There is perhaps no sector more imperative to Canada’s Net Zero journey than oil and gas. The industry is Canada’s single biggest source of GHG emissions, at nearly 10% of the national total. For Alberta, and the country as a whole, the stakes for a successful transition are especially high. Oil and gas accounts for 5% of our GDP and supports hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country.

The recent global energy crunch has only deepened the challenge. Demand for oil has spiked by 500,000 barrels a day, according to the International Energy Association (IEA). Coal demand is set to exceed 2019 levels this year and rise through to 2025.

How can a sector so ingrained in our economy and daily lives make a full transition to Net Zero? Progress is well underway. Oil patch giant Suncor announced this past June that the company is moving to a carbon neutral model by 2050. Suncor’s CEO Mark Little and Clean Energy Canada’s Executive Director Merran Smith joined us for the third episode of The Climate Conversations, a special miniseries.

“I sit here today, obviously having made the commitment [to Net Zero by 2050], and you know, I actually have turned my thinking that this is an opportunity for our Canadian oil sands, for us as a company and for our country,” said Little.

Demand for Canada’s oil, gas and plastics isn’t likely to wane significantly for a while, Little said. It will take years to phase out the internal combustion engine, transform natural gas-burning furnaces and develop alternatives for jet fuel.

“Will oil demand go down? I fully believe oil demand will go down,” he said. “Do I think it’s in the next year or two? No, I don’t.”
But Canada’s energy sector is aiming for a clean overhaul, with the integration of alternate energy sources like wind, solar and hydrogen.
“Currently we have technologies that are ready for prime-time—things like electric vehicles, and we’re seeing the uptake of businesses building batteries for those electric vehicles, green and clean hydrogen coming on board,” said Smith.

Little and Suncor spearheaded the formation of the Oil Sands Pathways to Net Zero, which also includes Canadian Natural Resources, Cenovus, Imperial Oil, ConocoPhillips and Meg Energy. The companies, which together account for 90% of total oil sands production are collaborating to develop the technologies that will speed the transition to Net Zero.

“I think the path forward for us is to figure out how quickly do we get to Net Zero and we’re investing in hydrogen and wind farms and all of these types of things—but the world needs energy and it’s going to need more energy,” said Little.

Change will also impact our country’s 500,000 oil sector workers, whose jobs are likely to be disrupted by a clean energy transition.

“It’s key that while we make this transition, that we also need to provide support for Canada’s oil and gas workforce to go through retraining and move into industry,” said Smith. “We want to be moving people into industries that are going to be growing in this Net Zero world.”

“Their skills will be directly transferable to renewable energy, things like geothermal, and there’s opportunities in hydrogen production and others for the oil and gas worker skills to transfer,” she said.

Speaker 1 [00:00:02] Hi, it’s John here,

Speaker 2 [00:00:04] and it’s Theresa.

Speaker 1 [00:00:05] Theresa, I remember you telling me about a cross-country trip you took this past summer with your partner, and as our astute listeners will know, you have an electric vehicle. How did that go? Was it hard finding places to charge, especially when you’re in the great wilderness stretches of Canada?

Speaker 2 [00:00:22] I actually created a whole spreadsheet that mapped out all of the chargers along our route, the length of time between chargers, how long it would take us to get to each charger. And then I learned when we started actually driving off towards Sioux Saint Marie that Tesla actually has that automatically for you when you enter your destination. But yeah, infrastructure is still lacking. There’s a patchwork of chargers, so it’s expensive and it’s inconvenient. The cool thing about it was I met people along the way in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta who like all came up to our car and we’re like, Hey, so is that electric vehicle? Like, how are things? What’s the range like? And they were very interested in switching, but many of them are super anxious about unreliability of charging and battery performance compared to gas in the wintertime, even despite volatility in gas prices. So huge learning experience for me.

Speaker 1 [00:01:14] You’ve touched on a couple of incredibly important forces out there. One is consumer demand. How do we build demand for the technologies, be they electric vehicles or heat pumps for our homes that will allow businesses and innovators to scale, to sell to lots and lots of people so they can get the costs down? That’s one of the challenges of disruption. And the second point and these are interconnected, is infrastructure you can’t scale, usually without infrastructure or the internet was built on infrastructure, and it’s going to be the same with the net zero economy. It’s going to require new kinds of infrastructure, including electric vehicle charging networks across the country. And these are a couple of key points that we get at in our report. The two trillion dollar transition that people can find at RBC dot com or on our social channels. And in that report, we not only look at these new technologies, we try to come to grips with some of the consumer shifts that are underway, but kind of going slower than we really need to.

