Alberta and Calgary are well positioned to become the global leader in utilizing natural gas as a transportation fuel.
At a time when natural gas prices are expected to remain low for an extended period of time, and global supplies are increasing, it is important to evaluate ways we can increase the demand for a commodity that is vital to Alberta's economic growth.
Not only do we have an abundance of natural gas in Alberta, Calgary is quickly becoming an international transportation and logistics hub. This sector accounts for six per cent of the GDP in the Calgary region and employs nearly 80.000 workers at more than 4.200 business establishments.
Well-known international companies have selected Calgary as a site for major investments in distribution centres, including Walmart, Costco, Canadian Tire, Westfair Foods, WestJet, Canadian Pacific Railway, UPS, Purolator, FedEx and Canadian National Railway. If the large vehicle fleets of these companies - as well as school buses, taxis, Canada Post trucks and City of Calgary vehicles (police, fire, waste management, snow removal, etc.) all operated on natural gas, demand for this home-grown fuel would increase.
There are a number of tangible benefits to running vehicles on natural gas, including significant cost savings and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Compared to gasoline, natural gas reduces green-house gas emissions by 27 to 30 per cent, and has a cost difference of approximately 48 cents per litre. These are two bottom line benefits for both the environment and our wallets.
While these are tangible benefits, critics will point out that there are a number of technical choke points that need to be addressed before the transportation sector in Calgary can fully become a part of the natural gas economy of the future.
The first issue is the availability of engines and vehicles that can use com-pressed natural gas or liquid natural gas. The second issue is the availability of infrastructure for refuelling of these vehicles.
These concerns can be seen as great opportunities for Calgary in its quest to become a global energy centre. They have already been addressed in other parts of the world, so surely we can overcome these challenges in Alberta, where natural gas is inexpensive and abundant.
Taxi cabs in Argentina, manufactured by General Motors, burn natural gas as well as gasoline. While only a few such vehicles operate in North America today, Chrysler has announced plans to introduce its European Fiat natural gas automobile into North America. Honda is seeking partners with fuelling stations to support its natural gas vehicles produced in the U.S. Both General Motors and Chrysler have announced their intention to produce pickup trucks with natural gas engines for the North American market within the next two production years.
Closer to home, Westport Innovations, in conjunction with Cummings, has been developing truck engines that run on natural gas. Similarly, Ferus Inc., a Calgary company, has received its first instalment of vehicles run by liquid natural gas. The momentum is building and Calgary has a chance to lead this parade.
The City of Calgary and companies with vehicle fleets are well positioned to become the first to introduce natural gas fuelling facilities and engines into their fleets as vehicles are retired. This is a tremendous opportunity for Calgary to increase its global competitiveness, attract new investment and build on our strengths to become the leading global energy centre.
By Bruce Graham, president and CEO of Calgary Economic Development; Roger Gibbins, president and CEO of the Canada West Foundation; and Peter Wallis, president and CEO of the Van Horne Institute.
The Calgary Herald
March 19, 2012