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The federal government’s carbon pricing plan will eliminate Alberta’s hard-earned climate gains

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Back in October, Justin Wheler, Executive Director of Regulatory and Compliance at Alberta Climate Change, told a symposium at the University of Alberta that if year to date trends hold, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from electricity generation in the province are expected to decline by a net eight megatonnes for this calendar year. To put this in perspective, that is a three per cent reduction for the province, and an incredible one per cent for the entire nation – from one pricing policy, in one industry, in one province.  

Shortly thereafter, the federal government announced its new pricing policy for the electricity sector, a backstop measure for those jurisdictions that do not adopt their own policy. The feds propose to use a complex economic device for large industries called an output based pricing system (OBPS), which is designed for emissions-intensive, trade-exposed industries.  

Low-carbon transition

The policy, well explained by Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission, means that emitters pay the full carbon price on their emissions, but then get a rebate back on emissions below a certain threshold, generally the average or best in class for the industry. 

This has been shown to be equally effective as a flat carbon price as far as incenting reductions, while it also does not penalize emitters to the extent that they might move to a non-carbon pricing jurisdiction. It incentivizes low emitting plants while discouraging high emitting ones, supporting a low-carbon transition.

It is essentially the same system that Alberta implemented on Jan. 1, which has been so remarkably effective in reducing emissions. But the federal government is adding a twist by applying the benchmark for credits differently to different fuel sources (800 tonnes of CO2/MWh for coal, 370 tonnes of CO2/MWh for gas), meaning that gas has a much stricter limit applied to it than coal, despite being a much cleaner fuel. Renewable energy gets no added incentives (unlike the current Alberta pricing scheme) despite being emissions-free.

This seemingly small change will make a heck of a difference. It has been calculated by economist Blake Shaffer that the cleanest coal plants, despite being much much dirtier than gas, and much, much, much dirtier than renewables, will only pay the equivalent of $1 per tonne. In contrast, you and I, average Canadian citizens, will be paying a rate of $20 per tonne starting in 2019. With this thumb on the scale, coal plants will be incented to run before cleaner gas plants. And why rush to build new renewable energy when coal plants are going to be cheap enough to stay in the game for the long haul?

Why the discrepancy? Well, there’s an election coming up, and surely there’s concern about jurisdictions that continue to rely on coal as a fuel source paying so much in carbon pricing that their electricity prices would rise too high. So the federal government has opted to essentially subsidize coal burning instead.

Except, a long-term rise in electricity prices probably wouldn’t happen. The whole point of pricing carbon is to motivate behavioural change, and that applies to big utilities as well as individuals. With recent wind prices being as low as 3.7 cents per kilowatt-hour, and solar prices plummeting below the cost of gas and even coal-fired electricity, it wouldn’t be long before Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Alberta transition to a cleaner, and cheaper, electricity grid.

‘Climate change is real, people expect their governments to take action,’ says the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. 8:56

But what does this have to do with Alberta? Both the governing NDP and the poll-leading United Conservative Party leaders have vowed to cancel our own pricing regime, thus triggering the federal backstop (Rachel Notley in 2021 and Jason Kenney after the provincial election). Reverting to federal policy is projected to increase emissions from the sector by five to eight megatonnes per year, or an additional 100 megatonnes in total until the last coal plant closes in 2029. Added to this is the incredible uncertainty transmitted to our utility industry at a time when investments for the future must be planned.

With the production of GHGs from coal comes the production of other air pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, mercury and particulate matter. As a physician, I have spent years fighting coal pollution from coal plants, which has been linked to at least 100 premature deaths in Alberta each year. Finally, this year I can celebrate our utilities. Thanks to the invisible hand of carbon pricing, they are doing the right thing, and the plummeting use of coal in our province is cleaning Alberta’s air, and saving lives.

Sadly, the current federal pricing plan will eliminate many of these gains, and likely make things even worse. Climate and health will once again be jeopardized by coal combustion, at a time when cheap, emission-free alternatives exist. We need to embrace the future of climate action, not cling desperately to the past.