Speaker 2 [00:02:15] Consumers definitely have a part to play, and that’s part of the reason why James and me, we chose to drive an electric vehicle. But consumer involvement, that’s only part of the picture. You can’t rest the entire climate burden on individuals. Industrial energy users from mining to oil and gas pulp and paper, they are huge emitters of greenhouse gases. But the good news is that industry is moving toward a solution, and we’re going to talk about that later in the show.

Speaker 1 [00:02:41] Exactly. There is a lot of innovation happening right now in the energy sector, and that’s going to be critical if we’re going to meet our ambitious climate targets and hit net zero emissions by 2050 or even sooner. On the last episode, we talked about agriculture and its carbon footprint, but the reality is that Canada’s energy sector is the big hurdle. Canada has to clear as we move toward a net zero future. The sector is the single biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, and the stakes are especially high in Alberta as productive oil and gas patch, which accounts for 10 percent of our GDP and supports hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country. Energy producers are realizing that they have to step up to the carbon challenge or risk being left behind and the fate of their industry. Indeed, our planet may hang in the balance. This is Disrupters, an RBC podcast. I’m John Stackhouse

Speaker 2 [00:03:46] and I’m Trinh Theresa Do. Welcome to the climate conversations in this week’s installment of the Climate Conversations, our special multi-part series on disruptors. We talked to several influential players in the energy sector, each with a unique take on how Canada can meet its climate goals.

Speaker 1 [00:04:09] After the break, we’ll hear from one of the business innovators who has developed technology that takes carbon dioxide straight out of the air. We’ll also speak with a clean energy advocate who argues that our energy future will not be found in fossil fuels or even try to mitigate their impact. But first, my conversation with the CEO of one of Canada’s biggest oil and gas companies as it transitions to becoming a net zero producer. Though five years ago, I was in Fort McMurray and traveled around the oil sands and a few things really still stick in my mind. One is the enormity of it. It is vast, but it’s not just the geography, it is the human ingenuity. There’s an enormous amount of human ingenuity around Fort McMurray. In fact, the biggest engineering projects I’ve seen in this country. Technology that should inspire every Canadian. And there’s that enormous challenge of emissions as well, which are hard not to see when you’re traveling around Fort McMurray. The oil sands is roughly 10 percent of our emissions as a country. So when we talk about pathways to net zero, when we talk about Canada’s net zero challenge, we all know the road to net zero goes through oil and gas and it goes through the oil sands. But we also have to come to grips with the opportunity to harness that enormous ingenuity that has built the oilsands to what it is and to talk about that. I’m excited to welcome our next guest to disruptors. Mark Little is the CEO of Suncor Energy, a company that traces its roots back more than 100 years and which was the first to develop the Athabasca oil sands back in the late 1960s. And earlier this year, he pledged to make his company a net zero emitter by 2050 and to position Suncor as a sustainable energy company for Canada’s low carbon future. Mark, welcome to disruptors.

Speaker 3 [00:06:06] Thanks, John. It’s a pleasure to be here with you. I always like the opportunity to talk about this. It’s a big topic.

Speaker 1 [00:06:13] It’s a big topic and you’ve made some big commitments in it. And I want to step back more and get a sense of when you first realized you needed to make this kind of bold commitment. You’re a major oil producer and now you’ve declared you’re going to be a net zero company. When did you realize you needed to make that transition?

Speaker 3 [00:06:32] So my position and thinking on this evolved significantly over three decades. But one of the things that I’ve loved about Suncor and one of my great attractions to come to the company is that they were willing to engage with people that disagreed with them and to try and understand what is the element of truth that we need to deal with. And if there was a big problem or a challenge that we faced, then what are we going to do about it? Literally. For twenty five years, Suncor has been publishing reports on sustainability and climate. We’ve been investing in things like biofuels and wind farms for two decades. But it’s just really in the last several years where we’ve been trying to figure out, Wow, how would you get to net zero? What does it mean? What are the technologies? What approach would we take where we’ve really tried to wrestle with it? It took me a while to try and figure out is is there a hope to get to net zero? Can we see our path forward? And I sit here today, obviously having made the commitment. And you know, I actually have turned my thinking that this is an opportunity for our Canadian oil sands and for us as a company and for our country.

