ALBERTA’S ENERGY STORY
SCRIPT - To be accompanied by Alberta’s Energy Story keynote presentation March 2015
Wind (image) Are you ready to be blown away? Let’s start this part of the
story by exploring wind energy. (image) Alberta’s got some pretty windy areas, especially in the southern part of the province. (image) We use wind turbines to capture the kinetic energy from moving air, which is converted into electrical energy some 80 meters above the ground. (image) You may have seen a wind farm near Pincher Creek or even
Drumheller. (image) And if you’ve been up close to a wind turbine, you’ll understand why people talk about their size. Wind is a renewable resource. As long as the wind is blowing, we can harness the energy from it. (image) It’s also considered clean and green because wind requires a small land footprint, does not use water and emits no greenhouse gases. (image) More wind farms are being built all the time in Alberta and in
different parts of the province. In fact, it’s the fastest growing renewable energy resource and we’ve just turned on one of Canada’s largest wind farms in Halkirk. (image) But many of these remote sites require the construction of new transmission lines so the turbines can be connected to the grid. (image) There have also been concerns raised around their impact on bird and bat populations. Wildlife studies will help us learn more. Currently almost 8% of the electricity generated in the province can be made from wind. (image) That’s enough to power 600,000 homes!
Oil This is a chapter of Alberta’s energy story that has a lot of history. (Image) 200 million years ago Alberta was covered by a vast swampland that was home to the plants and microorganisms that are the origins of our fossil fuels. It was the in the late 1800’s (image) that Alberta first became a significant player and oil exploration began everywhere in Alberta from Waterton and Fort McMurray. But oil isn’t found in big pools underneath the earth.(image) You can’t put on scuba suit and dive in. Oil is found in the tiny spaces between sand, silt and shale, (image) kind of like how water fills the spaces in a sponge. (image) Our oil deposits come in many forms from conventional crude to heavy oil to the oil sands. And that’s why the process for the development and production of oil depends on (image) the geology of the area, (image) the type of oil, (image) how deep the deposit is and (image) the technology the company is using. If you’ve turned on the news it might seem like nobody can agree on anything when it comes to oil production. It is a complex subject with so many perspectives and considerations. (image) When we look around this room we can link almost every item back to petroleum (image) - there are over 4000 different petroleum products! We all used fuel to get here and we understand that it is a part of our society and economy. There are also big issues to discuss in Alberta when it comes to the environment, from (image) land disturbance, (image) water use, (image) threatened species (image), how First Nations are being affected, to climate change. Good thing that we invited the experts in our next session to give us their insights on these topics!
Oil Sands Oil sands deserve a chapter all to itself in Alberta’s energy story. There’s a lot going on and not just in Fort McMurray. (image) There are actually 3 main oil sands regions in the province - Cold Lake, Athabasca and Peace River. Oil sands are a little different than other oil deposits because they are literally (image) grains of sand covered by a thin layer of water and then a layer of bitumen. So if we wanted to be scientifically correct we’d actually call them bituminous sands or just bitumen. (image) Bitumen is really thick and sticky, like molasses, so companies need some way to separate the oil from the sand and get it to flow more easily. (image) Technology is continually improving and evolving but essentially it all works the same - use heat and water to change the viscosity (image) and allow bitumen to flow off the grain of sand. Separating bitumen from the sand is just part of the process, we also have to get the bitumen out of the ground. This process can be really different depending on the depth of the deposit and even between companies. (image) Like the difference between mining and SAGD. When the oil is close to the surface they can (image) mine the oil sands from the surface and separate the bitumen from the sand in the upgraders. We’ve all seen pictures of this process that results in land disturbance and tailings ponds. But (image) only 20% of our oil sands could potentially be extracted this way, most of the oil sand deposits in Alberta are too deep to mine so we use in-situ, or inplace, methods that involve separating the bitumen and the sand underground and then pumping the bitumen to the surface. (image) There are a few different in-situ technologies but the most common is called SAGD - steam assisted gravity drainage. Two pipes are drilled underground, the top one injects steam to allow the bitumen to flow off the sand and the other collects the bitumen and pumps it to the surface. Because the condensed water also comes up with the bitumen a SAGD facility is mostly a big water treatment plant that cleans, heats and recycles water. Whether you’re talking about mining or in-situ oil sands production is controversial. (image) It becomes a balance between the wants and needs of our economy, environment and society.
