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Your Answers to The Big Questions

Last week, we posed thirteen ‘Big Questions’ relating to the future of sustainable energy in Canada and the world. And boy, did you respond!

The questions were big because while they are critical to our future, none of us know the ultimate answers. They were an attempt to read our collective mind: what are we thinking about these critical matters?

250 of you took the time to respond, and many shared your thoughts about each question. So without further ado, here’s what we are thinking.


1. What do you think will be the future renewable energy solution for long-distance trucking?

There was an even split for first choice between ‘Electric, assuming a major advance in electric batteries and battery range’ (34.5%); and ‘None of the above. Far less trade, local manufacturing’ (33.5%). When the full ranking is considered (the equivalent of transferable voting), electric comes out top, followed by hydrogen, biofuel, and then ‘far less travel’, with ‘overland or underwater electromagnetic or Maglev tubes’ a distant last.

Among the ideas suggested under ‘other’ are more rail freight, electrified railways, dirigibles for remote communities, and synthesized fuel using excess energy from renewables.


2.     What do you think will be the future renewable energy solution for marine shipping?

The runaway winner here with 47% of your first place choices is ‘Super-efficient ships powered by a mix of biofuel, hydrogen, wind and solar PV with superbatteries’, followed by 32% for ‘None of the above. Far less trade, local manufacturing’. Taken overall, super-efficient ships have a good lead, with biofuel, hydrogen and ‘far less trade’ sharing an almost equal second place.

When you scratch your heads to add other comments there is lots of support for sailing boats, along with mentions for thorium nuclear-powered ships, and renewable carbon fuels such as methanex, which the Swedish Stena shipping line is adopting.

Several people suggest liquefied natural gas, turning a blind eye to the fact that it is a non-renewable fossil fuel, while one adventurous imagineer suggests ‘low altitude (skimming) ships-cum-dirigibles with hydrofoils’. Someone else makes the sage comment that the ranking of options will change over time.


3.     What do you think will be the future renewable energy solution for aviation?

When it comes to the future of flying, 40% of you put “None of the above - far less flying” in first place, followed by sustainably harvested biofuel (27%), super-efficient solar electric planes (19.5%) and hydrogen (13.5%). With the full rankings, all four options come out about equal. “Far less flying” also wins the context for last place, with 40% of you scorning the possibility.

In the “other” category you showed all sorts of technological creativity, including renewable carbon fuels, giant wind-surfing planes to hydrogen-inflated solar-powered dirigibles (blimps), LNG aircraft and even carbon-fiber space-elevators. One brave soul even suggested crash-proof thorium nuclear planes, I hope with tongue in cheek—maybe Google pilotless planes to make them even more crash-proof?

What the transportation fuel questions seem to show is that around three-quarters of us hope that a technological solution is possible, a quarter believe that less travel, less trade and simpler living are the way to go.


4.  How soon do you think we’ll see a choice of electric cars on the market in Canada with 300 km range that are comparable in price to conventional cars?

Your answers here are very clear, with 48% thinking 2020 and 32% thinking 2025. After that it drops off steeply, with only 6% thinking 2030 and less than 2% thinking 2035 or 2040. 13% voted “other”, which may be code for “I don’t know”, since we didn’t provide space to offer further thoughts.


5.     What do you think most likely to persuade single-family homeowners to undertake an energy efficiency and renewable heat retrofit?

This is a very intractable problem, so it is interesting to see a marked preference for direct financial incentives: 31% of you put a 100% tax credit in first place, followed by 25% wanting the restoration of federal and provincial incentives, and 21% thinking that an increased carbon tax might do the job.

Pay-As-You-Save ranked much lower (12% put it in first place), while only 6% put “persuasive neighbours” in first place and 5% thought that ‘a persuasive non-profit’ would do it. Taken overall, with the rankings, the restoration of incentives comes out top, followed closely by a 100% tax credit.

In the “other” category, you provide lots of thought including support for stronger building codes, tax exemption on related products, reverse mortgage loans, community-based marketing, finding a way to not penalize people from switching from gas to heat pumps since electricity use increases to Tier 2 pricing, regulation requiring retrofit before sale, more leadership examples and one-stop shopping, and for “a non-profit or for-profit that implements and finances measures and recovers its costs from the savings. In Europe there are firms that manage customers' electrical loads on that basis.”


6. In a city such as Vancouver, where District Heat Systems is a central part of the city’s future plans, what do you think will be the main source of renewable heat?

Ah—the district heat question. Your answers here display the greatest spread, and the greatest admission that this is a complex topic on which you need more information. Ground-source heat is the most popular first-place ranking, with 29% support, followed by biomass (18%) and sewer-heat (15%). If there was a summary, it would be “all of the above.” Year-round stored solar district heat picks up 10% of your first place choices and 49% of your last-place choices, yet 30% of you rank it among your top 3 choices.

Among your “other” comments many say versions of “Honestly, how would I know? These questions require real technical expertise to give meaningful answers”. Three people express support for garbage incineration, and two clearly knowledgeable people comment “District heating will not be necessary or competitive in case of Net Zero Energy Buildings, local small capacity systems will be sufficient” and “District Energy Systems only make sense if they utilize free waste heat. Building level heating systems are far more efficient and do not have distribution losses. I don't believe there is enough waste heat available when it is needed. A better solution is conservation (e.g. Passive House levels of insulation).”


