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Canadian Conservation Through Demand-Side Management

In Canada, climate change is more than buzzword. Learning how to adapt to a harsh and varied climate has spurred the nation to pay close attention to climate change issues. So it’s no surprise that the country has been a committed participant in recent global initiatives designed to keep climate change from further reducing the finite amount of energy available for our collective use—and creating new, renewable sources of energy for the future.

But as Natural Resources Canada points out, the current rapid pace of climate change and the associated uncertainties mean that Canada must approach climate-change initiatives differently than in the past. This includes creating and implementing rigorous demand side management (DSM) programs that have the capacity and flexibility to evolve as the climate itself evolves.

DSM helps utilities reduce and shape electricity demand, which offers savings to customers and provides broad system benefits. As Canada’s provinces, territories and cities increasingly search for energy efficient solutions to mitigate both the environmental and economic impact of climate change, utilities have an opportunity to lead the way through innovative and cost-effective DSM programs.

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The economic drivers behind demand side management

While climate change may be spurring the growth of DSM today, economic issues were the primary drivers for the initial DSM programs in Canada and the United States.

According to a report in The Energy Journal, electric utility DSM programs debuted in the U.S. in response to skyrocketing energy prices in the 1970s and ‘80s. Most of these programs were stimulated by new government energy efficiency policies. Canada, however, had a more decentralized energy industry than the United States, and so was slower to implement DSM programs.

The first DSM program in Canada was BC Hydro’s Power Smart, which debuted in British Columbia in 1986 and is still operational today. Ontario’s utilities soon followed suit, and between 1990 and 2005, Canadian electrical utilities spent about $2.9 billion on DSM programs. However, that spending peaked in 1993 and fell precipitously in subsequent years as electricity markets restructured.

Today’s concern: climate change

In recent years, climate change has spurred a resurgence in DSM programs. But unlike the previous incarnation, these programs are expected to benefit the economy and the environment at the same time. 

In 2011, the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy estimated that the economic impacts of unchecked climate change in Canada could reach $5 billion per year by 2020 and could top $43 billion a year by the 2050s. The report also estimates that by 2050, healthcare costs associated with greenhouse gas emissions could be between $2.6 billion and $4.2 billion per year in Toronto alone.

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What the future holds for Canadian conservation

Like other countries’ efforts to reduce or mitigate climate change, Canada’s policies and actions are in their infancy. In 2014, Ontario became the first jurisdiction in North America to completely eliminate coal as a source of electricity. The Canadian government cites a November 2015 Ministers' Science Briefing as the country’s first nationwide climate change action. That was followed by climate conferences and declarations in various Canadian provinces, carbon price setting, Canadian ratification of the Paris Agreement and, on Dec. 9, 2016, the launch of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.

The Pan-Canadian Framework was developed with the input of residents, including indigenous groups, businesses and governments throughout the nation. More than 13,000 citizens sent in ideas through the country’s Let’s Talk Climate Action website. This resulted in four pillars for the Framework:

  • Pricing carbon pollution, including carbon taxes and cap and trade initiatives
  • Developing complementary measures to reduce emissions, including DSM and other efforts to tighten energy efficiency standards for buildings and vehicles
  • Implementing measures to help communities and infrastructure adapt to climate risks like flood, drought and melting permafrost
  • Investing in clean technology and training the workforce for a low-carbon economy

The Framework maps out an emissions trajectory for the next decade and beyond. If current emissions levels continue, the country is projected to exceed the Framework’s emissions target of 523 megatons of GHG emissions by 2030.  In order to reduce the projected 742 megatons of emissions to within the target,  Canada must take action. Measures to reach this goal include emissions regulations, international cap and trade credits, coal phase-out by 2030, a federal clean-fuel standard, an emphasis on public transit, and encouragement of low-carbon technology and innovation. 

To learn more about the Pan-Canadian Framework, new climate change action tactics, and more, download our free ebook, the changing Canadian DSM Landscape.

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Paige Knutsen
Written by Paige Knutsen

Paige Knutsen’s versatile set of skills allows her to handle anything thrown her way. She provides program design and implementation management for the Central Region in addition to leading a highly skilled team of staff who provide technical support to residential, commercial and industrial customers. Paige’s responsibilities also include building and maintaining relationships with utility clients and assisting in the start-up and implementation of demand side management programs throughout the Central Region. Paige holds a master’s degree in sustainable agriculture from Iowa State University, is a certified energy manager (CEM) and holds a LEED AP certification.


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