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Insights How is clean energy shaping engineering in Canada?

It is widely acknowledged that the world is amid a climate crisis, and we must act fast to prevent further damage. Canada is one of 197 countries that signed the Paris Agreement in 2015. However, in 2019 it was reported that Canada is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, with a loss of snow and sea ice. This in turn increases the absorption of solar radiation and causing larger surface warming than in other regions. Between this and the rising and ageing population that needs to be provided for, we have a big challenge ahead of us to prevent further damage.

Regarding the sustainable infrastructure opportunity, Mike Hayes of KPMG says ‘unlike COVID-19, there will never be a vaccine for climate change – it is only the actions we take today that will help to solve the problem’. One way in which we can do this, is to engineer construction and infrastructure projects with sustainability considered at every single level. Within AtkinsRéalis and our brands Atkins and Faithful+Gould, we are proud to employ astute engineers who create innovative solutions for sustainability that will enable a safe and healthy future for the next generation.

image of a planned green building with designs

What is clean energy and why is it important?

Clean energy is another term for renewable energy which is used to describe energy that occurs from natural sources which are inexhaustible or available intermittently. Renewable energy comes from resources such as the sun, wind, waves, or tides and emits much lower levels of carbon dioxide emissions than those which are fossil fuel based.

Carbon emissions are contributing to the rising climate, and we all have a responsibility to change our behaviours to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees, as set out in the Paris Agreement. If we can achieve this goal, it is hoped that it will prevent further unpredictable weather patterns, rising sea levels and widespread flooding which can damage ecosystems and spread disease.

Currently, the construction industry makes substantial contributions to carbon emissions. Infrastructure projects such as power plants, buildings, and transport are responsible for around 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions and the Global Construction 2030 report reveals that over the next decade, construction output will expand by 85%.

How is clean energy transforming engineering?

To mitigate the impact of increased construction output, clean energy must be utilized on projects. John Chahwan, Director of Engineering – Power Delivery in Canada, believes that a series of changes in the energy sector will allow us to use energy resources more efficiently and effectively. ‘With many disruptive technologies on the rise, including energy storage, AI, carbon capture and hydrogen energy, energy sector professionals have the daunting and exciting task to look at complete systems, and come up with the optimal technology mixes that best serve communities and help preserve our planet.’

Engineers are taking steps to use recycled resources, including cement substitutes with lower carbon intensity on civil engineering projects. In addition, they are also using methods to safely capture carbon that is emitted during infrastructure building processes. This entails capturing carbon at its source and using or story it to prevent it damaging the atmosphere. We are also seeing an increase in innovative construction techniques, such as modular, prefabrication and offsite whereby materials and resources are made to measure away from project sites. This helps to increase efficiencies and performance whilst lowering costs, waste, and carbon.

On our projects, engineers within the AtkinsRéalis Group are also employing technology such as BIM to use resources more effectively and minimize the use of non-renewable materials. BIM enables professionals to reduce waste and the amount of energy used whilst also improving overall efficiency, accuracy and speed, just as we did on Project Neon in Las Vegas.

What does the future hold?

As the climate set to change over the coming years, engineers also need to take action today and plan for resiliency. With more extreme and unpredictable weather conditions expected such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and heatwaves, engineers need to consider specialized equipment and materials which may be necessary so that infrastructure is built to withstand these conditions. Trombe walls, heavyweight structures of concrete, stone, or other heavy material are already used to capture solar heat in China, Chile, and Egypt and in Kerala, India, flood-resistant houses are constructed on pillars to allow floodwater to flow underneath.

Former American Institute of Architects president Carl Elefante argues, ‘the greenest building is one that is already built’, claiming that the construction of new low-carbon ‘green’ buildings are no longer seen as the fastest path to mitigating climate change. Rather, retrofitting existing buildings can achieve up to 70 percent less energy use therefore it’s likely that we will see an increase in this as Governments across Canada are reintroducing incentives to retrofit buildings.

The Government of Canada recently launched a $964 million program to support smart renewable energy and grid modernization projects. It will focus on projects using non-emitting, cleaner energy technologies including storage and modernizing electricity system operations. The future is bright for renewable energy jobs in Canada as it’s hoped that they will deliver cleaner, more reliable electricity for citizens and that net-zero emissions will be achieved by 2050.

Make a tangible difference to the world as a renewable energy engineer

It’s clear that establishing clean energy solutions for sustainability is no easy task, but our teams of talented experts within AtkinsRéalis enjoy challenges that have tangible results. Gillian, a senior engineer in our offshore wind business at Atkins, focuses on the asset integrity of offshore wind farms. This is important because we are making it easier and less costly to run wind farms once they’ve been installed and are generating electricity. She enjoys that her work makes a real difference in the world, whilst also being interesting and technical.

We’re looking to grow our teams, and we need to brightest minds to help us deliver our sustainability targets. If you enjoy continuous learning and development and you’re looking to make a change in the world, apply for a job in engineering today and watch your career grow.