4 Technology Adoption

Download the Report

Technology adoption also enables clean growth. It can make existing sources of growth more resilient and generate fewer emissions. It can also expand markets for new sources of growth by building economies of scale and reducing per unit costs. Moreover, many of the technologies needed in a clean growth future already exist at some level of technological development. The challenge is to accelerate adoption.

Many of the technologies needed in a clean growth future already exist at some level of technological development. The challenge is to accelerate adoption.

Headline Indicator #4: Energy Intensity and Share of Low-carbon Energy

The magnitude and scope of technologies that could contribute to low-carbon growth and economic resilience is enormous, and there is limited data on resilience technologies. We therefore focus on adoption of low-carbon technologies to illustrate key aspects of adoption. 

GHG emissions from energy use and energy production accounted for over 80 per cent of Canada’s GHG emissions in 2018 (ECCC, 2020a). A key aspect of achieving low-carbon growth—where the economy grows as GHG emissions fall—will be to both reduce energy intensity and increase the proportion of low-carbon energy use. 

The goal of technology adoption is to make progress in these areas. Therefore, as a metric of low-carbon technology adoption, we compare Canada’s energy intensity and share of low-carbon energy to other G7 countries and the global average (Figure 4.1). While Canada has a higher proportion of low-carbon energy (25 per cent) than most other G7 countries, it also has higher energy intensity (using more energy per unit of GDP). Energy intensity fell across all G7 countries since 2005, including Canada, though the drop was larger in the U.S. and European countries (IEA, 2019).

Differences across countries are often the result of varying resource endowments and historical investment decisions. Canada’s role as an oil and gas exporter, for example, influences energy intensity results. While energy exports are excluded from the metric, the energy used to extract exported oil and gas in Canada is not. Canada’s large territory and relatively cold climate can also partly explain higher levels of energy use than other G7 countries, though the increased frequency and intensity of heat waves linked to climate change is expected to drive higher energy use for air conditioning across countries in the future. France’s historical investment in nuclear power, largely for energy security reasons, allows it to claim top spot in the G7 for low-carbon energy (WNA, 2020). 

Greater adoption of four primary types of technologies can support progress on this indicator:

  1. Fuel-switching technologies (e.g., coal to hydro power or gasoline to electric vehicles);
  2. Energy-use-reducing technologies (e.g., energy-efficient furnaces or better insulation);
  3. Behaviour-changing technologies (e.g., rapid public transit that enables reduced car use or remote work software and video conferencing that reduces driving and air travel); and
  4. Carbon capture and storage technologies (e.g., fossil fuel carbon capture or direct air capture).

Figure 4.1 captures the first three types of technology, at least in terms of energy-related GHG emissions. Adopting technologies that reduce energy use and change energy consumption behaviour can lower the height of the bar, while fuel-switching technologies can change the percentage of low-carbon energy. The data do not, however, capture the fourth element. For example, it does not reflect the low-carbon aspects of Saskatchewan’s Boundary Dam project, where its coal power plant uses carbon capture and storage technology to limit the release of GHGs into the atmosphere (although the energy used to capture emissions is included) (SaskPower, 2020). Technologies that reduce non-energy-related emissions from industrial processes, waste, and agriculture are also not captured.