When trying to help Canadians understand how we can transition to a low-carbon economy, Dr. Chad Walker, Environment’s most-recentAMTD Waterloo Global Talent Postdoctoral Fellow has a helpful heuristic.

“The transition to innovative and sustainable energy systems are often thought of in terms of the four D’s decarbonization, decentralization, digitalization and democratization,” Walker says.All are important, but I am most interested in the last democratization. What happens when our energy system is more local and in the hands of citizens like you and me?”

As his AMTD Waterloo Global Talent Postdoctoral fellowship comes to an end, and Walker moves on to continue his research as an Assistant Professor at Dalhousie’s School of Planning, he has come to better understand where Canadians stand in terms of their desire to help democratize the energy systems as we know them today. 

Preliminary results are suggesting that people in Canada are more likely to support these local projects and that this may be associated with a stronger desire to see energy systems reimagined using ‘the four Ds’,Walker says. “Especially that such systems become democratized moving forward.  

These results come from his research project, An Opportunity for Smart Local Energy Systems to ‘Build Back Better’. The pandemic-inspired work centres around the federal government of Canada’s investment of up to $100 billion over the next three fiscal years into a variety of projects to boost the economy. Central to Walker’s work is the $100 million Smart Grid Program, which has helped to fund new local, smart and clean energy projects across Canada. 

Guiding these projects is the government’s newly released Emissions Reduction Plan. Tied to the Paris Agreement, it outlines a pathway for Canada to reach a 40 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, compared to 2005 levels.

Each one of us plays a role in this transition which is what Walker plans on exploring next the nuts and bolts of how we accomplish this in a way that is democratic, equitable, and just.

“The core of our work will be to meet with local communities and residents actually playing host to and living with elements of Smart Grid projects things like, electric vehicles, smart meters, storage batteries, rooftop solar PV and heat pumps. We need to understand the daily-life reality of this local energy transition to ensure a better future across the board.

Each of these practical measures are critical, however they don’t tell the whole story. 

“Overall, very little progress has been made in meeting our ambitious goals,” Walker says. “We can look at the fact that one quarter of our national emissions come from the oil and gas sector, or that our per capita emissions are two, three and even four times larger than many countries like the UK, Germany, France and Sweden. All of these are key indicators that our current energy system is not sustainable.”

He believes that Canada needs to help scale-up the rollout of solutions and work quickly, implementing many of the changes outlined in the Emissions Reduction Plan immediately through policies and programs that get us on the road to Net Zero by 2050. 

At the same time, we must realize that governments at all levels, federal, provincial, territorial and municipal, have a role to play in creating just and equitable low-carbon energy futures,” he says. 

“In my upcoming work at Dalhousie, I will build off my experiences as an AMTD Global Talent Postdoctoral Research Fellow to study how we best design local energy systems, including the role that participatory urban planning might have in creating communities that can both help mitigate and adapt to climate change in the right way.” 

Waterloo’s AMTD program supports emerging scholars who have research agendas with global impact to generate talent and ideas that lead a future of great opportunity and waves of disruption. Walker’s work is transforming the narrative and disrupting the approach to our climate crisis.

For more details about AMTD Postdocs and the process to become an AMTD scholar, please visit  AMTD Waterloo Global Talent Postdoctoral Fellowship.  Additional funding programs are also available for postdoctoral scholars through the University. Please visit " Find postdoc funding " for information on the various opportunities.