If Alberta is known for one thing globally, it’s as the home of the world’s third largest reserves of hydrocarbons. This bounty has powered generations of economic activity and wealth creation, both in the province and beyond.
But Alberta doesn’t simply ship oil and gas abroad. The province’s Industrial Heartland, just northeast of the capital of Edmonton, is Canada’s largest hydrocarbon processing region, with more than $45 billion CAD in existing capital investment and more than 40 companies active in the area. They provide fuels, fertilizers, power, petrochemicals and more to provincial and global consumers and make it one of the world’s most attractive locations for chemical, petrochemical, oil and gas investment.
But even that only tells a part of the story. Alberta is set to undergo a renewable-energy capacity surge in the coming years, attracting investments given its vast natural resources and favourable regulatory landscape.
Today, Alberta has about three gigawatts (GW) of renewable capacity, but significant large-scale projects in the province are scheduled to come online that will push Alberta’s capacity to close to 10 GW before the end of 2023. That total will double again by 2025, reaching almost 21 GW, nearly half of Canada’s total.
Energy research firm Rystad Energy says Alberta’s unregulated power market, minimal regulatory hurdles and abundant natural resources make it an attractive prospect for developers, in addition to an existing workforce of industry professionals increasingly eager to adapt to green energy.
On top of all that, Alberta has natural strengths for creating low carbon hydrogen, including plentiful, low cost feedstock, carbon capture and storage infrastructure, the world’s largest CO2 pipeline, advanced infrastructure, ground-breaking innovation, best-in-class resource development and an educated workforce.
~3.3 MILLION BARRELS
of raw crude bitumen were produced per day in Alberta in 2021
67 PER CENT
of Canada’s production of natural gas is in Alberta
Oil Reserves in the world are in Alberta
was invested in the upstream energy industry in Alberta in 2020
of Canadian upstream energy investment in Alberta in 2020
Source: Government of Alberta
The Solar Also Rises
Just five years ago, solar didn’t register when considering Alberta’s electricity generation capacity. As of late 2022, it made up six per cent of the total and, with wind, 22 per cent.
Alberta has incredible solar and wind resources, but we all know the shortcoming of those two energy sources: intermittency. That’s where batteries come in. Along with utility-scale green generation, Alberta is seeing rapid deployment of battery technology to support it.
One of the province’s largest electricity generators, TransAlta, was an early adopter. The company opened the province’s first large-scale battery energy storage system, the 10 MW Windcharger, in southern Alberta close to its Summerview Wind Farm, in late 2020. Windcharger is made up of Tesla lithium-ion batteries and has a total storage capacity of 20 megawatt hours (MWh).
In November, 2022, Westbridge Renewable Energy received approval for one of its four large- scale solar-plus-storage projects. Its flagship Georgetown Project, which will pair a solar plant with up to 200 MWh of battery storage, has received approval from regulators. Coming close on its heels will be three other Westbridge projects with a total storage capacity of 600 MWh.
Alberta’s Industrial Heartland, just a few minutes drive northeast of the capital of Edmonton, is one of the world’s most attractive locations for chemical, petrochemical, oil and gas investment. One of its most recent additions is the $4.3-billion CAD Heartland Petrochemical Complex, owned and operated by InterPipeline, which has been under construction since 2018 and is now fully operational.
The facility will convert propane into 525,000 tonnes per year of polypro-pylene beads, which are in high demand for use in food packaging, health-care PPE, textiles, clothing, automotive parts and personal hygiene products.
“We have rail connections to every major shipping hub in North America, storage-in-transit to expedite delivery times, real-time GPS shipment tracking, and our geographic location means we are less vulnerable to extreme weather incidents that can cause downtime,” said Yonas Kebede, a director at Inter Pipeline. “Additionally, we have reliable access to one of the world’s largest sources of propane feedstock.”
That local feedstock, combined with a number of deliberate design and technology choices, means Heartland is expected to generate 65 per cent less greenhouse gas than average global polypropylene facilities around the world.