Generating Electricity

Generation is one of the 3 key components that make up our national electricity industry:

  • Generation (making electricity)
  • Transmission (moving electricity across high-voltage lines from generating plants to communities)
  • Distribution (delivering electricity to individual customers)

Canada is 4th in the world for exporting the electricity it generates.

How electricity is generated

Electricity is produced when mechanical energy is harnessed and used to rotate a turbine.

The mechanical energy to spin the turbine can come from a variety of sources, including falling water, wind, or steam from heat generated either by a nuclear reaction or by burning fossil fuels.

Electricity generation sources

To generate electricity in Canada, we use:

Hydro

Hydropower uses the power of flowing water to create electricity. It is a clean and renewable resource from which Canada creates most its electricity.

Canada is the world’s third largest hydropower producer. Because of its flexible storage capability and operational flexibility, we can depend on hydro continuously.

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Nuclear

Nuclear power comes from a nuclear fission process that generates heat, which is used to generate the steam that rotates the turbines to generate electricity.

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Coal

Coal is an abundant and inexpensive energy source with a long history. It provides 40% of the world’s electricity.

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Natural Gas

Natural gas, a fossil fuel found in underground reservoirs, emits approximately half the carbon emissions of coal when used to produce electricity.

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Biomass

Burning organic materials produces high-pressure steam that drives a turbine generator to make electricity. The extracted steam from the power plant can also be put to use.

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Wind

Turbines capture kinetic energy from wind and convert it into electricity. The amount of energy is determined by the speed of the wind.

Ontario has the largest wind market in Canada, with 2,465 wind turbines and 4,781 MW of installed capacity. (CANWEA)

Wind is a renewable source of energy that has relatively little impact on the surrounding area, apart from aesthetic and noise concerns. Successful development of energy storage technology will have significant impacts on our electricity grid’s ability to incorporate intermittent electricity supplies like wind power.

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Oil

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Cogeneration

Cogeneration is when waste heat from electricity generation is recovered and used for applications, such as space heating and cooling, water heating, and industrial process heat.

  • According to the Canadian Industrial Energy End-Use Data and Analysis Centre, in 2012 there were 200 cogeneration systems in Canada with an operating capacity of 6.5 GW.
  • Alberta and Ontario account for 67% of the cogeneration capacity in Canada. Canadian utilities account for the most cogeneration capacity, at 45% when classified by systems operator. This is followed by paper manufacturing, at 23%.
Solar

Two technologies harness solar energy. Solar photvoltaic converts sunlight to direct current electricity using semiconductors, while solar thermal uses the sun’s heat.

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Tidal

Tidal power is created when tides rotate submerged turbines. The resulting energy is converted into electricity. North America’s first grid-connected tidal turbine is in Nova Scotia.

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Geothermal

Geothermal energy uses the internal heat of the Earth’s crust to produce electricity. Geothermal generation is concentrated in regions that are volcanically and tectonically active.

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Choosing the primary source

How electricity is generated is heavily influenced by the resources available for producing mechanical energy.

For example:

  • Quebec and BC have an abundance of rivers necessary for hydroelectricity
  • Saskatchewan, which has a flat landscape and a lack of major rivers, has an abundance of coal
  • Alberta is rich with oil and natural gas
  • Ontario has made significant investments in nuclear

Economic and environmental

Canada’s electricity system is already relatively clean and low carbon. The share of renewables in the electricity mix is expected to increase to 12% by 2035, due to the continuous advancement of technology, decreased production costs of renewables, and our collective efforts to protect the environment.