Speaker 1 [00:07:46] One of the things about the oil sands that many Canadians may not appreciate is how much energy is required to get energy out of the ground. It is an amazing feat that requires a lot of steam to get that bitumen out of the ground and to turn it into something that’s economic and usable and that that generates a lot of the emissions. And now you and others are figuring out ways to capture those emissions and keep them or put them back in the ground or keep them in the ground. You formed something called the oil sands pathways to Net Zero Alliance. This is five big companies Suncor, Canadian Natural Resources, Cenovus, Imperial Oil and Meg Energy, which I think account for 90 percent of total oilsands production in this alliance. What are you setting out to do?

Speaker 3 [00:08:33] We operate 90 percent of all of the facilities, and so there’s some other owners, but so this is a huge part of the industry. I think this collaboration, John, is literally unprecedented globally, certainly in our industry. But I think also in many industries associated with it and because we are a big emitter, you said we’re about 10 percent of Canada’s emissions associated with that. And so this really started as a conversation, not so much about how we would physically get there and how we could work together. A lot of this was like, OK, the last thing we need to do is all go out and define it differently and communicate at different and just cause absolute chaos and confusion when it be great. If we could at least get on the same page around how we talk about this. And then from that, we started realizing that, OK, wait a minute. So if you did this and we talked about this commitment, how would we get there? And we started talking about different technologies and different mechanisms that could apply across the whole industry. Then we started realizing, like some of their approaches, like carbon sequestration, we would be much stronger if we worked together and we could drive down the cost, which means that we can increase the value of oilsands to the country and to our companies and such. And so it ended up being a really exciting opportunity around, well, wait a minute, we could we could literally create an organization, a cooperation, a joint venture where we work on this together and we can go faster at a lower cost. And you kind of think, OK, this is a very good thing for all the all the various stakeholders. And that’s what eventually led to our announcement of pathways to net zero by 2050.

Speaker 1 [00:10:23] You mentioned carbon sequestration. Can you explain, especially for a layperson like me, what that what that means here? I guess grabbing carbon out of the air, doing something with it. But how does that work?

Speaker 3 [00:10:34] So we’re emitting 70 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year out of our facilities. And so we went through and looked at all sorts of different things, some of its fuel switching, some of its energy efficiencies and such. But about half the solution for oilsands is around carbon sequestration. Essentially, what we do is instead of amending it from the stacks into the atmosphere, we take the emissions and we separate out the CO2 from the other emissions and then we compress it all and inject it back into the ground. And so a lot of these emissions came from hydrocarbons that were in the ground and then we put the CO2 back into the ground, so it doesn’t have an impact. We think that this technology will be able to take something like 35 to 40 megatons. Of our emissions, and we’ll put them back in the ground, and Alberta is a fantastic world class location for putting this back into the ground because we’ve been producing oil out of that same underground reservoirs and stuff literally for decades and decades. And so there’s lots of space to be able to do this. And so not only do we have a great oilsands resource, but we also have a great place to put this CO2 into the ground. The challenge with this is not putting it in the ground, and it’s not necessarily transporting at the real challenges. How do you capture it from the facilities? And that’s where there’s a massive part of the focus on.

Speaker 1 [00:12:12] How do you think about the economics of this to make these very significant investments to capture carbon and put it back in the ground and still get oil to market at a competitive price?

Speaker 3 [00:12:23] Well, it’s one of the reasons that we see this as a collaboration with governments, as an industry. Over the next 30 years, we’re expecting to generate about three trillion dollars of gross domestic product for the country over that period of time. Of that, about 500 billion dollars goes to governments. So we’re generating 15, 16, 17 million dollars a year that are going to fund the provincial and federal governments in those sorts of things. The cost, we think, is about two and a half billion dollars a year, or it’s about somewhere in the neighborhood of seventy five billion dollars to be able to make this happen if the industry just went and did this ourselves. We’re not competitive. And the reason why is in Norway as an example, two thirds of the capital to actually physically build the project that’s coming directly from the government, and they’re also paying for two thirds of the operating costs for the first 10 years. So if in one particular case, they actually are getting government support and because they’re co-investing to achieve this and we’re not, we have to fund it 100 percent. We don’t we don’t make. In fact, I would say our margins are actually lower than what you would see in Norway as it is. And so if we don’t have a competitive model in Canada to be able to figure out how to put this together, you know, the industry won’t be competitive.

