Alongside this growth will come tens of thousands of new jobs for workers doing everything from selling solar panels to installing energy-efficient windows, and handsome profits for the leading manufacturers of green technologies.
The question, however, is how big a role Canada will play.
As environmental advocates and industry representatives told The Huffington Post Canada, that depends largely on the decisions our governments make in the coming years.
Here are five things Canada can do to become a green energy power:
5. Think Longer Term
Renewable energy projects require time and money to get off the ground. So if Canada intends to expand its green economy, says Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association, industry needs to have a sense of the size of the market for renewable for energy that governments want to create.
In jurisdictions such as Ontario and Quebec, for instance, he says governments have done a good job of setting targets for the share of renewable energy to incorporate into the mix by 2015. But beyond that point, “the direction […] is less clear.”
“It takes time to develop wind energy projects. If you’re hoping that a wind energy project is going to be up and running in 2016 or 2017, you need to start working on that project in 2013,” he said. “If there’s no signal that there’s actually going to be a market for these projects nobody is going to start doing that work.”
4. Follow The Leaders
With role models like Denmark and Germany, which have undertaken ambitious renewable energy policies with gusto, Canada needn’t reinvent the wheel to become a leader in the green economy.
But before looking overseas, environmentalists point to expanding what’s already working within our own borders in provinces like Ontario, where the government has pledged to phase out coal energy by 2014 and create 50,000 green economy jobs by 2015.
“We need more policies like in Ontario,” said Tim Weis, director of renewable energy and efficiency policy at the Pembina Institute, a non-profit think tank based in Calgary.
In Ontario, the sector is supported up by a feed-in tariff program that pays guaranteed prices for renewable energy, as well as subsidies for firms that manufacture renewable energy technologies in the province. But Weis says there is a need to develop a “broader and more consistent market” for green technologies.
“Ontario is a big market and it’s going to do well in terms of developing manufacturing capacity for wind and solar, but what we need is to expand that market to other parts of Canada so we have a bigger domestic market,” he said.
3. Make Fossil Fuels More Expensive
What’s one of the quickest ways to support the growth of Canada’s green economy? Stop subsidizing the production of oil and gas, says Adam Scott, green energy project coordinator at Toronto-based Environmental Defence.
At present, he says, subsidies for fossil fuel-producing sources of energy, particularly at the federal level, dwarf support for renewable energy — which he sees as a major roadblock to advancement.
“Everybody complains about why we are subsidizing green energy, but it’s because we’re trying to level the playing field with all these other subsidized forms of energy,” he said. “Subsidizing fossil fuels really has a huge drag on the development of renewable energy.”
Putting a price on carbon that’s consistent and country-wide would also help, says Tim Weis, director of renewable energy and efficiency policy at the Pembina Institute.
“We need a market signal that levels the playing field and lets everyone know where we’re going on this,” he said. “It’s pretty important that that happens at a national level so it’s well coordinated across the country, and everyone is looking at the same picture.”
2. Get Serious About Energy Efficiency
Improving the energy efficiency of buildings and construction projects tends to be “the poor child” of efforts to grow the green economy, says Tim Weis, director of renewable energy and efficiency policy at the Pembina Institute.
But if Canada wants to up game in the green economy arena, he says that must change.
“[Improving energy efficiency] pays for itself, it has usually the fastest and the strongest bang for your buck in terms of actually reducing emissions and reducing energy, so it really needs to be at the top of the list,” he said.
That means developing more initiatives like the federal government’s former ecoENERGY Retrofit program, which granted homeowners up to $5,000 to improve the energy efficiency of their homes by installing everything from better insulation to high-efficiency windows. The program expired at the end of last month.
Though Weis says that particular program was “fairly successful,” he estimates that 90 per cent of the homes in Canada could still benefit from an upgrade.
“That’s still a big area that we need to be working on nationally,” he said.
1. Develop A National Strategy
“[The Conservative government] is always saying that Canada is an energy superpower, but they’re very selective in what energy fits that bill,” says Adam Scott, green energy project coordinator at Toronto-based Environmental Defence.
As he sees it, getting serious about growing Canada’s green economy will require federal support for renewable energy, and a national strategy for incorporating wind and solar into the overall energy mix.
“Ontario is doing very well, Nova Scotia is developing renewable energy and some of the other provinces are looking at it, but without a national approach, Canadian companies are limited to [what] these local jurisdictions are doing,” he said.
This concern is shared by Ontario Energy Minister Chris Bentley, who says, “The world is going green.”
“I would have thought that every government that wants to support jobs and prosperity would want to participate in the green energy economy,” he said. “I anxiously await their decision to be part of that in the future.”
UPDATE: We asked, and you answered. HuffPost Canada readers offered their ideas for how to make a Canada energy superpower, and the breadth and thoughtfulness of the answers made it clear Canadians care about environmental policy and the green economy.