Transition is a sticky word for a lot of people. Add “net-zero” or “pipeline” to the mix and you might even spark a wave of public passion. But emotions are always anchored in something and those relating to Alberta’s energy transition carry no exception. Sure, through the years we’ve talked about net-zero by 2050 but these conversations have often carried an element of speculation. A nice theory, one might say, but how will we get there? While the answer to this question is neither simple nor obvious, the events of last week offer a little insight into the nature of energy transition.
First, we celebrated as the province’s largest oil sands producers came together behind a shared vision for a net-zero future. Then, we celebrated some more with the announcement of a possible $1.3 billion investment into a net-zero hydrogen energy complex just east of Edmonton. It appeared things were really coming together. We felt on track. Then, in the wake of a few very big wins, a heavy steel-toed boot landed in our midst with a resounding thump. The Keystone XL pipeline breathed its last breaths somewhere in southeastern Alberta and a myriad of emotions quickly swept across the province. We continue to lament for different reasons, sure… Jobs will be lost, the fate of Alberta’s oil and gas industry grows murkier, and the loss of a $1.3 billion investment is far from digestible.
But here’s the thing: no one said energy transition would be easy. No one claimed there wouldn’t be losses- even big ones- or that there wouldn’t be fear and uncertainty. It may be human nature to crave stability, but stability doesn’t always entail a sense of certainty. We couldn’t know for sure how Keystone XL would play out, in the same way that we cannot know for sure how a hydrogen economy will unfold. Still, we place bets knowing that reward entails risk. However, while we can’t predict the future, we can make decisions with the end in mind. At the Energy Futures Lab, a coalition of Alberta innovators focused on energy transition, we lean on vision-driven innovation to help us uncover solutions for our energy future. But energy transition is about more than just innovation. It’s something that impacts each of us in different ways. This week, we not only witnessed, but also felt what it means to navigate energy transition. It means celebrating big wins while collectively acknowledging and feeling big losses. And we need to do this together.
As the energy transition accelerates, weeks like last week will become all the more common. We’ll see more big announcements, more wins and losses. This means that some days will be more hope-filled than others and to get through the tougher times, we’ll need to remain pragmatic. We’ll need to remember what’s at stake and to ensure that we leave no one behind. Energy transition entails a collective effort. It’s not for a select few to grieve the loss of Keystone while others race full-fledged towards a hydrogen economy. No, it reflects a time for us to come together as a province and accept that energy transition will never be easy. But then again, easy is not what we’re after.