British Columbia will need more energy in the future and getting there will require a mix of sources and methods.

FortisBC director of energy solutions Jason Wolfe and BC Hydro senior key account manager for commercial and new construction sectors Robert Zeni spoke at a session titled The Future of Energy in B.C. at the Vancouver Island Construction Association’s annual conference on April 18.

The session looked holistically at the present needs of B.C. energy consumers as well as what will be needed to address growing energy demands over the coming decades, including more output from both companies.

“You’re going to need both BC Hydro and FortisBC,” Wolfe said.

He explained for a smooth transition to more sustainable power and increased output, energy would need to continue to be affordable, in abundance and possess energy density.

“It has to have density because you have to be able to move it around,” he said. “We’ve always transitioned to a higher energy density, never gone back and that’s important as you transition.”

Energy must also be resilient as the province depends on a steady and reliable supply.

“You need it when you need it and it has to be clean,” he said.

While B.C. does import energy from the United States and Alberta, its own emission intensities are low due to primarily generating power from dams, Wolfe said.

“Alberta looks less good with regard to emissions because a lot of their electricity comes from thermal generation, though they do have some wind,” he said. “The entire U.S. electrical grid is lower than Alberta’s because they have a more diverse mix.”

He added BC Step Code standards, which dictate energy efficiency standards for buildings in the province, mean the utilities need to keep where they source their power in mind.

“As builders, zero carbon step code levels are at 2.69 and if we import power the number changes. That’s the utility’s problem, not the builders,” he said.

Wolfe said while increasing capacity via generation is possible, it’s only one component of expansion as substations and transmission infrastructure is also required.

“The bottleneck isn’t dams and generation, it’s the distribution system,” he said. “It can be done, but it will cost a lot of money,” Wolfe said.

An alternative approach is to de-carbonize the gas system by utilizing natural gas when needed, he said.

“Use renewable natural gas, which comes from biogenic sources like farm waste, wood waste, food scraps. All of that produces methane and instead of venting to the atmosphere we collect it and put it in the pipe,” he said.

Zeni pointed out an emphasis on energy efficiency can also address demand issues.

“Prior to 2023 the load was fairly flat after energy efficiency and response programs, but we anticipate more density, population and new uses. These are the drivers of demand and consumption across the province,” Zeni said.

“The system is built to handle highest peak demand, and the capacity bar is set for that point, so as new demands come in you have to either encourage energy efficiency or more generation.”

The goal, he said, is to use less energy in peak periods or shift it where possible.

BC Hydro is also testing utility-scale batteries, he added, which “can be a great partner for renewables.”

“They’ve served the purpose of delaying substation and transmission upgrades, so they take the bite out of the system when it’s maxed out,” Zeni said.

He said BC Hydro is also working with municipalities to line up infrastructure builds with already planned projects in order to streamline the construction process.

“We’re committed to keeping the timeline shorter,” he said.

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