Market Snapshot: Canada’s power generation: switching from coal to natural gas

Release date: 2017-04-12

The greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity of Canadian electricity generation has been declining. Currently, two main fossil fuels are used to generate electricity in Canada: coal and natural gas. Coal is almost two times more GHG intensive than natural gas. Over the last 20 years, the use of coal in electricity generation has fallen significantly, from 15% of total generation in 1996, to 11% by 2015. The use of natural gas in electricity generation has increased significantly, from 3% of total generation in 1996, to 11% by 2015.Footnote 1

Source and Description

Source: Statistics Canada: CANSIM 128-0014

Description: This line graph shows the annual amount of electricity generated in Canada using natural gas and coal from 1996 to 2015. The amount generated is measured in terawatt hours (TW.h) per year. Electricity generated from coal increased between 1996 and 2000, and then declined most years from 2000 to 2015. Electricity generated from natural gas generally increased between 1996 and 2015. As a result of these trends, coal and natural gas each accounted for approximately the same amount of Canadian electricity generation in 2015 – between 65 and 66 TW.h.

The generation from natural gas increased from 17 terawatt hours (TW.h) in 1996, to 65 TW.h in 2015. Coal generation increased from 1996 until 2000, when it peaked at around 107 TW.h, and then fell to 66 TW.h in 2015. These trends have been driven primarily by developments in the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario. Natural gas use has risen dramatically across these three provinces. Between 1996 and 2015, natural gas use in power generation has grown at average annual rates of 4.7% in Ontario, 8.7% in Alberta, and 11.6% in Saskatchewan. In 2015, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario combined, accounted for 88% of natural gas-generated electricity in Canada.

The decline in coal usage primarily stems from Ontario’s complete phase-out of coal-fired generation, which moved from a peak of 41 TW.h in 2000 to zero TW.h in 2015. During the same time period, coal use remained steady in both Alberta and Saskatchewan, growing at an annual average rate of 0.6% and 0.8%, respectively. In 2015, Alberta and Saskatchewan accounted for 88% of all coal-generated electricity in Canada.

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