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What role should the energy industry play in a sustainable future?

June 28, 2021

By Mario Finis

The energy and resources industry is primed to play a powerful part on our path towards sustainability

The energy and resources industry plays a critical role in the energy transition and building a more resilient and sustainable future. We have the skills and technical expertise, it makes business sense, and it is what clients, investors, employees, and society at large are demanding: To demonstrate our commitment to making a positive impact on the planet and our communities.

In 2020, nearly half of Stantec’s revenue was derived from sustainably aligned work. Some examples include our work on Genale Dawa 3, a 254-megawatt (MW) hydropower facility in Ethiopia, and the solar microgrid in Gull Bay that enabled a First Nations community to eliminate the reliance on diesel generators for power—reducing carbon emissions while providing a critical service.

The energy and resources industry includes the mining sector and oil and gas sector, two industries often villainized in the sustainability discussion. And it has environmental advocates asking: “How does the energy and resources industry justify this work?”

We do this work because we know our energy infrastructure is undergoing a transition that relies on these industries to reach the ultimate goal of sustainability.

The Genale Dawa 3 hydropower facility in Ethiopia.

Transitioning with the industry

As a science-based engineering and design firm, we follow the facts. And the reality is that the world’s current energy demands are too high for 100% renewable energy production to be implemented tomorrow. So, while we build up our renewable energy production, we must also support our existing infrastructure to be as sustainable and green as possible. Our energy future is a transition, not a flip of a switch. 

The oil and gas industry has already started the transition. So has Stantec, and appropriately so as our Company is headquartered out of Edmonton, Alberta—an oil and gas hotbed in Canada.

Today, many of our clients identify as energy companies and not as oil and gas companies. They have made commitments to sustainability and a lower carbon future. To do their part, they are making huge investments in renewable energy generation. For example, the largest solar project in Pennsylvania is owned by Lightsource BP, a 50:50 joint venture with the energy company BP. The industry is changing, and it’s up to us as energy experts to advise companies as they evolve.

While electric vehicles are gaining acceptance, oil and gas companies will continue to provide most of the fuel needed to transport us and our goods in the near term. But there are environmentally sound steps the industry can be taking to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. We are helping a client expand into the production of renewable diesel which has benefits over tradition fossil-based diesel or even biodiesel. These steps are vital to the energy transition and will help bridge the gap to complete renewable energy production.

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Southern California’s Marengo Charging Plaza.

Supplying the materials for a cleaner energy infrastructure

Resource extraction is an essential part of our renewable and sustainable energy infrastructure. The technology to support the energy transition—and our future needs —depends on minerals and materials in much greater quantities than are currently being produced. We must mine the lithium for our electric car batteries and energy storage systems. We must mine the copper for electric motors and generators. We must mine for iron ore and other materials to make steel for wind turbines and Teslas. And we must mine the cadmium needed for solar panels. 

We cannot power our cleaner energy future without these fundamental materials. But we can make the industry more sustainable. That is why our Company is working with clients to change how we power our mines, study the use of electric vehicles at mine sites, and find beneficial reuse for abandoned mine sites like converting them to pumped storage hydroelectric projects. Our net zero mining initiative is helping clients achieve this goal.  

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The Hertz Rental Car Facility at Newark Liberty Airport.

Creating a more sustainable industry

Another important role we can play is providing new ways of looking at the projects we deliver and how we deliver them. This will make the energy and resources industry even more innovative and sustainable. 

Take for instance the hydropower industry. Hydropower is the largest and most reliable form of renewable energy and energy storage available today. However, there are steps the industry can take to be more sustainable. Hydropower and dam projects involve large amounts of concrete. Can concrete production be made cleaner, or are there alternative solutions? Can we add solar panels to our reservoirs to generate even more renewable energy within the same footprint? Can we construct our projects using cleaner fuels in our equipment? Making projects safer by design is also critical to the sustainability of projects during construction and for the long term.

It is our role to ask these kinds of questions and push the envelope on creative and innovative solutions.  

Being a leader in sustainability means we cannot close the door on industries but instead usher them through to a new energy future.

There is also a lot of discussion about the role of dams. The industry has taken enormous steps in studying and mitigating the impacts of dams. But instead of building new, what are the opportunities to make an existing dam a power producing dam like the Red Rock Hydroelectric project in Iowa? Optimizing use of our existing infrastructure and assets can provide significant additional benefits with minimal environmental impacts.  

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It will take more than just those of us that work in the energy and resources industry—it will take everyone.

A sustainability leader

Being a leader is not easy. It means we have to forge a path forward. We must address hard topics, creative partnerships, and inspire those that follow us. Being a leader in sustainability means we cannot close the door on existing industries but instead usher them through to a new energy future. 

Our role must be to look critically at how we power our communities and improve quality of life. It will take more than just those of us that work in the energy and resources industry—it will take everyone. We must think creatively, open dialogue, and lead the way forward.  

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  • Mario  Finis

    Mario is the executive vice president for Stantec’s Energy & Resources business. He is committed to clear open and honest communication, understanding how important it is that he be a trusted advisor to his clients and his team.

    Contact Mario
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