Review, reduce, replace

3R approach for energy security needed

- January 24, 2008

Larry Hughes is a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Dalhousie University and heads the Department’s Energy Research Group. (Danny Abriel Photo)

Energy security—the uninterrupted supply of affordable energy—is something that few people have heard of yet everyone takes for granted. The state of energy security in a jurisdiction is dictated by its energy supplies and the infrastructure used to move the energy.  Although Canada has been blessed with an abundance of energy sources, notably coal, oil, natural gas, uranium, hydroelectricity, and renewables, Nova Scotia is far from energy secure.

Surprising as it may seem, almost 90 per cent of Nova Scotia’s energy is imported from outside the province and, with the exception of some crude oil from Newfoundland and Labrador, most of the energy comes from outside of Canada. Nova Scotia is a poster child for globalization, relying on imported coal from Colombia and the United States and oil from Venezuela, the United States, the Middle East, and the North Sea. 

However, political issues are always at or near the surface in Colombia, Venezuela, and the Middle East, while production is in decline in most of the province’s suppliers of oil. If this weren’t enough of a problem, most of Nova Scotia’s limited energy resources, notably natural gas from Sable (and eventually Deep Panuke) and some onshore fields, is being shipped to New England.

Canada’s energy riches will do little to help Nova Scotia should the province’s energy supplies ever be disrupted: western Canada’s oil and natural gas pipelines terminate in central Canada, and the electrical interconnection between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia is restricted to about 300 megawatts (approximately one-eighth of NSPI’s total generating capacity).

In a world of high energy prices and looming supply shortages, jurisdictions like Nova Scotia that rely on insecure sources of energy must do everything possible to improve their energy security. Piecemeal policies that encourage wind turbines, tidal power, and compact fluorescent lights aren’t enough—a systematic approach, such as the three ‘R’s of energy security, is needed to improve energy security in the province.

To begin with, it is necessary to conduct a thorough review of the jurisdiction’s sector-by-sector energy supply and consumption (the energy end-use). In Nova Scotia’s case, over two-thirds of the energy end-use is in transportation and space and water heating for residential and commercial buildings, almost all of which is supplied from imported oil and electricity (generated from imported coal).

Second, policies are needed that reduce energy consumption. Energy reduction in transportation can be achieved in a number of ways: driving less, improving vehicle performance, and changing modes of travel. Reducing energy consumption for space and water heating must be targeted at both existing and new buildings: existing buildings require retrofitting, whereas new buildings should exceed maximum building code requirements.  Energy reduction must result in a real, measureable decrease in energy consumption—energy efficiency programs often suffer from the “rebound effect” whereby the savings obtained from improving energy efficiency are spent on other energy consuming activities, limiting the benefits.

And third, insecure energy supplies must be replaced with ones that are secure and preferably renewable. Finding suitable replacements for transportation fuels will be a challenge in Nova Scotia as there are limited biofuel resources in the province (even if the issue of food-versus-fuel is ignored) and although coal can be converted to liquid fuels, it is a dirty and expensive process. On the other hand, there exists a wide range of possibilities for replacing the energy needed for space and water heating, including solar thermal, wind, geothermal, and biomass. 

The provincial government is aware of energy security, though it hasn’t quite grasped its importance—in the province’s recent Energy Strategy discussion paper there were more than 100 references to natural gas and the offshore, and only six to energy security. A start, maybe, but still a long way from what Nova Scotia needs for a secure energy future.

Larry Hughes is a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Dalhousie University and heads the Department’s Energy Research Group.  For copies of the ERG’s submissions to Nova Scotia’s Energy Strategy renewal, visit


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