Speaker 1 [00:13:54] We’ve been talking largely about fossil fuels, and you’re changing Suncor. You’ve made significant investments in low emission energy sectors, biofuels, natural gas powered hydrogen, as you mentioned clean hydrogen. How do you see the energy mix, not just for Suncor, but for Canada evolving over the next the next decade or so?

Speaker 3 [00:14:16] I do think you’re seeing significant investment going in to some of the other alternative energy sources, which is very exciting. You’re seeing wind and solar getting implemented. We’re an investor, at least in wind, and we’re considering some solar investments associated with that. And so I think you’ll see us increasing the use of hydrogen. And so you’re going to see a lot of new energies put forward. But, you know, I really do believe if you look at any of the forecasts going forward out to 2050, no matter how aggressively people think oil demand is going down, they’re still depending on what forecast you look at somewhere between 20 and 80 million barrels of oil being used in 2050 versus the 100 million we’re using today. And it’s kind of like, OK, this doesn’t go away overnight. We use oil for asphalt and synthetics and clothing and plastics and medical supplies and food. It’s amazing all the things it’s used for.

Speaker 1 [00:15:17] What do you say to those folks who think we need to really stage down? I think was your expression by dial down our production and dial up other sources?

Speaker 3 [00:15:28] I think the path forward for us is to figure out how quickly do we get to net zero and we’re investing in hydrogen and we’re investing in wind farms and all of these types of things. But the world needs energy and it’s going to need more energy. And what you’ve seen is even with all of the money that’s been poured into wind and solar and all the various technologies, and it is accelerating, there’s no question it’s accelerating. And will oil demand go down? I fully believe oil demand will go down. Do I think it’s in the next year or two? No, I don’t. These two forces one force of population growth and people coming out of poverty and stuff is overtaking that. The drive on efficiency and fuel switching. And so what? It’s not really fuel switching. It’s actually supplementing. We’re just adding to the energy diversity, which is which, you know, I get the fact that we would have lower emissions faster if we just shut off all the energy, but then look at what’s happening in Britain and you kind of think we’re trying to find this balance.

Speaker 2 [00:16:33] One of the leaders who’s helping to find that balance is J.P. Gladu, a former CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, who also happens to serve on the Suncor board. For J.P., there’s a clear connection between indigenous led conservation efforts and economic reconciliation in Canada’s oil patch

Speaker 3 [00:16:52] for a long time. We’ve been shut out of the Canadian economy, and for a long time we had the fur trade which sustained our communities, and then our communities were told that the harvesting furs was not appropriate anymore. OK, well, we don’t want to live in poverty. We don’t want government handouts. So what’s next? Well, a lot of our communities are in the north, so we’ll look to the extraction sectors to generate revenue, to generate income, to generate an economy when we talk about economic reconciliation. It means that we’re generating wealth and we’re managing that wealth and we’re empowering our communities. We know that we can actually find a better balance between extraction and indigenous protected conservation areas and sustainable development and more trees, because our natural service ecosystems provide billions, trillions of dollars that we don’t even think about when it comes to clean air, clean water. You know, think of all the health impacts that occur if you don’t have a clean environment. But we also, as an indigenous community, are having these tough conversations around, well, we’re going to transition. It’s going to take time. There’s still so much poverty, not only in Canada but around the world, 700 million people in abject poverty because they don’t have access to energy. So oil and gas is going to be a part of our economy for years to come. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be putting time and effort and resources and research into actually improving that technology. So there’s a balance to be struck, and that balance is going to be we’re not going to find that balance without the indigenous voice. We need to be at the table every step of the way from any kind of development to any kind of protected area and developing economies around those protected areas.

Speaker 2 [00:18:35] So a lot of what JP was talking about is something that Mark Little shared in this interview with you, John.

Speaker 1 [00:18:40] That’s right. I asked Mark about his conversations with indigenous leaders, many of whom Suncor has partnered with in the oil sands. And he says there’s a similar urgency in securing a path to net zero, as there is with the. Slapping a new economic relationship with Canada’s First Nations. Here’s part of what he had to say.

