Carbon Dioxide Emissions

Fossil-fuelled generating stations that use coal, oil or natural gas to generate electricity burn their fuels to give off heat. This results in the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Other generating facilities such as wind turbines, solar panels and nuclear stations do not give off any greenhouse gas emissions when converting their energy sources into electrical energy.

For example, a nuclear station does not emit any greenhouse gases when converting the heat energy of split uranium atoms into electricity. However, the construction of the station itself and the mining of uranium does produce greenhouse gas emissions.

The same is true for solar and wind generating facilities. While solar panels do not produce any emissions when converting the sun’s energy to electricity, the process for manufacturing and installing solar panels does emit greenhouse gases.

In order to get the whole picture on how much carbon dioxide (CO2) is produced by different forms of electricity, all these factors need to be taken into consideration. This is commonly referred to as life cycle emissions because it takes into consideration all emissions resulting from a facility’s operations, from construction to demolition.

The chart below shows life cycle emissions for different forms of electricity generation. The CO2 emissions are measured in grams per kilowatt hour of electricity generated. An average home uses 1,000 kilowatt hours a month.

Life Cycle Carbon Emissions per kWh
Source
Grams
Coal
1001
Oil
840
Natural Gas
469
Solar
46
Nuclear
16
Wind
12
Hydro
4

Source:

Ontario Power Generation, http://www.opg.com/Pages/home.aspx.