The Journey Upstream

The Journey Upstream

The market for energy resources and commodities is at the centre of every industrial economy, and that won’t change in a low-carbon energy future. But the transition to that future will depend in part on our ability to shift the focus from the Joules and kilowatt-hours Canadians consume to the energy services we require to live, work, study, and play.

In its search for pathways to a low-carbon, sustainable energy system, the Trottier Energy Futures Project is taking a close look at the various chains of value creation that give rise to the demand for energy services and, ultimately, for fuels and electricity. By turning our attention upstream, we’ve spotted a different set of trends that lead toward a better understanding of how to decarbonize Canada’s energy system.

  • The green buildings movement has been driven primarily by an interest in designing smarter, more comfortable structures with better overall performance. Fuel and electricity savings are important outcomes, but not the prime movers.
  • Dependence on private vehiclesis largely determined by the way communities are designed and built, but energy and emissions are rarely a significant factor in planning new subdivisions.
  • Energy and fuel cost considerations were trumped by more immediate imperatives, like just-in-time delivery, that led to the steep rise in freight movement in recent years, and to the modal shift from rail to road.
  • The growth of the service economy and general manufacturing and the drive to boost value added in the primary industries have done more to improve Canada’s energy productivity than all the efforts to use fuels and electricity more efficiently.

The daisy wheel chart shows a list of 11 key issues the Trottier Project has identified to frame the wider challenges on the road to a low-carbon, sustainable energy future. In the months ahead, we will use this expanded framing to build a deeper understanding of how Canadians can get the energy services and amenities they want and need, with radically lower greenhouse gas emissions. Along the way, we’ll be paying attention to Joules and kilowatt-hours, but only as one important part of a much larger picture.

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