Hydro Alberta is rich in water resources. (Image) Just look outside. We can see the snow melting off the mountains. We’re actually sitting in a special place, at the headwaters of the Bow River. (Image) Can you believe that the water from that snow will travel across the country and eventually end up in the Hudson Bay? Along the river’s path, the energy can be captured from the moving water. And by building a dam, we can control the flow. (Image) Ummm… Sort of like a beaver dam only larger and concrete. (Image) This structure blocks the flow of water and creates a lake or reservoir on one side giving us a ready to use energy source. Hydroelectricity is good at meeting our immediate demand for power. (Image) When electricity is required, we open the intake and allow the water to flow downward and past a spinny thingy, yes a turbine, which let’s us generate electricity. Building a dam changes the natural flow of the river. (Image) The area that used to be land is now underwater. And the river downstream has changed too. Sensitive riparian habitat areas (Image) around the river have been altered and most organisms living there are not able to adapt. As you can imagine, fish migration routes have also been impacted. (Image) To assist fish from moving from one side of the dam to the other, fish ladders have been built at many dams. Today about (Image) 7% of Alberta’s electricity can be made from hydro. And water is part of the renewable energy story because it’s not being consumed as we harness the power from it.
Coal Coal is another fossil fuel that is heavily utilized here in Alberta. (image) It’s the primary natural resource used to generate electricity. Coal fired power plants make up 43% of our installed capacity. Coal provides the base load for our electricity grid and it is because of this easily accessible and relatively cheap fuel source that we designed our existing power grid the way we did. After it is mined out of the ground, (image) coal is burned releasing the stored energy as heat, the heat is used to boil water turning it into steam and the steam turns a turbine, the turbine activates a generator containing an electromagnet which creates the electrical energy. Actually the generation of electricity works the same no matter which fuel source we are using, it’s all about turbines and generators and the conversion of energy. It’s a system we’ve been using all over the globe for hundreds of years and we have enough coal reserves (image) here in Alberta to continue production for a hundred more. But the question is should we? Alberta coal has relatively low sulfur content and technology is improving, but we know burning coal produces greenhouse gases (image), like CO2, and other air pollutants including oxides and heavy metals. There are also concerns about land disturbance from mining and the amount of water used in the process. The amount of coal we use IS decreasing but we still do use a lot of it because contains lots of energy (image) - 2x times that of other fossil fuels and we have the infrastructure for production already in place.
Biomass Biomass, huh? (Image) Energy from the sun is stored in things that were once living, including wood, crops, manure and even garbage. Biomass sources are renewable and reliable. (image) Between the trees in the Boreal forest and farms in the grasslands, there seems to be a steady supply of biomass fuels in Alberta.
(image) Wood has a long history as an energy fuel source for cooking and heating. To make electricity, (Image) we can burn wood wastes to make steam, which again spins a turbine and actives a generator. (image) The wood we use is mostly leftover from making lumber and other forest products. Burning a fuel means CO2 emissions are a consideration. (image) However, trees are thought to be carbon neutral because they store CO2 while they’re growing. Did you also hear me mention manure? Yup! (Image) We’ve got a few of these guys in Alberta. And, no we don’t burn manure. But (image) through an anaerobic digestion process the manure does create a biogas, which can be used as a fuel source. Good thing bacteria are not picky eaters.
(image) We can also use living things to make transportation fuels like ethanol and biodiesel to run our vehicles. (Image) Next time you fill up the pump notice what combination of ethanol is added to your gasoline. And do you want to hear something really cool? At the Edmonton Waste Management Centre, (Image) biofuels are actually being made from our garbage! Biomass, it’s a little disgusting but it’s also pretty sweet that we can make electricity from materials that would otherwise be considered waste.
