Canadian Energy Demand

Take a few moments and think about what your life would be like without electricity. It is used for just about everything you do. Lights, hot water, heat, food, computers, television, street lights, traffic lights, and all those other gadgets you use everyday rely on electricity. Perhaps you were in Ontario on August 14, 2003. On that day, almost all of Ontario and a large part of the Eastern United States lost electrical power, affecting some 50 million people. Fortunately the outage occurred in the day time and lasted only a few hours. Overall, despite a few inconveniences, all went well. In 1977, the residents of New York weren’t so lucky. When the power failed on one hot night in July, the city descended rapidly into chaos. Within a matter of a few hours looting and arson became rampant, and during the night over 3,000 people were arrested for various crimes. Electricity is the life blood of our society. Without it our society as we know it simply wouldn’t be able to function. We are extremely fortunate not only to have access to a reliable and affordable supply of electricity but also access to all of the resources needed to generate electricity.

Electricity Generation in Canada in 2012
Percentage of Total
Natural Gas
Solar, Tidal & Other

Canada is the fifth largest electricity producer in the world; total world production of primary energy being 460.139 x 1015 British Thermal Units (BTUs).  Largest is the United States (69.640 x 1015 BTUs), followed by China (63.229 x 1015 BTUs), Russia (52.717 x 1015 BTUs), and Saudi Arabia (25.508 x 1015 BTUs).  In Canada we generate about 4% of the total world production of primary energy (19.087 x 1015 BTUs), much of which is exported to the United States. Approximately 63.3% of our electricity is generated using hydroelectric dams, 19.7% from the burning of fossil fuels (coal and gas), 15.3% from nuclear power plants and less than 2% from alternative energy sources. This is known as Canada’s energy mix. Since 1980, Canada’s energy consumption has grown by 86% and will continue to grow with population and the economic sector. Economic growth of any nation is directly tied to access to affordable energy. As Canada grows, our energy demands will grow.

Having a wide energy mix like ours is strength. Some sources of energy such as nuclear, fossil fuel, and hydro are good for baseload generation. Some sources such as solar and wind only operate intermittently, so cannot be used in this capacity, but power generated through these could be stored, and used, during peak demand times, complimenting the baseload generation.

Canada is a resource-rich country with vast reserves of oil, gas, coal, uranium and many rivers that can still be used for future hydroelectric projects. Each of these technologies has its benefits and its challenges. Hydroelectric dams often require the flooding of large areas of land. The burning of fossil fuels for transportation and electricity generation emits millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases and other pollutants into the atmosphere; nuclear power plants produce highly radioactive used fuel which must be managed and stored for hundreds of years; and current alternative energy technologies like wind, solar, tidal and biomass can only meet a fraction of our electrical needs. The question we need to ask is what role each of these technologies plays in the electricity mix to best suit our future needs if we want clean air and to reduce our contribution to global warming?