Pierre Guimond: We will ‘go long’ on shale gas

President, Canadian Electricity Association

February 01, 2012

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Illustration by Martin O’Neill

The very idea of a new idea or technology having a large impact on the North American energy landscape is exciting. The electricity enthusiast in me would look for a breakthrough technology like the invention of an efficient and economically sound way to store off-peak electricity for peak use.

This electricity storage technology would be revolutionary. It would lower the cost of electricity bills by changing the very model of how we make, move and sell electricity. It would deal with all the climate change issues in one pass and spawn new products and change society in ways we can only imagine. This storage innovation would also greatly increase the value of variable generation like wind and solar on the grid and make new generating options like tidal and wave action develop faster.

Alas, a breakthrough in storage is more like 20 years away – not on our doorstep. Scientists and researchers around the world have just started taking some of the early steps to look at storage options. Progress is constant and we are starting to see more opportunities to store electricity right through the transmission and distribution network, but there is a long way to go before large scale storage is viable and economic.

And until such time as storage technology is ready for deployment, we will need to work with what we have as generating options. Hydroelectricity, nuclear, fossil fuels and new options like marine and wave action hold great potential. But the energy game-changer that is on our doorstep now is shale gas. It is new, available, plentiful and is attractively priced.

The horizontal drilling technology being used to find and exploit shale gas is unlocking gas potential right across North America. Gas is now a fuel option in areas where previously it was neither available nor an economically sound choice for electricity generation. Realistically, I know that of all the breakthrough ideas, shale gas will have the greatest impact on electricity over the next decade.

The likelihood of shale gas being the go-to fuel for electricity generation in the eastern part of North America is real. Compared to the cost of new hydro or nuclear, shale gas has a low capital cost. The greenhouse gas emissions from shale gas-fired electricity that contribute to climate change are the only downside. All things considered, shale gas is a potential game-changer for the continent.

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