Navigating Atlantic Canada’s Energy Transition

Navigating Atlantic Canada’s Energy Transition

Two people standing by computer

An impressive combination of experience in the energy sector and graduate-level education enables Net Zero Atlantic Research Manager Sven Scholtysik a strong ability to chart Atlantic Canada’s course as the region makes the transition to a cleaner energy future.

Since joining Net Zero Atlantic in 2020, Sven has been the driving force behind the Atlantic Canada Energy System (ACES) modelling project. He also coordinates research on low-carbon emission transition pathways, and is leading studies related to hydrogen and offshore wind, as well as potential clean growth opportunities. Sven’s previous experience includes work in the oil, wind and geothermal industries in Europe and North America. He also holds an MSc in Sustainable Energy Science and is a PhD Candidate in Mechanical Engineering at the Institute for Integrated Energy Systems at the University of Victoria.

Sven recently took the time to share his thinking about the energy transition, why Net Zero Atlantic’s work is important and what he hopes to achieve moving forward.

What interests you about the energy system transition?

The energy system transition is a very complex problem that can’t be approached from just one perspective. You need to integrate economics, engineering, policy and social sciences to fully understand and appreciate what the transition will mean for us. We need to find solutions that satisfy all these different disciplines.

What path have you followed to this point in your career?

In my career, I have always kept the big picture in mind. I started out in business and economics, and then made my way into a more technical field so that I could combine engineering and economics to analyze energy transition topics from at least those two perspectives. For my undergraduate degree, I completed a dual study program with BP – the oil and gas company. I worked for them full time, while going to university from 6 to 9:30 at night and sometimes on Saturdays. This was a lot of work, but it was also a lot of fun because every six months I was introduced to a new department in the company, giving me the opportunity to appreciate the same topic from different perspectives. After I graduated, I worked as a strategy analyst in the midterm planning department for a couple of years. However, I knew I still wanted to learn more about the other side of the energy system, not just hydrocarbons but also electricity. I found a program in Iceland that caters to people with a business background, introducing them to engineering and the technical side of low carbon electricity generation. During my time there I was lucky to also work for Landsvirkjun, the national power company of Iceland, on a wind power sustainability assessment project.

How did you become interested in energy system modelling?

Through my work in Iceland, I gained expertise in wind, hydro and geothermal. I worked in the geothermal sector in Canada for a bit, but quickly started noticing that if you just focus on one technology and work for one specific organization that just deals with that one technology then you're missing a big piece of the puzzle. That's when I was introduced to energy system modelling and the work being done at the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions at the University of Victoria. We looked at long-term energy system transition questions and all the different technologies that are important during the transition. That was something I really enjoyed, especially because we considered things from both a technical and an economic perspective. That’s the type of modelling we're doing now with the ACES model. It's a techno-economic optimization that combines technological detail with economic principles and allows for an analysis of key decarbonization policies and investment strategies.

Which of the current projects you’re working on at Net Zero Atlantic do you think is most important?

There’s no easy answer to this question. When it comes to the energy system transition, there's not going to be one big solution. Rather, it will be a portfolio of localized solutions for different parts of Atlantic Canada. Net Zero Atlantic leads various different technology-specific projects and all of them are important. There are a lot of technologies we need to figure out how to optimally integrate into the Nova Scotia system and the wider Atlantic Canadian system. And, of course, there are always topics that have increased activity or attention at certain points. Right now, the hot topics are hydrogen, and wind (both on and offshore) – but we cannot forget about exciting opportunities that might lie within other technologies like solar or geothermal. They all have their place and only if we look at all of them together can we figure out how they fit into the energy system and how they interact with each other. The energy system modeling project is of personal interest to me. It's a topic I’ve always liked, and it gives us an idea of where our priorities might lie in the future. I think it's a separate category of project that can help setting research priorities for the future.

Why do Nova Scotia and the Atlantic region need this kind of work to be done?

We know we must define an actionable strategy around reducing future GHG emissions. Because the energy system is so complex and includes many more sectors than just electricity generation, the steps we need to take are not intuitive. All investment and policy decisions in the energy system will influence other components in the system. For example, a policy decision related to a single technology, could very well have an impact on another part of the energy system we haven't really thought about.

Why does Net Zero Atlantic’s work matter?

Net Zero Atlantic’s work is important because we can help organizations navigate through the whole Atlantic Canadian energy system to set a strategy for the future. We analyze which knowledge gaps we need to close to devise a strategy that allows us to meet our decarbonization targets. We approach this by facilitating two different kinds of research. One is focused on proven technologies that exist outside of Atlantic Canada that we could adopt once we determine how to best integrate them into our system. An example for this is offshore wind.  It is an existing technology that is being applied globally on a large scale. What we need to figure out is if there is an economic case for offshore wind in Atlantic Canada and if so, how we best integrate it into the grid while keeping export opportunities in mind. The second category of research we do is related to knowledge gaps that exist here as well as in other parts of the world. For example, if we identify a process that is difficult to decarbonize with standard decarbonization options, we might have the opportunity to develop intellectual property in Atlantic Canada and export it to different jurisdictions around the world. Both types of research are very important in charting a path toward a low-carbon prosperous future for Atlantic Canada.