Speaker 3 [00:18:58] It’s not like we started talking about indigenous reconciliation yesterday, and it wasn’t like we started talking about climate yesterday. And so the chance of us solving this by tomorrow is zero. And I actually felt like the context of, OK, we’ve been talking about this for a long time, but now these are real actions that are happening in the context of this is a path forward. We are making these investments. We are entering these joint ventures. These are real actions versus just talking about it. And I do think that people are getting frustrated about us talking about these issues literally for decades. And then we go, OK, well, nothing really changed. I think that’s a contrast. And if I actually felt like we were just talking about it but didn’t have real plans or weren’t taking real actions like that joint venture with Indigenous, it’s kind of like, OK, well then this is just all a bunch of gibberish. And people have said that to me. They’re going to go, OK, well, it sounds great, but like anybody can say that, and it’s true. Unfortunately, collectively, as a country, often we get caught in the platitudes and talk about it versus real action. And so people might not like the path, they might not like what we’re doing, but at least we’re doing, and our focus is making the future far stronger than it is today.

Speaker 1 [00:20:25] Coming up after the break, we talk to the leader of a BC based organization who believes that Canada’s energy future lies far beyond the oilsands. So stay right there.

Speaker 2 [00:20:38] You’re listening to Disruptors and RBC podcast. I’m Theresa Do, RBC Economics and Thought Leadership recently released a report called The Two Trillion Dollar Transition Canada’s Road to Net Zero. It explores the costs and benefits of Canada’s shift to a carbon neutral economy and how it can fuel a new generation of Canadian innovation, from carbon capture technology to sustainable agriculture to the full potential of super charging electric vehicles. We look at all the ways for Canada to take a leading role in the fight for climate action and the economic opportunities they create. To learn more. Check out the link in the show notes of this episode and visit our Net zero emission a lake and follow disruptors wherever you get your podcasts.

Speaker 1 [00:21:29] Welcome back. We just heard from Mark Little, the CEO of Suncor on one of Canada’s top energy producers, is doing to help Canada across the finish line in the race to net zero and how indigenous leaders like JP Gladu will be watching to make sure that Canada’s First Nations have a seat at the decision making table. But a lot of the innovation happening in the energy sector right now is on the bleeding edge of technology. Take Carbon Engineering, which is based in Squamish, B.C., whose direct air capture machines are giant fans combined with a complex chemical process suck CO2 from the atmosphere. It might sound like it’s straight out of a science fiction novel, but carbon engineering has some big financial backers, including Bill Gates, Chevron and BHP. We talked recently to its CEO, Steve Oldham, on how his technology works and whether it’s a viable solution to the energy sector as emissions challenge.

Speaker 4 [00:22:23] Fundamentally, when you think about a climate problem, we have a situation where every year we add more and more and more CO2 into the air. We have 150 years of excess CO2 already in the atmosphere to solve that problem. We have to stop every single emission on the planet quickly and at an affordable cost. That’s extremely challenging to do so. Our simple proposition is if you can’t stop every emission on the planet, the other way to solve the problem is to remove emissions once they’ve occurred. When trying to get to zero one plus minus one is also zero. CO2 in the atmosphere is 400 parts per million. That’s not very much. It’s one drop event in the Olympic swimming pool that gives you a sense of how difficult it is to remove. The challenge for us was how do you do that at very large scale, at a reasonable cost? So we use PVC filters and we drip a chemical across the PVC filter and then we suck air across that mix using a fan. We do that in a very similar piece of equipment to the air conditioning in your house. It’s the same fundamental principle of cooling the air, except we pull the air across a chemical. The chemical reacts with the CO2 in the air and strips the majority of that CO2 out. We then have three more steps in the process which pull out the CO2 completely and regenerate the chemicals that we use to capture the CO2. So think of that part as being like a sponge, but you can use to mop up over and over and over again as we talk about the energy transition. We’re going to have an ongoing need for energy. We have to be conscious of the fact that many economies, many people, many companies are built upon the existing energy business director. Capture done in those locations offers an alternative industry using exactly the same skills, exactly the same locations. And just reversing the process, putting carbon back in its place.

