Energy Policy Scenarios to 2050
2.2.5 North America
The North America region rates itself as above the middle with regard to its current state of achieving the 3 A's and still has to make some progress. In the context of the 3 A's, the dominant one for North America is Acceptability. The challenge for both Availability and Acceptability is to implement more effective public information and education programmes, as well as more effective approval and regulatory processes to ensure reliable and timely improvements in energy infrastructure.
For North America, access to abundant energy resources, combined with its successful development and utilisation, has contributed to its overall economic development and prosperity. In all three countries (Canada, Mexico, and the United States of America), extensive energy resources, with appropriate stewardship and management, will continue to contribute to economic prosperity of the region for the next half-century. This is particularly true in the United States and Canada; in Mexico, however, there is greater concern. Some 5% of the Mexican population has no access to electricity. In addition, in a few isolated communities in Canada and the United States, access is an issue either because of isolation or because of cost.
In North America, there are two issues with respect to security of energy supply. The first is related to the high degree of dependence on imported oil from other regions of the world, which is perceived to be unreliable. This is a problem especially for the United States, because it imports 50% of its oil. The second issue is the combination of reliability and vulnerability of existing energy systems to maintain a reliable supply - because of supply-demand tightness and vulnerability to extreme climatic (e.g., hurricanes) and terrorist attacks. Although 95% of the Mexican population has access to electricity, this supply is unreliable and the present level of reliability is only on the order of 15% that of the rest of North America.
Lastly, there is a related issue in all three North American countries arising from challenges in the approval of energy plants and infrastructure. Local opposition, referred to as the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) phenomenon, is increasing. Demand has continued to grow, while supply has not kept pace, which results in situations where the supply-demand balance has become very tight, with consequent increase in vulnerability to supply interruptions. Supply being curtailed or voltage being reduced (for electricity systems) is increasingly being implemented to maintain supply. In addition, aging energy plants and infrastructure need to be upgraded to meet rising standards of technical or environmental performance, or simply replaced at their end-of-life.
In North America, Acceptability is a large issue, particularly in the areas of large future energy developments, such as:
Unconventional and enhanced oil development
New nuclear power plants
Development of frontier lands (oil, natural gas, and hydropower)