The race to a low-carbon future is on. Those who can adapt and meet the world’s growing energy needs while decreasing emissions will be assured of a secure economic future. Those who can’t, on the other hand, will become peripheral players at best. Last month’s World Petroleum Congress in Calgary brought the issue into sharp focus. With the theme “Energy Transition: The Path to Net Zero,” the five-day event was devoted to exploring ways to bridge the traditional energy sector and a more carbon-neutral industry over the next 25 years.
Alberta’s resources and expertise give it an undeniable advantage. Consider carbon capture, utilization and storage, more commonly known as CCUS. It’s one of the key technologies Canada is relying on to help reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Already Canada’s CCUS leader, Alberta is also a growing global player. A new wave of projects is in the works, including a world-scale carbon transportation and sequestration system in Alberta’s Industrial Heartland, capable of transporting more than 20 million tonnes of CO2 annually.
A joint undertaking by Pembina and TC Energy, the project will leverage existing infrastructure and develop a new sequestration hub, dubbed the Alberta Carbon Grid. Designed to be an open-access system, it will serve as the backbone of the province’s emerging capacity connecting the Fort McMurray region, the Drayton Valley region and Alberta’s Industrial Heartland region to key sequestration locations and delivery points across the province to serve multiple industries. The same geology that makes swaths of Alberta – including the Industrial Heartland – so suitable for energy production also makes it ideal for CCUS, too.
As Mark Plamondon, the executive director of Alberta’s Industrial Heartland Association, said at the time of the announcement, the partnership is a “living example of Alberta-based companies leveraging our region’s existing competitive advantages to develop long-term solutions that are critical to advancing Canada’s energy transition.”
Already well known as the country’s largest hydrocarbon-processing region, Alberta’s Industrial Heartland – as demonstrated by the Pembina/TC Energy project – is also a fast-emerging leader in the shift to a low-carbon economy.
The region has also recently seen an uptick in global interest in hydrogen projects. Hydrogen is a versatile energy carrier that, when produced with fossil fuels using CCUS, can help to decarbonize a range of hard-to-abate sectors, including transportation. Industrial facilities located in Alberta’s Industrial Heartland already produce 2,200 tonnes per day. That volume, however, is set to increase in the coming years as partnerships between global and Canadian players – including Shell/Mitsubishi, IPL/Itochu/Petronas and Suncor/ATCO – investigate new hydrogen projects in the region.
CCUS and hydrogen, however, are just the beginning. Alberta’s Industrial Heartland is also moving into renewables. Shell Canada and Silicon Ranch have announced they are building a 58-megawatt solar farm that will cover 20 per cent of the electricity needs of the Scotford Complex, which includes a bitumen upgrader, oil refinery, chemicals plant and the Quest Carbon Capture and Storage facility. Solar giant Alpin Sun is also studying a 1,200-acre, 200-megawatt solar farm that would help power even more facilities. If the project goes ahead, it would be the largest renewable energy development to date in central Alberta.
The region is successfully adapting to a fast-shifting landscape and, in doing so, demonstrating how the province can be a reliable, low-carbon energy source for the world.