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Canada’s Drive for Sustainability

Sustainability is becoming a greater priority for many countries all around the world. For today’s blog, let’s look at the trends unfolding in Canada, and how technology and data can help meet sustainability goals anywhere.

Jamie Dinsmore, energy and resources industry lead, Microsoft Canada, recently chatted with me about the state of energy and sustainability in Canada, saying Canada is rich in resources. I enjoyed this conversation very much, as it reminded me of my days in the oil and gas industry.

“It is a resource-based economy,” he says. “It is a diverse mix of sources. We have the third largest reserves of oil. We are the fifth largest producer of natural gas. We are third or fourth in hydroelectricity. We also have huge coal, nuclear, and renewables.”

The country also has a big focus on sustainability and being responsible stewards of the environment. For example, he says renewables are front and center.

“They are integral to having a more environmental and sustainable future,” he says. “It will help with decarbonization. It will reduce our overall carbon footprint.”

What’s Happening in Canada?

The Canadian government is taking several steps with regards to carbon capture. For example, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has promised $12.4 billion in tax credits for carbon capture and storage.

“By 2050, those investments are going to continue,” Dinsmore says. “We need by that time, and we estimate 40 million metric tons a year to be removed from the atmosphere to support the continuation of the oil sands industry.”

As another example, earlier this year the Canadian government announced $29.6 million to support next generation nuclear and deployment of SMRs (small modular reactors). The Canadian government is committed to making big strides to achieve its goals here.

We also know there are similar priorities in other places in the world—and Canada works very closely in partnership with the United States, as there is a lot of reliance between the two countries as it relates to energy.

“There are a lot of similarities between Canada and the U.S.,” Dinsmore says. “Geographically, Canada is the second largest on the planet. The U.S. is fourth. They are similar-ish in size, but the population is about 10 times the size in the U.S. There is more need for energy south of the border.”

How Do We Get to Net Zero?

Perhaps one of the greatest questions of our day is how will we reach those elusive and lofty net-zero goals? Dinsmore has some ideas. For one we need to scale up renewable energy.

“That is essential to accelerate the overall energy mix in terms of new renewable sources that will reduce our carbon footprint,” he says. “I think there are a number of things we can do there. We can partner across different industries, we can share expertise, we can educate, we can look at different resources, and I think technology plays a critical part there so you can start looking out the front of your car, not the rear-view mirror, in terms of where you have been. We need to leverage technology to make close to realtime decisions in order to make sure we are using as much renewables in our energy mix as possible.”

This is where technology enters the equation. I have said this before and I will say it again, if we want to meet our net-zero goals then we must have technology. We have simply reached the point where we can no longer move forward without it. Still, we can’t have technology just for the sake of technology. We need data we can trust. We need to have a solid strategy for how to leverage the information collected to make a real difference in our businesses.

“Data is the new oil,” Dinsmore says. “Data is only valuable if you refine it, you look at it, you interrogate it, and you triangulate it against different sources. The ability to unlock the complexity inside of the business is critical to meeting these net-zero challenges, but it doesn’t start and stop just at net zero. There are other essential components that come in. Electricity demand continues to rise, and we need to make sure that we have the tools that will be able to predict, forecast, and deliver energy to consumers, and electricity.”

Dinsmore continues by pointing specifically to AI (artificial intelligence), as it is garnering a lot of attention right now in the media, as it relates to large-language models and ChatGPT.

“But artificial intelligence and machine learning, AI and ML, have been around for decades and we have organizations that leverage AI and ML and harness the power of the data in our platform Azure—that is the world’s computer, if you will—to be able to predict things like forecasting accuracy and electricity pricing,” he says.

He points to an example that is very timely for Canada right now. One of Microsoft’s partners is building a model using AI, using Microsoft’s technology, to predict where fires would start. This partner can go back and take the data and validate it.

Dinsmore says, “In fact, their model is pretty accurate. So, now moving forward we talk about things like these forest fires that are rampant coast to coast. Now we can be better about predicting and then acting and solving problems before they happen.”

One big takeaway from our conversation is we need to think in terms of balance, and we need to look at all of this in terms of the broader ecosystem. At the end of the day, let’s keep in mind, sustainability is a journey, as I always say, and Dinsmore agrees, saying it is not just the here and now. Rather, we must have a plan.

“It is a journey. I think that is exceptionally important and critical to highlight,” he stresses. “It doesn’t happen overnight, but we can leverage technology in a number of ways. Sustainable innovation couples two ideas today. Sustainability and innovation, they go hand in hand.”

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