. to a plant in coastal Kitimat, where it will be liquefied for overseas export.

But she warned that the key to success during the energy transition is not to get “stuck on promised silver bullet solutions,” instead keeping an open mind about all potential options and advantages. Van der Hoeven praised research by the University of Calgary into creating hydrogen from Alberta’s heavy oil deposits in a way that would leave the carbon in the ground.

“Countries with a competitive advantage in molecule production, including Canada, have an interest in firmly placing clean molecules into the energy transition landscape,” said van der Hoeven.

Impacts are 'enormous' 

The transition will likely take years, she said. “There are people who think you can have this energy transition in 10 years well, be my guest. It’s impossible,” she said.

“It’s not only about an energy transition, it’s also about an economic transition and it’s about a societal transition, and the biggest issue is that there will be new winners and new losers. And that means if people get the feeling they are being left behind, they will be protesting because they’re not going to accept this, so that’s why I don’t think it’s going to be very fast, or that it goes all at once, because you have to be aware that the societal impacts will be enormous.”

There are mounting temptations to close national borders to competition, politicize energy trade, and deny the scientific truth of climate change, said van der Hoeven, who is a former minister of economic affairs for the Netherlands and a current commissioner of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate. But denial by some politicians does nothing to help organize the energy transition, she said.

“When I think of a narrative for what’s going on today, I realized we live in a truly complex, fascinating historical moment, and a distinctive trait of our era is a strong tension between old and new,” she said. “This tension can be observed in many fields — in political discourse, in the way we interact socially and we see a lot of progress, but we also see setbacks, and the energy sector is not exempt from this tension between old and new.”

'Don't play the victim'

Regulatory hurdles to pipelines are negatively affecting investment in Canada’s fossil fuel industry, she said. The country’s gas industry in particular has to avoid being a “passive spectator or a victim of the energy transition” and do a better job promoting its standards of prudent extraction using the latest technology, along with its good safety and environmental record, she said.

While not directly referring to the opposition in B.C. and Quebec to pipelines needed by Alberta to reach new markets, van der Hoeven said the European Union’s energy industry has also faced the problem of getting the green light for projects that span multiple jurisdictions. Both Europe and Canada “are united in diversity when it comes to energy, and perhaps we should exchange some knowledge and experiences on this issue,” she said.

Canada’s gas industry also faces increasing competition from the U.S., which has numerous LNG projects that are slated to launch in the next few years, she said. During a question-and-answer session with Jackie Forrest, senior director of the ARC Energy Research Institute, van der Hoeven advised Canadians to get their game face on.

Canada seen as having key role to play in transition to cleaner energy

Canada seen as having key role to play in transition to cleaner energy

“Don’t play the victim,” she said, adding, “You have a very good reputation. I think in quite a few countries in Asia, it will be important not only where the gas comes from and what the price is, but how it is being produced because they also have to do something about how to achieve their Paris commitments, and LNG is part of the game.”