In Western Canada and around the world, the energy sector is rapidly transforming to one that promises to be cleaner, greener and more efficient. Each month, the Canada West Foundation’s Energy Innovation Brief brings you stories about technology innovations happening across the industry – in oil and gas, renewables, energy storage and transmission. If you have an idea for a story, email us at:
SEDV Student Takeover
The Master of Science in Sustainable Energy Development (SEDV) is an interdisciplinary graduate program at the University of Calgary that prepares the next generation of leaders in sustainable energy. With more than 400 graduates to date, the program helps keep Calgary and Alberta at the forefront of the global energy sector through the energy transition.
The curriculum covers a wide range of topics across energy systems, both current and future, through the lenses of technology, policy, business and social impact. The cross-disciplinary, holistic approach equips graduates to find solutions to multi-dimensional energy and environment problems. The research capstone project is a core part of the 16-month curriculum, where students apply concepts learned in the program to a real-world question, in partnership with industry, NGO, government and academic partners.
Featured capstone research projects
01| Can Eavor-Loop geothermal replace natural gas for heat and power at the University of Calgary?
02| Mapping the techno-economic feasibility of geothermal energy resources in Alberta
03| A multi-dimensional analysis of seasonal hydropower generation and pumped energy storage in an Alberta irrigation network
04| Hydrogen and ammonia pathways toward net-zero in the Northwest Territories
05| Commercialization potential of industry-specific methane biofilters
06| Feasibility study of residential cold climate air-source heat pumps as a sustainable solution in Calgary, Alberta
07| Review of carbon capture, utilization and sequestration options for natural gas-fired power generation
Can Eavor-Loop geothermal replace natural gas for heat and power at the University of Calgary?
Problem: The University of Calgary’s main campus is currently powered by a 14-megawatt natural gas turbine that co-produces both heat and power. While the system is an efficient means of generating energy for the campus’s needs, the combustion of natural gas results in undesirable emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
Research question: My study investigated whether Eavor-Loop geothermal technology could economically supply energy for the University of Calgary while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Eavor-Loop is a closed-loop geothermal system that extracts heat from deep within the earth. The heat can be fed directly into a district heating system or used to generate electricity with no greenhouse gas emissions.
Findings: The results showed that an Eavor-Loop system consisting of between two and four loops at a depth of nine km or greater could deliver enough energy to fully meet the demand for heat and electricity, with cost savings between 13% to 35% over the next 30 years compared to the current natural gas turbine. This would significantly decrease natural gas consumption by the University of Calgary and result in a 39% reduction in annual greenhouse gas emissions university-wide. The technology would also avoid the inherent problems of intermittency that would come from wind or solar energy production. Moreover, the system would allow ready integration into existing district heating networks, providing further cost savings compared to other renewable alternatives.
Mapping the techno-economic feasibility of geothermal energy resources in Alberta
Problem: Identifying favourable locations for geothermal projects usually starts with evaluating the geothermal gradient in a region. But the feasibility of a project also depends on ease and cost of drilling, proximity to customers who can use excess heat energy, the ease of linking with existing infrastructure and many other practical factors. Entities considering geothermal projects need access to this information to identify where to site projects.
Research question: My research modelled the economic viability of geothermal projects across the province of Alberta. The analysis used a geographic information systems (GIS) platform to integrate key geothermal, geologic, and infrastructure data layers with several user-defined economic variables. The resulting interactive maps provide estimated project costs and revenues of geothermal energy projects in Alberta under varying techno-economic scenarios for 40°C and 80°C resource temperatures (direct-use heating projects) and 120°C and 150°C resource temperatures (combined heat & power projects).
Findings: The regions in Alberta with the highest geothermal gradients do not necessarily correlate with the locations of the most economically viable projects. A project’s economic feasibility is heavily dependent on a reservoir’s ability to generate flow rates generally exceeding 45kg/s per production well. Project economics are also very sensitive to costs to drill, costs to link into surface infrastructure (roads or transmission lines), and the project’s ability to sell heat to nearby customers. The models published at https://public.tableau.com/app/profile/gordon.brasnett show the key metrics that developers must achieve for a geothermal project to be profitable and can help developers target more detailed feasibility investigations.
A multi-dimensional analysis of seasonal hydropower generation and pumped energy storage in an Alberta irrigation network
Problem: Southern Alberta contains a web of irrigation canals and reservoirs that move water from April through October to irrigate over 1.4 million acres of farmland. This infrastructure is approaching scheduled lifecycle maintenance and repair. As part of these upgrades, there may be an opportunity to add additional seasonal hydropower generation and pumped energy storage. But is it feasible and economic?
Research question: My research compared three proposed seasonal hydropower generation (summer) and pumped energy storage (winter) projects within the Alberta irrigation system to evaluate their energy, environmental and economic value. Energy storage was analyzed under three separate operating strategies: energy arbitrage, regulating reserve, and a spinning reserve market.
Findings: I found that new seasonal hydropower generation could supply up to 16,600 MWh/year of renewable electricity to the carbon-intensive Alberta grid, while also displacing up to 8,516 tonnes of CO2e/year. Conversely, equipping the projects with pumped hydro energy storage resulted in a net increase in carbon emissions due to the energy losses in the turbine, pump, and pipes and the emissions associated with drawing power from the Alberta grid. This resulted in emissions of 41 – 1,327 tonnes of CO2e/year depending on the operating strategy. The demand tariffs (charges paid by a load to access the transmission system) greatly impacted the optimal equipment selection and energy storage operating strategy. The best energy storage returns were obtained by operating on the spinning or contingency reserve, installing the smallest pump possible and cycling a low amount of energy—thus reducing the demand tariffs paid. In conclusion, all three projects evaluated were economically feasible. The implementation of one or more of these projects would improve the economic resources of the irrigation district and create more green electricity for the Alberta grid, all while using existing dams, canals, and reservoirs.