Speaker 2 [00:24:29] That is fascinating stuff. And as technologies such as carbon capture have grabbed the attention of many in the oil and gas patch, as well as Bill Gates. Others argue that now is the time to make bold investments in renewable energy and leave fossil fuels behind. Our next guest has spent decades fighting for a new economic model, one that embraces public policies and private actions that not only promote environmental sustainability but also spur economic innovation. As the former program director for Forest Ethics, Marian Smith allowed the campaign to protect Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest, which culminated in 2006 in one of North America’s largest conservation agreements. She did it by uniting a diverse coalition of stakeholders in the negotiations, including First Nations, corporations, government and environmentalists. Two years later, she founded Clean Energy Canada, a climate and clean energy think tank within the Maurice Jaworski Center for dialog at Simon Fraser University. Its aim is to accelerate Canada’s transition to renewable energy sources and clean technology. Marin is a much sought after adviser to leaders across Canada and currently serves as co-chair of the B.C. government’s Climate Solutions Council. Marin, welcome to disrupters. Great to be here. Thank you. You made your name as an environmentalist working for the Sierra Club and Forest Ethics before founding Clean Energy Canada in 2008. But you’ve also said that clean energy isn’t just about fighting climate change, it’s also about using Canadian innovation to create better and cheaper solutions for everyday life. Why is the economic argument about renewables? The pocketbook approach so important?

Speaker 5 [00:26:15] Canadians are experiencing climate change. We all understand the urgency, but we’ve seen the floods, the fires, heat waves. But what we need is an energy transition, and the energy transition is really about economic benefits. It’s about gain, not pain, which was the narrative of the past. But currently we have technologies that are ready for prime time, things like electric vehicles, and we’re seeing the uptake of businesses building batteries for those electric vehicles, green and clean hydrogen coming on board. So we released a report earlier this year that looked at the jobs in Canada’s clean energy sector and how they would grow if Canada follows through on its commitments for the healthy environment, healthy economy, climate plan that we have right now. That sector is set to grow 50 percent by 2030. The number of new jobs will far exceed jobs that will be lost in our fossil fuel sector. So we’re looking at gaining 280000 new jobs in the clean energy sector. Yes, we will be losing jobs in the fossil fuel sector. It suggests about one hundred and twenty five thousand would be lost. But many of those will transition to these new jobs, and we’re set to have 80000 roughly more jobs as we transition to clean energy here in Canada.

Speaker 2 [00:27:35] I’d like to pull on the jobs threat that you had mentioned earlier. As you said, our clean energy sector currently employs a little under 500000 people, and by 2030, that number is going to grow by 50 percent to just over 600000 people. Can you elaborate on where and what exactly are those jobs or types of jobs? Are they?

Speaker 5 [00:27:56] One thing to note is that jobs in the renewable energy sector, like those in the oil and gas sector, they tend to pay better than the median. There are studies that have been done both in Canada and the US that show that clean energy workers earn more than your average worker. They’re good paying jobs. We found in Canada, they’re going to be across the country, they’re going to be rural and urban. There’s blue collar jobs, there’s white collar jobs, so lots of opportunity and potential for transition. I’d say some of the areas that we see for jobs there is going to be potential for existing workers in the oil and gas sector. Their skills will be directly transferable to renewable energy, things like geothermal, and there’s opportunities in hydrogen production and others for the oil and gas worker skills to transfer. But I would say it’s key that while we make this transition, that we also need to provide support for Canada’s oil and gas workforce really to go through retraining and to move into industry. And my focus, my framing is we want to be moving people into industries that are going to be growing in this net zero world.

Speaker 2 [00:29:14] Part of the challenge in transitioning to a clean energy economy, as you know, is infrastructure. You had mentioned electric vehicles earlier. So the transition to widespread adoption of EVs requires a nationwide network of quick charging stations. And to make it a viable option for most people, so along those lines, what else should we be doing? Do we need to be doing to lay that groundwork for a broad based clean energy economy? So the good