This column is part of CBC’s Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read our FAQ.

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Top 5 Analytics Trends That Are Shaping The Future

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Digital transformation is increasingly becoming the focus for many CIOs around the world today—with analytics playing a fundamental role in driving the future of the digital economy.

While data is important to every business, it is necessary for businesses to have a firm grip on data analytics to allow them transform raw pieces of data into important insights. However, unlike the current trends in business intelligence—which is centred around data visualization—the future of data analytics would encompass a more contextual experience.

“The known data analytics development cycle is described in stages: from descriptive (what happened) to diagnostic (why did it happen), to discovery (what can we learn from it), to predictive (what is likely to happen), and, finally, to prescriptive analytics (what action is the best to take),” said Maurice op het Veld is a partner at KPMG Advisory in a report.

“Another way of looking at this is that data analytics initially “supported” the decision-making process but is now enabling “better” decisions than we can make on our own.”

Here are some of the current trends that arealready shaping the future of data analytics in individuals and businesses.

  1. Growth in mobile devices

With the number of mobile devices expanding to include watches, digital personal assistants, smartphones, smart glasses, in-car displays, to even video gaming systems, the final consumption plays a key role on the level of impact analytics can deliver.

Previously, most information consumers accessed were on a computer with sufficient room to view tables, charts and graphs filled with data, now, most consumers require information delivered in a format well optimized for whatever device they are currently viewing it on.

Therefore, the content must be personalized to fit the features of the user’s device and not just the user alone.

  1. Continuous Analytics

More and more businesses are relying on the Internet of Things (IoT) and their respective streaming data—which in turn shortens the time it takes to capture, analyze and react to the information gathered. Therefore, while analytics programspreviously were termed successful when results were delivered within days or weeks of processing, the future of analytics is bound to drastically reduce this benchmark to hours, minutes, seconds—and even milliseconds.

“All devices will be connected and exchange data within the “Internet of Things” and deliver enormous sets of data. Sensor data like location, weather, health, error messages, machine data, etc. will enable diagnostic and predictive analytics capabilities,” noted Maurice.

“We will be able to predict when machines will break down and plan maintenance repairs before it happens. Not only will this be cheaper, as you do not have to exchange supplies when it is not yet needed, but you can also increase uptime.”

  1. Augmented Data Preparation

During the process of data preparation, machine learning automation will begin to augment data profiling and data quality, enrichment, modelling, cataloguing and metadata development.

Newer techniques would include supervised, unsupervised and reinforcement learning which is bound to enhance the entire data preparation process. In contrast to previous processes—which depended on rule-based approach to data transformation—this current trend would involve advanced machine learning processes that would evolve based on recent data to become more precise at responding to changes in data.

  1. Augmented Data Discovery

Combined with the advancement in data preparation, a lot of these newer algorithms now allow information consumers to visualize and obtain relevant information within the data with more ease. Enhancements such as automatically revealing clusters, links, exceptions, correlation and predictions with pieces of data, eliminate the need for end users to build data models or write algorithms themselves.

This new form of augmented data discovery will lead to an increase in the number of citizen data scientist—which include information users who, with the aid of augmented assistance can now identify and respond to various patterns in data faster and a more distributed model.

  1. AugmentedData Science

It is important to note that the rise of citizen data scientist will not in any way eliminate the need for a data scientist who gathers and analyze data to discover profitable opportunities for the growth of a business. However, as these data scientists give room for citizen data scientists to perform the easier tasks, their overall analysis becomes more challenging and equally valuable to the business.

As time goes by, machine learning would be applied in other areas such as feature and model selection. This would free up some of the tasks performed by data scientist and allow them focus on the most important part of their job, which is to identify specific patterns in the data that can potentially transform business operations and ultimately increase revenue.

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Waterloo drone-maker Aeryon Labs bought by U.S. company for $265M

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Waterloo’s Aeryon Labs has been bought by Oregon-based FLIR Systems Inc. for $256 million, or $200 million US.