Hydrogen and ammonia pathways toward net-zero in the Northwest Territories
Problem: Currently, the Northwest Territories (NWT) produces 89.3% of its energy from fossil fuels, despite the NWT having vast untapped hydropower resources available year-round. Due to this high fossil fuel usage, the NWT has per capita emissions ~1.8 times the Canadian average. For the NWT to meet Canada’s 2050 net-zero goal, there is a high need for a clean, robust, and resilient energy system in the territory that can meet the demands of all sectors.
Research question: I conducted an energy system analysis to identify the key sectors in the NWT that can be transitioned to zero-emission hydrogen and ammonia energy carriers, and to determine the additional hydroelectric capacity that needs to be constructed to produce both fuels. In addition, I modelled and quantified drop-in biofuel substitution and increased electrification for a net-zero scenario that covers all sectors within the NWT.
Findings: My analysis found that by increasing the current hydroelectric capacity by 731 MW, enough electricity would be available to produce the hydrogen backbone of this energy system. This system can provide a basis for a 100% reduction of fossil-based carbon dioxide emissions when paired with increased passenger vehicle electrification and drop-in biofuel substitution. If territorial hydropower resources were used to create non-carbon energy carriers like hydrogen and ammonia, a made-in NWT pathway to net zero might be possible, benefitting both the environment and the local economy by keeping energy dollars within the NWT. The pathways explored in this work may be helpful for other regions in the north that share similar climate and infrastructure challenges.
Commercialization potential of industry-specific methane biofilters
Problem: Methane biofilters (MBFs) are a technology that use methane-eating bacteria to convert methane (CH4), a key greenhouse gas, to less polluting end products. MBFs are designed to be used as an alternative to flaring and venting activities and are particularly useful for low-volume point-source methane emissions (flow rates up to 100 m3 per day). Managing these low-volume emissions presents a unique challenge as they are too small to be collected for heat or electricity generation, but over time can add up to significant emissions.
Research question: My study evaluated six active MBF pilot installations in oil & gas, agriculture and waste industries in Western Canada. The purpose was to identify whether MBF technology is economically feasible. The analysis drew on conclusions from previous research on MBF technical, process and market evaluations.
Findings: My study found that the six pilot projects cost between $10 and $16 per ton of CO2e removed. Variations were driven by the concentration of methane in the inlet stream as well as the size and design (open vs. closed) of the system. This cost is relatively cost-efficient compared to other emission reduction technologies such as reforestation, soil carbon sequestration and carbon capture and storage and also fills a gap for which other technologies may not be suitable. In conclusion, the application of MBFs in this context has high potential but the choice to adopt this technology is dependent largely upon the lifecycle costs and benefits of each system design and the industry in which it is used.
Feasibility study of residential cold climate air-source heat pumps as a sustainable solution in Calgary, Alberta
Problem: Buildings account for 17% of energy use and 14% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Canada. Heat pumps are often recognized as a means to electrify and decarbonize heating in residences and other buildings, as an alternative to burning natural gas or heating oil. However, heat pumps have historically had challenges in climates such as Calgary’s as they don’t work well under very cold conditions.
Research question: My research is intended to provide the information needed to inform potential consumers about when and under what conditions installing a cold climate air-source heat pump (ccASHP) on a townhouse in Calgary would make sense when taking into account energy consumption, GHG emissions and costs.
Findings: When compared with a natural gas furnace (NGF) with air-conditioning, ccASHPs provide a significant energy efficiency benefit—consuming less than 50% energy for heating, cooling and domestic hot water. The ccASHP system also has the potential to provide environmental benefits; however, this is dependent on the emissions intensity of the local electrical grid. Within Alberta, the ccASHP is likely to provide an environmental benefit as of 2023 based on forecasted grid emissions. While the ccASHP system can provide energy and environmental benefits, the economics of these systems are not yet competitive compared to a NGF system. This is due to high upfront costs (nearly four times that of an NFG) as well as operating costs due to the historically low price of natural gas within Alberta.
Review of carbon capture, utilization and sequestration options for natural gas-fired power generation
Problem: Fossil-source power plants, including coal and natural gas burning plants, represent some of the largest industrial-scale GHG emissions sources globally and are the target of many emissions reduction initiatives. Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Sequestration (CCUS) is often referenced as an option to curtail industrial emissions through the capture of CO2, transportation, utilization and permanent geological storage. However, questions remain about the role of CCUS with respect to natural gas power production and whether Natural Gas Combined Cycle (NGCC) power plants can continue to be relevant in a future focused on emission-free energy production.
Research question: My research comprised a technical assessment of five hypothetical CO2 pipeline designs from an NGCC power plant to a permanent geological storage hub along the Alberta Carbon Trunk Line (ACTL). Each design was evaluated on its economic and environmental benefits.
Findings: My research found that using CCUS as a means to maximize return on investment and extend the operating life of NGCC power plants was economically feasible. The results identified an optimal pipeline route from a Calgary NGCC power plant to the sequestration hub in Clive with a construction cost of C$324 million and based on a specific set of assumptions showed that the pipeline project was economically viable with a 2021 carbon tax of $40/tonne of CO2.
The Energy Innovation Brief is compiled by Brendan Cooke and Marla Orenstein. This month’s edition features contributions by the students of the University of Calgary SEDV MSc program. If you like what you see, subscribe to our mailing list and share with a friend. If you have any interesting stories for future editions, please send them to .