Market Snapshot: Decreasing GHG intensity of electricity generation reflects changes within the power sector

Release date: 2016-08-24

Technological improvements and a shift towards lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emitting generation have resulted in decreasing GHG intensity (emissions per unit of electricity generated) in Canada’s power sector. From its peak in 2003 to 2014, GHG intensity dropped by 38 %, from 240 grams of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per kilowatt hour (kW.h) to 150 grams CO2e per kW.h. Total GHG emissions from electricity generation fell by approximately the same percentage, from 110 megatonnes (MT) to 67 MT, as total electricity generation in Canada remained fairly steady over that time frame.

Source and Description

Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada National Inventory Report

Description: This line graph illustrates GHG intensity of the electricity generation sector in Canada from 2000 to 2014 in grams of CO2e per kW.h of electricity generated. Emissions intensity has steadily decreased from 240 grams per kW.h in 2000 to 150 grams per kW.h in 2014. The graph also illustrates total electricity generated in Canada in terawatt hours (TW.h), which gradually increased from 539 TW.h in 2000 to 571 TW.h in 2014.

The single largest contribution to the decrease in GHG intensity was Ontario’s coal phase-out, which was officially completed in early 2014. This reduced total emissions from Ontario’s electricity generation from 43 MT to 6 MT. Canada-wide, the use of coal – which is almost two times more GHG intensive than natural gas – for electricity generation has declined 65% since 2005. This downward trend is expected to continue, as Alberta has also committed to phasing out coal-fired generation by 2030 and Saskatchewan commits to a target of 50% renewable power for the province by 2030.

Technological changes are also affecting GHG intensity. Natural gas-fired generation is becoming less GHG intensive due to increasing use of cogeneration, which repurposes heat recovered from gas-powered turbines. Coal-fired plants are also benefitting from technological improvements, including carbon capture and storage (CCS) systems which sequester CO2 before it is released into the atmosphere, and sometimes even repurposes it. In addition, advances in wind and solar technologies have made these options more cost effective and energy efficient, increasing their use.

Finally, national and regional climate change initiatives have contributed to the decline in GHG intensity by expediting the implementation of new technologies and emissions reduction plans. Quebec, Ontario, and Alberta are leaders in wind power capacity and these provinces contributed to installed wind power capacity in Canada growing twenty-fold between 2004 and 2014, from 444 MW, to 9 699 MW.

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