The acquisition was announced Monday. 

Dave Kroetsch, co-founder and chief technology officer of Aeryon Labs, says not much will change in the foreseeable future.

“The Waterloo operations of Aeryon Labs will actually continue as they did yesterday with manufacturing, engineering and all the functions staying intact in Waterloo and ultimately, we see growing,” he said.

“The business here is very valuable to FLIR and our ability to sell internationally is a key piece of keeping these components of the business here in Canada.”

Aeroyn Labs builds high-performance drones that are sold to a variety of customers including military, police services and commercial businesses. The drones can provide high-resolution images for surveillance and reconnaissance.

The drones already include cameras and thermal technology from FLIR. Jim Cannon, president and CEO of FLIR Systems, said acquiring Aeryon Labs is part of the company’s strategy to move beyond sensors “to the development of complete solutions that save lives and livelihoods.”

‘A piece of a bigger solution’

Kroetsch said this is a good way for the company to grow into something bigger.

“We see the business evolving in much the direction our business has been headed over the last couple of years. And that’s moving beyond the drone as a product in and of itself as a drone as a piece of a bigger solution,” he said.

For example, FLIR bought a drone company that builds smaller drones that look like little helicopters.

“We can imagine integrating those with our drones, perhaps having ours carry their drones and drop them off,” he said.

FLIR also does border security systems, which Kroetsch says could use the drones to allow border agents to look over a hill where there have been issues.

“We see the opportunity there as something that we never could have done on our own but being involved with and part of a larger company that’s already providing these solutions today gives us access not only to these great applications, but also to some fantastic technologies,” he said.

Aeryon Labs has done a lot of work during emergency disasters, including in Philippines after Typhoon Hagupit in 2014, Ecuador after an earthquake in 2016 and the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016.

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Inuvik infrastructure may not be ready for climate change, says study

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The Arctic is expected to get warmer and wetter by the end of this century and new research says that could mean trouble for infrastructure in Inuvik.

The study from Global Water Futures looked at how climate change could impact Havipak Creek — which crosses the Dempster Highway in Inuvik, N.W.T. — and it predicts some major water changes.

“They were quite distressing,” John Pomeroy, director of Global Water Futures and the study’s lead author, said of the findings.

Researchers used a climate model and a hydrological model to predict future weather and climate patterns in the region. They also looked at data gathered from 1960 to the present. 

If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate — which Pomeroy said they are on track to do — the study projects the region will be 6.1 C warmer by 2099 and precipitation, particularly rain, will increase by almost 40 per cent.

The study also found that the spring flood will be earlier and twice as large, and the permafrost will thaw an additional 25 centimetres. While the soil is expected to be wetter early in the summer, the study said it will be drier in late summer, meaning a higher risk of wildfires.

John Pomeroy is the director of Global Water Futures. (Erin Collins/CBC)

“The model’s painting kind of a different world than we’re living in right now for the Mackenzie Delta region,” Pomeroy said.

He noted these changes are not only expected for Havipak Creek, but also for “many, many creeks along the northern part of the Dempster [Highway].”

Pomeroy said the deeper permafrost thaw and a bigger spring flood could pose challenges for buildings, roads, culverts and crossings in the area that were designed with the 20th century climate in mind.

He said the projected growth of the snowpack and the spring flood are “of grave concern because that’s what washes out the Dempster [Highway] and damages infrastructure in the area.”

Culverts and bridges may have to be adjusted to allow room for greater stream flows, Pomeroy said. And building foundations that are dependent upon the ground staying frozen will have to be reinforced or redesigned.

Pomeroy said the ultimate solution is for humans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This study is the future we’re heading for, but it’s not the future we necessarily have if we can find a way to reduce those gases,” he said.  

“It’d be far smarter to get those emissions under control than to pay the terrible expenses for infrastructure and endangered safety of humans and destroyed ecosystems.”

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