TSPN Just the Facts: NRCan Green Energy Infrastructure

On Thursday May 6th, 2021 at 6pm, the Toronto Science Policy Network (TSPN) hosted a panel of experts to discuss the Natural Resources Canada’s (NRCan) Green Infrastructure program and Canada’s future in Clean Energy. The panel was moderated by Aisha Bukhari, the Senior Manager at the Advanced Energy Centre at MaRS and Vice-President of the nonprofit Women in Renewable Energy (WiRE). Our panelists included:

  • Dr. Eric Bibeau, — a professor at the Mechanical Engineering Department of the University of Manitoba. Also known as Mr. Renewable, he is an expert in biomass combined heat and power (CHP) systems, hydrokinetic turbines, wind icing and how to better use solar energy for buildings.
  • Cynthia Handler, the Director of Energy Science and Technology within the Office of Energy Research and Development at NRCan. Cynthia has over 20 years of experience in energy innovation mainly focused on renewable energy, first with CanmetENERGY and then with the Office of Energy Research and Development.
  • Dr. Carter Li, CEO of SWTCH brought our panel an industry perspective. SWTCH is an electric vehicle (EV) charging and energy management company focused on addressing the unique challenges of deploying EV charging infrastructure in high-density urban settings.

Bukhari started the discussion by describing her role in the Generation Energy Council in 2018. This Council provided recommendations to the Minister of Natural Resources on how Canada can transition into an affordable low carbon economy. Handler goes on to describe the four major pillars of NRCan’s green energy infrastructure program.

Our panelists, Bibeau and Li , lead two such NRCan funded projects. Eric’s work focuses on how our renewable energy ratio can be increased by tapping into renewable resources like hydrokinetics. SWTCH is a vehicle charging company developing technology to accelerate the decarbonization of transportation. SWTCH’s NRCan projects have focused on enabling mass adoption of electric vehicles for a renewable power grid.

How has NRCan programming incorporated equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) principles? Handler describes that NRCan has brought in indigenous decision makers into the program selection. In some cases, communities don’t have the capacity for a demonstration project.To support these efforts NRCan has introduced the Impact Challenge program which helps build capacity within the community. She also mentions the Women in Cleantech challenge for women leading technology development in the Clean Energy sector and Breakthrough Energy Solutions Canada which provides targeted assistance to small businesses.

As a final question, Bukhari asks the panelists what challenges they foresee in future green infrastructure programs. Eric notes that there are many challenges in terms of green energy infrastructure in Canada. One example is encouraging people to shift to utilizing more renewable sources of energy such as adding solar panels to homes to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. He describes the importance of “THE RED CUP”, an abbreviation which describes the nine most important facets of green energy infrastructure. “THE” stands for our energy needs: Transportation, Heating/cooling, and Electricity. RED stands for the levers we have to act on these energies, through: adding Renewable resources, increasing Efficiency, and reducing Demand. Finally, CUP summarizes how we shape energy related policies with attention to Community, Utility, and People.

Li flags that finding capital will be a big challenge in green infrastructure. “Green tech” is popular right now and many different corporations are investing in these projects. However, the outcome of these projects may take years to develop, and funding may disappear before projects are completed.

A recording of the panel can be viewed on our YouTube channel and at the end of the article. TSPN would like to thank our panelists for sharing their expertise and insights. We would also like to thank our sponsor for this event, the Centralized Process For Student Initiative Funding from the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering at University of Toronto. Lastly, thank you to everyone who attended and participated in the event!

TSPN is a student science policy group at the University of Toronto, where students & researchers can learn more about and engage in science policy.