Speaker 5 [00:29:38] news is that Canada’s got an eighty three percent emission free grid zero emission grid right now. You know, we have the cleanest grid in the G20, and we have lots of potential to produce more clean renewable energy in Canada. So that’s great because that’s step one. We’re going to need to double or potentially even triple the amount of clean electricity that we produce in order to then use it to, as you just mentioned, to plug into cars and trucks to reduce the emissions from our transportation sector, to plug in to industry where that’s possible and to plug in to heating and cooling buildings and homes. So there’s a huge infrastructure piece of it. You know, I’ve got to say this is not rocket science. What we need is a one collaboration between all levels of government and province and cities with the utilities and with industry to map out that clear pathway, including the infrastructure, which will be around things like EV charging, hydrogen infrastructure for that and for hydrogen fueling electric grids, et cetera. We can look at two other countries, you know, Denmark, South Australia, there’s other nations and some nationals who are ahead of us on this, and we can look to them about how to align all these pieces. Once we do that and prove that we are committed to this, that there is a vision of where we’re going and there’s clear pathways that’s going to provide the clarity for investors to come in and help fund the right activities at the right time

Speaker 2 [00:31:14] while we’re casting our eyes outward into the world. You know, this fall there has been a global energy crunch. Demand for oil has been boosted by 500000 barrels a day, according to the IEA, and coal demand is set to exceed 2019 levels this year and rise through 2025 as global economies, especially in the global south, come back to life post-pandemic. What are the limitations of clean energy to meet the needs of a growing economy and a growing global population?

Speaker 5 [00:31:44] Well, I guess I want to make it clear that there’s a tendency for people to look to the energy shocks that are happening right now and for people to be quick to blame for renewables as the problem, as the reason why there’s been this energy crisis in Europe, for example. And it just isn’t true. If you look at places like South Australia, they demonstrate how renewables not only can make grids cheaper, but they can make them more reliable. And if we look at some of the energy shocks going on right now, fossil fuel prices are spiking, but that is not an indicator that therefore we can’t afford renewables. Like, are you kidding me? The new renewables are cheaper and they’re cheapest than the cheapest fossil fuel projects. They’re precisely how we get away from these volatile fossil fuel price jumps. You know, I’m not suggesting that there’s not going to be some hiccups on the way to this massive energy transition and the infrastructure transition that’s needed. But let’s be clear about what the problems really are and be clear about the opportunities of very cheap, clean renewable electricity and the opportunities that it provides.

Speaker 2 [00:33:04] Merran, as we start to wrap up this conversation, you were part of a delegation which included Prime Minister Trudeau that went to COP21 in 2015, where the Paris Agreement was born. By the time we released this podcast, COP26 in Glasgow will have just concluded. What is your hope coming out of this very important climate conference?

Speaker 5 [00:33:26] I hope that we come out of COP26 talking about the opportunities, talking about the gain that we can make, not the pain. The second thing is is I want to be hearing about actions. We already have many of the solutions that we need to get to net zero. I’m hoping our leaders are really going to realize that climate action is going to be the engine of wealth creation over the next decades. And because of that, they are going to commit to move forward quickly, urgently with these solutions, these solutions that are ready today.

Speaker 1 [00:34:05] Theresa, that was a fascinating conversation, and as I listened to it, I kept thinking about the word balance. How do we ensure that the supply of energy and demand don’t get out of balance? How do we ensure that the needs of different parts of the country, even of different people in our own communities, don’t fall too far out of balance? Because that leads to social, economic and other disruptions that are not going to be healthy and may even undermine the transition that so many people want. We’ll hear a lot more about that in our next episode on cities and how we can energize them in the decades ahead.

Speaker 2 [00:34:42] Yeah, John, over 80 percent of us live and work in cities now, and all that activity comes with a massive carbon footprint. But as we discover next time, some smart planning combined with innovative technology might just help us to tread a little lighter. Until then, I’m Theresa Do.

Speaker 1 [00:35:00] and I’m John Stackhouse. This is Disruptors, an RBC podcast. Talk to you soon.

Speaker 5 [00:35:12] Disruptors, an RBC podcast is created by the RBC Thought Leadership Group and does not constitute a recommendation for any organization, product or service. It’s produced and recorded by Jar Audio. For more Disruptors content, like or subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and visit

Jennifer Marron produces "Disruptors, an RBC podcast". Prior to joining RBC, Jennifer spent five years as Community Manager at MaRS Discovery District and cultivated a large network of industry leaders, entrepreneurs and partners to support the Canadian startup ecosystem. Her writing has appeared in The National Post, Financial Post, Techvibes, IT Business, CWTA Magazine and Procter & Gamble’s magazine, Rouge. Follow her on Twitter @J_Marron.

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