Faced with the urgency of the climate crisis, researchers at the University of Victoria on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, are joining forces across disciplines to strengthen the global shift to sustainable energy. They are focusing on local community and regional actions to change behaviours, demystify sustainable energy systems and highlight the positive social and economic impacts of the transition.
Their research integrates energy system technological innovations with new business and governance models to accelerate change and find feasible solutions to help communities move away from carbon-based energy.
Curran Crawford, mechanical engineering professor and director of UVic’s Institute for Integrated Energy Systems (IESVic), says a multidisciplinary approach is crucial to helping develop sustainable energy systems that are reliable, cost effective, socially acceptable and in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) to promote prosperity while protecting the planet.
Curran Crawford Mechanical Engineering Professor; Director, University of Victoria’s Institute for Integrated Energy Systems
The elements needed for a successful energy transition are technology, policy, finance and – equally important – local and regional community engagement and acceptance.
“Climate change is the defining issue of our times,” says Dr. Crawford. “Around the world, national governments are signing international agreements, setting targets and looking in all directions for the strategies that will achieve emissions reductions as quickly as possible.”
However, while high-level work is critically important, he says much can – and must – be done at a lower level to support small to medium-sized and local communities in their aspirational rapid shifts toward low-carbon energy systems. These will directly impact local emissions and bridge the rural-urban divide that often puts up barriers to action.
Overcoming those barriers includes ensuring a “just transition” to energy sustainability, says Tamara Krawchenko, an assistant professor in UVic’s School of Public Administration.
“We must find a way to achieve sustainability transitions and decarbonize our economies while reducing the harm to rights holders and stakeholders and amplifying the benefits,” she says.
But there is no one-size-fits-all.
Basma Majerbi Associate Professor, University of Victoria’s Peter B. Gustavson School of Business
“There are multiple ongoing sustainability transitions across various industries and sectors that impact regions and communities in Canada in different ways,” says Dr. Krawchenko. “Sustainability transitions have important place-based features.”
Public policy must be able to accommodate this community-focused transition, says Madeleine McPherson, IESVic associate director and assistant professor of civil engineering.
“Policy-makers are looking for pathways to transform Canada’s energy systems to meet climate goals,” says Dr. McPherson.
“Modelling allows us to see into the future and shows us how to make the best decisions to remove carbon from our energy systems,” she says. “Then we need to get that information into the hands of the decision-makers who can turn net zero into a reality.”
Tamara Krawchenko Assistant Professor, University of Victoria’s School of Public Administration
She notes that while a lot of great energy modelling work is being done in Canada, there was no central institution to leverage this expertise to its full potential until now.
“We need our own central hub with energy models and data that reflect Canada’s social, political and historical realities, such as Indigenous community ownership,” says Dr. McPherson, who is a driving force behind the creation of the new Energy Modelling Hub (EMH), led by researchers at UVic, Polytechnique Montréal and the University of Calgary.
UVic recognizes that Indigenous communities face unique risks and constraints in developing local energy systems.
Dr. Crawford says UVic’s research collaborations include supportive partnerships with Indigenous communities across B.C. to help address their needs and advance their local sustainable energy planning processes.
He and fellow mechanical engineer Dr. Brad Buckham, co-director of UVic’s Pacific Regional Institute for Marine Energy Discovery (PRIMED), are working on projects to explore marine energy development in B.C. including wind, wave and tidal.
“These projects also contribute to Indigenous reconciliation by helping remote, off-grid communities reduce their dependence on diesel fuel for power,” says Dr. Crawford.
Financing the energy transition to ensure it remains sustainable and benefits the economy requires buy-in from Canada’s investors and business community, says Basma Majerbi, an associate professor at UVic’s Peter B. Gustavson School of Business and leader of a newly established Impact Investing Hub.
The hub aims to accelerate financing of climate solutions through measures such as impact investing and by helping key sectors understand how they can prepare for and contribute to the transition to a lower-carbon economy.
Madeleine McPherson IESVic Associate Director; Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering
“We see a positive trend of investors committed to measuring and improving the impact of their investments on society and the environment and using the UN SDGs to guide their targets and measure outcomes,” says Dr. Majerbi.
But while impact investing is a powerful approach to advancing climate solutions, there are still significant knowledge gaps to unlock more capital at the scale and speed needed to meet the climate emergency, she adds.
“We are currently working on a number of collaborative research projects with community partners. One is about integration of climate scenarios into investment decisions for institutional investors, and one about accelerating the adoption of environmental, social and governance and impact principles by SMEs and startups to improve resilience and support Canada’s net-zero goals,” says Dr. Majerbi.
Dr. Crawford says sustainable transitions are vital to reimagining local and regional economies, building on their assets and capabilities to tackle the climate crisis and create a more resilient future.
“UVic scientists, engineers and researchers across all disciplines bring knowledge, passion for community-engaged scholarship and investigative skills that are essential to understanding and addressing complex problems,” he says. “We have the infrastructure and expertise to test new technologies and to find new ways of doing things – from harvesting the energy potential of our oceans to figuring out how to finance a new kind of low-carbon economy.”
The University of Victoria’s strong commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) was recognized earlier this year when the university was ranked 12th overall out of 1,406 higher education institutions around the world in the 2022 Times Higher Education Impact Rankings for its innovative and impactful research and for campus operations that are ecologically and socially responsible.
UVic scored even higher in the rankings of three of the 17 UN SDGs: 2nd for Climate Action (SDG 13) and Life on Land (SDG 15) respectively, and 5th for Life Below Water (SDG 14).
Learn more at uvic.ca/impact.
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