Energy Sources

There are six forms of energy that are commonly converted into other forms to do work such as heat our homes and light our streets. They are: chemical, gravitational, mechanical, nuclear, electromagnetic and thermal. All of these forms of energy have sources. A source of gravitational energy may be a waterfall or the atmosphere and a source of nuclear energy may be the Sun or uranium. Sometimes energy sources are energy converters as well. The Sun converts the nuclear energy it generates by fusion into thermal and electromagnetic energy, and is also the source of heat and light for the Earth. The Sun’s thermal energy, in turn, heats the air in the Earth’s atmosphere. The thermal energy is converted to gravitational potential energy as the heated air rises, and also to mechanical energy as the air moves around under these gravity-driven buoyancy conditions as wind. Another example would be a car battery. A car battery converts chemical energy into electrical energy but is also the source of electrical energy needed to start the car.

energy1Canada is a resource rich country with many available energy sources. There are vast reserves of coal, oil, natural gas and uranium; and many rivers that still could be developed into hydroelectric projects. There are also many areas where wind, solar and tidal power projects could one day be utilized. Presently, Canada uses fossil fuels as the source of energy to meet almost all of its transportation needs and uses hydroelectric dams, fossil fuels and nuclear power plants to generate most of its electrical needs. All of these energy sources are important because they give Canada an energy mix — which means flexibility. This flexibility gives Canada the ability to offset steep energy price increases such as those seen in the fossil industry over the past decade. Having an energy mix also gives Canada energy security. If, for example, a drought were to make it difficult for hydroelectric dams to generate electricity, other sources could increase production to meet the demand. The energy mix also provides flexibility to provide power where and when it is needed. The characteristics of each energy source act to compliment each other; for example, some are better suited to provide a baseload of generation while others are unable to do this but are better suited to helping meet periods of high demand. Some sources are more portable than others which are limited by geography and transmission limitations. Presently, although the current situation provides energy flexibility and security, the energy mix both in Canada and globally is being re-examined in terms of meeting future environmental and demand needs.

Electricity Generation in Canada 2008

p1Hydro 61.8%
p2Coal 19.2%
p3Nuclear 14.7%
p4Oil and Gas 3.8%
p5Internal Combustion and Renewables 0.5%

Considering both greenhouse gas emissions (leading to global warming) and pollution in general, which of these energy sources holds the greatest promise of generating enough electricity to meet our continually rising needs, give us clean air and not add carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere? Can we afford to burn all the fossil fuel resources we have available to us? Should we dam more rivers for hydroelectric projects? Do we have a plan to store used nuclear fuel? Can either wind turbines or solar power possibly generate enough electricity to meet our needs and can energy from these sources be stored for times when the wind is blowing and the sun isn’t shining? These are questions all Canadians need to take a serious look at in order to make informed choices for the future.