August 15, 2017

2017 Ontario Climate Symposium – Workstream A: Sustainable Energy

OCC 2017 climate symposium logo

Session 1A: Community Energy Planning


  • Empowering local communities to take action on climate change can succeed in ways not possible if decision-making is concentrated at the provincial and federal levels.
  • More tools are needed to empower community energy planning.



The panel on community energy planning explored important questions related to the implementation of sustainable energy at the municipal and local level. Speakers included individuals from the public, non-profit, and energy sectors.

Moderating the discussion was Karen Farbridge (from Farbridge and Associates) who spoke about the long-standing tradition in Canadian governance that limits the power of local municipalities in favour of the provincial and federal levels. If the implementation of energy solutions is to happen at the local level, municipalities need to be empowered accordingly.

Mike Lee from QUEST, a smart energy advocacy group, spoke about the way his organization helps municipalities plan and build up sustainable energy use practices. This includes evidence-based suggestions for the kind of rules municipalities can introduce to limit expansion, density, land use, and buildings in a way that can effectively control emissions.

In addition to helping with planning, QUEST specializes in relationship building between utility companies, provincial agencies, and municipalities.

Lisa King from the City Planning Department of Toronto spoke about the important role green building standards have on the path to achieving the goal of zero emissions. As King explained, if Ontario is to succeed in its emissions goals, cities need to build a new consistently enforceable framework for green building standards based on global comparative best practices.

Another example of community energy planning is the Community Climate Change Action Plan (CCCAP) being undertaken by the Town of Caledon in Peel Region. Climate Change Specialist Shannon Carto spoke about the ongoing work that has been undertaken.

Through development of the plan, the top emissions producers in the Town of Caledon were identified as transportation, residential buildings, commercial buildings, agriculture, industrial buildings, and waste related emissions, respectively. The CCCAP outlines a number of recommendations related how emissions can be reduced in each of those sectors. The Town of Caledon is now in the process of collecting feedback on its plan.

Finally, the panel concluded with Neetika Sathe from Alectra Energy Solutions, the second largest municipality owned utility company in Canada, speaking about new innovations in energy production and distribution.

As Sathe explained, in order to effectively reduce green house gas emissions a combination of methods at all levels of community energy need to be included. For example, Sathe discussed the promise of combining microgrid technology, and high capacity battery storage in the residential and commercial sector.


Session 2A: The Future of Energy Systems


  • Existing energy technology and policy frameworks are not sufficient to nurture future technology innovation.
  • Energy storage technology is crucial to making renewable transition possible.
  • Disrupting the existing energy production industry is necessary for a renewable energy transition.



Chaired by Environmental Studies Professor Mark Winfield of York University, the second panel explored future energy systems. Specifically, this panel looked at frameworks for energy storage technologies, the movement towards 100% cities, and the future of energy efficiency in Ontario.

York University Professor Jose Etcheverry made the case for why the future of energy should be one hundred percent renewable, with a one hundred percent community focus.

To achieve this goal, our perceptions of the meaning of energy need to change. As Etcheverry argued, perceptions are narrowly mediated through the context of our five senses. If history is any guide, perceptual contexts can be transformed to give way to new ways of thinking about the world, as demonstrated by transformations facilitated by the electrical grid. Etcheverry believes a similar transformation could happen with renewable energy — assuming we allow it to.

Shahab Shokrzadeh, a post-doctoral fellow in York University’s Sustainable Energy Initiative (SEI), spoke about energy storage technologies, and how this is affected by policy regimes.

Since the flow of solar and wind energy depends on environmental conditions (sunshine, wind), energy storage technology becomes a crucial consideration. Therefore, how policy can be constructed and implemented to support this is an important aspect of achieving emissions goals.

As Shokrzadeh noted, energy storage technologies have the potential to disrupt the way traditional utility companies function. The rigidly governed policy context of existing utility companies makes the implementation of new policy and technologies challenging. Shokrzadeh ultimately argued that the goal of future policy should be to:

  • Transform the way energy is transferred and stored on the grid;
  • Reconfigure itself as a crucial component of emissions reduction;
  • Re-alignment the energy system such that conventional utility approaches may become obsolete; and,
  • Encourage economic development with emerging technologies, and help transition to a “green economy”.

James Gaede, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Waterloo, also spoke about the future of energy storage technology.

One interesting observation from Gaede’s research is that energy storage is not as closely associated with climate change goals as other technology such as wind and solar power themselves.