Natural Gas Did you know that the average Alberta household uses 130 gigajoules of energy per year, mostly for electricity and heat? (image) With 1.4 million households in this province, that’s a lot of energy! We’ve already talked about lots of this energy coming from coal which provides a base load for our daily electricity needs, but more and more of this energy is coming from natural gas which we use for both (image) electricity AND (image) heating. The majority of our homes have furnaces that burn natural gas to create heat; (image) which is a good thing given our long cold winters. (except this year…) The use of natural gas for electricity is steadily increasing in the province too, giving us a cleaner burning fossil fuel option in our power plants. But use in homes isn’t the biggest consumer of natural gas. (image) 84% of the natural gas we produce is consumed by industries such oil sands (remember SAGD...), forestry and manufacturing. Alberta is by far the biggest producer of natural gas and although we consume about half of it here,(image) the rest is sent through pipelines across the country and exported to the U.S. Just like other (image) fossil fuels, natural gas production varies depending on the makeup of the resource itself and where it’s found. You may have heard about (image) coal bed methane or shale gas which both describe the geological formation that contains the gas. And you’ve likely heard the term (image) hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” which is the process for releasing natural gas that is trapped in very tight rock formations. Hydraulic fracturing involves injecting a mixture of water (the ‘hydraulic’ part), sand and chemicals very deep underground into the rock formation and literally cracking the rock. Doing this allows for the oil or gas to be freed from the tight rock pores and brought to the surface. Although this process has been used for over 70 years there are some very real concerns about water use, potential for groundwater contamination and ground stability. For methane (image), the simplest hydrocarbon, natural gas can sure be complex!
Solar (image) How many of you use solar energy in your homes? Okay, how
many of you have one of these (Image) in your home that let in light and heat? So... how many of you use solar energy? When you think solar power you might imagine (Image) these photovoltaic cells that convert radiant energy into electricity. And yes, this is part of the story. (Image) When photons of light strike silicon solar panels, the electrons start to move around which creates an electrical current. And we use this electricity to power all kinds of devices. You may have seen solar cells (Image) on calculators, phone chargers and even vehicles. Yup, using solar energy for things that move around makes a lot of sense because you can generate electricity wherever you need it! (Image) Even remote places like Mars. The sun is a renewable resource. As long as its shining, you can keep on using it. (Image) And… the energy itself is free and powerful! It’s amazing to think that in one day the sun radiates more energy than the entire world uses in one year. So you might be wondering why we don’t see more solar panels? Even though it’s getting cheaper and more efficient, a solar system is (Image) pretty expensive. It’s a long term investment but the rates of return on this investment are coming down – and fast!. The electricity is also tricky to store. (Image) We need large battery banks to hold electricity for cloudy days and during the night. Innovation is helping here and new types of batteries are allowing easier storage which helps all types of renewable power generation. In Alberta we use solar on a small scale but there is also an exciting new solar project underway near Medicine Hat. (Image) The installation concentrates the sun’s energy to heat a liquid which creates steam to power a turbine and make electricity- it’s called solar thermal and many people are starting to use this type of power generation. Pretty exciting stuff!
Other: Geothermal/Nuclear There are other sources that we haven’t explored and I’m sure many more that the bright young minds in this room will (image) discover and create. The two that come to mind aren’t new, but we currently don’t have any large scale industrial facilities in Alberta despite them being used elsewhere in the world. Can you guess what they are?...(image) Geothermal and (Image) Nuclear.
(Image) Geothermal technology uses heat pumps to bring up the heat that is found naturally beneath the earth’s surface. (Image) And Nuclear power comes from the energy stored in uranium. These energy sources are able to create heat and generate electricity the same way as we utilize our other natural resources. The technology is certainly there, and (Image) we do have some nuclear power plants in eastern Canada and several established small scale geothermal projects. Advocates for both geothermal and nuclear energy cite (Image) the low greenhouse gas emissions as the biggest benefit. We know burning fossil fuels is contributing to climate change, and we need to do something about it. However we have (Image) abundant fossil fuel resources and the infrastructure already in place, transforming our system has huge economic barriers AND we are currently investing more in other energy alternatives such as solar and wind energy so the future of both geothermal and nuclear in Alberta is uncertain. (image)
Conclusion So these are some of the options that we know about now. It will take a lot of discussion and a lot of information to make decisions on how best to provide the energy we need in Alberta. There is no perfect or ‘best’ way to produce energy. We know that our energy story will continue to change – and it’s up to you to write the next chapter.