7. Which of these developments do you think will have the greatest impact on BC’s future electricity supply?

A clear victory here for the falling price of solar PV, which 45% of you think will have the greatest impact, followed by melting glaciers and snowpack (25%). When the total rankings are considered, the falling price of wind power gathers strong support, coming in equal second with the falling price of electrical storage, pushing the melting glaciers falls into fourth, with weak support for a breakthrough in geothermal energy financing—though 6% of you think this likely to have the greatest impact.

There is lots of food for thought in your “other” comments, including the development of net zero energy buildings, serious conservation and efficiency efforts with subsidies and penalties, true-cost accounting and no more BC Hydro fudging on the deferral of rates, reforming the Geothermal Act, giving the BCUC the ability to act with teeth, the thought that “a 100% renewable energy mandate might help make this real to planners”, and “BCSEA and other ENGOs moving from techno-fix solutions to more sophisticated policy analysis.” I’m glad to see the encouragement in this last one, although the BCSEA does do some pretty sophisticated policy analysis. Someone also expresses the thought that a different premier might have the greatest impact.


8.     What price on carbon do you think is needed to tackle the climate crisis?

No beating about the bush here. The low prices ($30 to $75 a tonne) have very weak support, while the higher prices are the outright winners: 27% of you believe $150 is needed, and 26% think $100.


9.     What price on carbon do you think is politically possible in BC to tackle the climate crisis?

When political realism kicks in, it’s $50 a tonne that wins the most support, with 27% of your support, followed by $30 (18%) (the current level of carbon tax in BC) and $75 (16%).


10.     Which method of putting a price on carbon do you prefer?

The clear winner here for first place is “a straight carbon tax, with the revenues being invested in climate solutions” gaining 44% of your support. A revenue-neutral tax (as we have in BC) comes in second with 32% support, followed by cap-and-trade (15%) and the carbon fee-and-dividend winning only 9% of the first places. When the total ranking is included, a carbon tax that’s either revenue neutral or with revenues going to climate solutions share top spot, followed rather weakly by fee-and-dividend and cap-and-trade.

Clearly, you have things to say under “other”, with eight people (4%) opposing any kind of carbon tax, but the rest of you putting your thinking caps on and engaging in the discussion.  For instance, “My first choice would be a carbon tax which is a combination of the options in which some of the tax was used for climate solutions and at least 50% rebated. An annual cheque is an excellent idea, ” and “A combination of rebate for low income households (~30%) and straight carbon tax for investment in RE (70%),” and “I only agree with a straight tax, invested in climate solutions or alternative energy; what is the point of giving the money back to the people - that accomplishes nothing.”


11.     If there were supportive governments in Ottawa and in the Provinces, by when do you think Canada could realistically achieve a transition to 100% renewable energy?

It’s a big “if”, of course, but that said, 30% of you believe it could be done by 2030, 25% by 2040 and 26% by 2050. Overall, this tells me that we are a very positive, determined crowd; only 7% think it will take as long as 2060.


12.  Why do you think we are not seeing faster progress towards meaningful climate action in Canada?

The two big winners here for first place are the absence of proportional voting (39%) and the absence of a positive attractive vision showing how Canada could flourish with a mostly 100% renewable energy economy (30%).

When the full rankings are considered, the public perception that climate action threatens jobs and the economy scored equal second with the absence of a strong vision, followed by the impact of the climate deniers. Only 4% of you think the problem is insufficient climate activism.

Under ‘other’ you have lots to say, ranging from direct blame on the current federal government to the stranglehold that the resource extraction industries have on our elected representatives, and their heavy lobbying. You mention a global economic system that is dependent on perpetual growth to stave off collapse, along with cowardice, lack of imagination and commitment to vested interests among political leaders, apathy among the general public, and the lack of a profile of best practices from jurisdictions to create an ideal model policy suite.

And “for sure, the absence of a vision of how Canada can flourish is a very big factor. If a plan was in place that had the foresight and detail to show how we can all prosper while making actual change, it would sway many into action if the lobbyists were defrocked of power.’ Yea to that!


13. Which of these possible future developments might make the greatest contribution to reducing our carbon footprint?

The final question was more about wildcards—and only 2 people think 3-D printing is going to make any waves. The two big winners for first choice are a global carbon tax that includes all exports (37%) and ‘clear evidence that an economy based on 100% renewable energy will support a flourishing economy with plenty of jobs’ (30%). Everything else is way back, led by the sharing economy with 15% of your first choices.

When you add your ‘other’ comments, one of you comments, ‘Mostly inconsequential. The legislative policies of the federal and provincial governments must influence businesses and residences equally. That will reduce our carbon footprint most. All of these are stagnant because the laws are lenient, thus efforts are lenient.”

Someone else says, “#1 is trusted leadership making the case that addressing the climate threat is a moral imperative,” which makes so much sense it should have been on the list.

And to wrap this up, we have the ultimate permavision: “A complete change of the growth based capitalist economic system. Universal free access to contraception globally. A complete change to permaculture vs industrial agriculture. A complete change to a local based economy.”



So there you have it. What impresses me most is how engaged people are in the challenge, because certainly, it’s a big one.

My personal belief is that the power of our vision needs to be ten times stronger than the power of our fears, and that the more we are able to develop an exciting, coherent vision of a future without fossil fuels, using 100% renewable energy for most purposes, and to show how many jobs it generates, the more people will feel comfortable about moving into that future.

This is my last posting wearing my BCSEA hat, so it’s also another opportunity for me to state my gratitude to the whole BCSEA team, members and supporters. We’re involved in a massive challenge, and we need all the positive determination, skill and knowledge we can muster.

Let me close with the words of an incredible woman, Harriet Tubman, who did so much for humanity, after being born a slave:

Every great dream begins with a dreamer.

Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience,

and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.