Rather than policy barriers, Gaede focused on the social acceptance of energy storage. Social acceptance, he argued, means community acceptance, market acceptance, and socio-political acceptance.

As Gaede observed, current social acceptance of energy storage is fairly high, but is limited by cost and technology efficiency. If these limitations can be overcome, energy storage has the potential to transform energy production in unexpected ways, either disruptive or adaptive. Therefore, more attention is needed to explore how better energy storage technologies might impact society and the economy.

Closing out the panel was OCC’s own Peter Love speaking on the topic of energy conservation strategies in Ontario.

According to Love, two thirds of energy produced in Ontario is wasted. Reducing this level of waste can be achieved through five strategies:

  1. Behavioral conservation changing the way people use energy sources (turning off lights when leaving the house), without changing the technology.
  2. Energy efficiency is changing the actual energy consuming technology in a way that it requires less to do the same or similar tasks.
  3. Demand response is by generating energy to more effectively match the times when demand for energy is highest and lowest.
  4. Fuel substitution is transitioning to other fuel sources (ones that generate less green house gases).
  5. On-site generation is increasing the number of locations that generate their own energy, reducing the strain on the power grid.

Love also identified some challenges associated with implementing all or some of the above strategies.

In most cases, conservation is difficult to measure as it depends on many variables. Moreover, for conservation to be successful, all relevant stakeholders (government, industry) must participate.

In the long run however, energy conservation has the potential to not only reduce green house gas emissions, but also to make the economy more productive. Love is hopeful that with the right combination of incentives, subsidies, technological change, a new culture of conservation is possible.


Session 3A: Ontario’s Long-Term Energy Policy


  • Balancing cost and efficacy in any climate mitigation plan needs to improve.
  • Accuracy and availability of data related to climate mitigation technology and the economic effects of certain measures remains a challenge for policy makers.
  • Reaching 100 percent renewable will require a combination of measures including new power grid technologies and market programs like cap and trade.



The final panel in the Sustainable Energy Workstream explored long-term energy policy in Ontario. Chaired by the OCC’s Peter Love, the panel examined the best evidence-based options for clean energy production. This included examining energy demand forecasts, the taxpayer costs related to cap and trade, variable energy flows, and the costs associated refurbishing existing nuclear reactors.

Ralph Torrie, partner at Torrie Smith Associates, began the panel by talking about Canada’s energy production mix, and how it might achieve 100 percent renewable in the near future.

Comparing fossil fuel with renewable electricity generation, the later makes up only 20 percent. There are many challenges associated with getting up to 100 percent. An important place to start, according to Torrie, is with heating residential buildings.

Current forecasts for energy demand compared with plans for sustainable electricity generation do not look promising, so something needs to change quickly.

Mark Brouillette from Strategic Policy Economics spoke about emissions reduction and long-term energy planning.

As Brouillette explained, one of the main difficulties related to long-term energy planning is the lack of data on the effects that emissions reductions will have on the economy. For example, cap and trade represents an untracked cost to taxpayers and ratepayers.

All available data suggest that with currently available technology, switching energy over to renewable to meet current emission reduction targets will cost over 27 billion dollars per year, if we are lucky. Therefore, in order to achieve emissions targets, there needs to be a better balance between green politics and the politics of cost.

Continuing with the theme, Madeline McPherson from the University of Toronto talked about the logistical considerations associated with shifting Ontario’s power grid to 100 percent renewable.

Specifically, properly converting to more wind and solar power, with its variable flow, into the existing grid is a challenge. Important considerations include how to respond to power grid demand, and how to store power when it is not needed.

Ultimately McPherson argues that the shift to renewable needs to happen gradually, by replacing inflexible generators with flexible ones, and ensuring appropriate technology for storage and demand is integrated.

Closing out the panel, Jack Gibbons from the Ontario Clean Air Alliance discussed the role of nuclear power for the future of Ontario’s energy mix.

Is nuclear power a practical part of the renewable energy? According to Gibbons the answer is no. Indeed, nuclear power is now more expensive per kWh than wind or solar.

The current Ontario Government is considering putting in more than 26 billion dollars to refurbish existing nuclear plants. To make up for the cost of refurbishment electricity bills will likely need to increase.

This, Gibbons argues, is not a practical solution. Alternatively, the Government of Ontario could be importing wind energy for one-tenth the cost.