We recently attended Generate 2024! Hosted by Clean Energy BC, it was billed as BC’s “largest and most anticipated” clean energy conference. It was a great experience – not just for the presentations but for the discussions we had with attendees.

First, let’s be clear – we’re big supporters of clean energy initiatives. However, not all elements of green / clean energy hold true outside of Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD). You don’t need a Rhodes scholarship to understand that in rural BC things look different. The rural regions of our province not only provide our food, and freshwater, they’re also rich with the mineral resources that green energy proponents take for granted plus rural BC also provides us with the bulk of the electricity needed to support all things ‘green’ and rechargeable.

The dams that create most of BC’s hydroelectricity are:

  • WAC Bennet Dam – Annual Generating Capacity of 13,000 GW. Location – Fort St. John, BC
  • Mica Dam – Annual Generating Capacity 7,200 GW. Location – Revelstoke, BC
  • Revelstoke Dam – Annual Generating Capacity 7,817 GW. Location – Revelstoke, BC
  • Peace Canyon Dam – Annual Generating Capacity 3,500 GW Annually. Location – Hudson’s Hope, BC
  • Site C – Annual Generating Capacity 5,100 GW. Location – Fort St John, BC

 

Hydrogen in the North

Much of the green discussion this year focused on the benefits of hydrogen vehicles. In the early 90s I had a factory-built propane pickup. I loved it. More accurately, I loved it for 8-months a year. It was literally an on-again-off-again relationship as when the temperatures dropped to -25C, it would seize if it wasn’t tucked in to my heated garage at night. Back then, we also had Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) buses. They too were taken off the road in cold weather.

I bring this up because I met an attendee from Saudi Arabia. We spoke of how the Saudi’s are positioning to be the world’s biggest green hydrogen producer (green hydrogen = sourced from water utilizing renewable energy, in this case solar). Then, he admitted, “But we don’t use hydrogen in our vehicles”. He went on to explain that while hydrogen vehicles might work great in mild climates like Vancouver or Seattle they don’t work so great in hot places like Riyadh or in cold places like Prince George.  Maybe this explains why most of the hydrogen vehicle initiatives in rural BC involve Diesel/Hydrogen hybrid solutions.

Here’s some things to consider:

  • Green hydrogen uses renewable electricity the electrolysis process to unlock or “crack” hydrogen from water. However it takes a lot of electricity – approximatly 50kWh is estimated to product just 1 kilogram. 
  • However, 75% of today’s hydrogen production is not green, it’s either grey, brown, or black:
    • Grey Hydrogen – is sourced from Natural Gas, generates 9-12 kgs of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) for every kilogram of Hydrogen produced. A ratio of 1:9 at best.
    • Brown Hydrogen – is sourced from lignite coal, generates 19 kgs of CO2
    • Black Hydrogen – is sourced from bituminous coal, generates 22-26 kgs of CO2.
  • Then there’s blue hydrogen, it’s blue because the CO2 that’s generated in the “reformation” process is captured and stored in the ground.

 

Electric heat? Not so fast!

Many ideas presented at the conference don’t apply to rural northern communities where cold temperatures persist. For example, during a break, I caught a candid exchange between an Indigenous man from south of Prince George and a woman from Vancouver. Upset to learn that he heated his home with a wood-stove, she pressed him to explain why he hadn’t simply made the switch to electric heat. In response, he explained that last winter, when the temperature plunged to -30C for nearly a week, the power went out. “It happens every winter,” he said. “I’d never switch. I’d freeze to death.”

This brings to light another reality – while rural BC might supply the power and the natural resources that fuel the green economy, the region is underserved when it comes to services. BC Hydro response times in rural BC are quite different from those experienced in Vancouver or Victoria.

Great Ideas – But Not Everywhere

During another break, a woman addressed students and said their “lab-based ideas” wouldn’t stand up to a Fort Nelson winter. In response, one of the student’s snickered and replied “Where’s that?”. The exchange pretty much summed up the current BC Clean Energy initiative for me. Perhaps the conference should be named the Vancouver Clean Energy Conference, instead. Few of the attendees I interacted with had an understanding of life beyond the GVRD and holding rural BC to an urban standard isn’t always practical or required.

In conclusion, what works in one part of the province doesn’t always work up north. But as northerners, you already knew this.

Next Event: Indigenous Partnerships Success Showcase (indigenoussuccess.ca). June 5th and 6th.

Sources used in this article:

Blue hydrogen – what is it, and should it replace natural gas? (theconversation.com)

Low-carbon production of hydrogen (vinci.com)

Once-Hidden Hydrogen Gas Deposits Could Be a Boon for Clean Energy | Scientific American

Carbon Commentary – Some rules of thumb of the hydrogen economy