Renewable electricity capacity in Canada will grow over the next few years at less than half the rate it’s seen in recent years, according to federal projections.
Renewable energy sources accounted for 67% of the country’s power capacity in 2017, up from 61.5% in 2010, the Canada Energy Regulator (CER) reported this week. Hydropower delivered the largest share at 55%, down from 57.1%, while wind turbines stood at 8.6%, up from 2.8%, solar panels at 1.8%, up from 0.2%, and biomass and geothermal at 1.6%, up from 1.3%.
The annual growth rate for renewables was 2.9% over that eight-year span but will drop to 1.3% during CER’s projection period of 2018 to 2023, finishing at 71.2% of total capacity. The regulator sees wind achieving the highest share increase, rising to 10.6% (15,851 MW of turbines), while solar capacity jumps to 3% (4,398 MW of panels). Hydropower will move to 56% (83,315 MW) and biomass/geothermal to 1.7% (2,463 MW of capacity).
The forecast predicts the growth of renewable capacity in Alberta and Saskatchewan will lead the country, while Ontario lags behind. “I know there are people out there, when they think of Alberta and Saskatchewan, they may think of oil and gas production,” said CER Chief Economist Darren Christie. “The reality is the Prairies are a place with a lot of wind and sun. So it’s kind of ripe for growth.”
Across the country, most sources of non-renewable electricity will decline in share through 2023, with nuclear dropping from 9.1% in 2017 to 6.5% (9,673 MW), coal from 6.5% to 3.9% (5,880 MW), and oil-fired electricity from 2.4% to 1.3% (1,966 MW) of total capacity. Only natural gas generating capacity will increase, from 15%to 17% (25,342 MW) by 2023.
The decline for nuclear is temporary as Ontario refurbishes several reactors over the next decade.
Overall, the agency expects renewable electricity to grow by 7,407 MW over the six years, while thermal generation capacity shrinks by 5,686 MW.
CER does not power generation output for the near term, but the report notes that wind generated 31,860 GWh in 2018 (5% of total output) versus 8,354 GWh (1.4%) in 2010. Output from solar was 2,999 GWh (0.5%) compared with 123 GWh in 2010. Together, all renewable energies generated 425,722 GWh (66.2%) in 2018, while national electricity output rose 10.8% from 2010 to 2017.
“Decarbonizing electricity and electrifying end-use energy are two key components in Canada’s transition to a sustainable, low-carbon energy future,” the report explains. “Generation from renewable sources is expected to continue increasing as demand for electricity increases and as electricity generation in Canada continues to decarbonize.”
Canada’s electricity sector emitted 70 million tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2018, including 44 Mt from coal and 21 Mt from natural gas. Emissions from power generation have declined 31% since 2010, with 35 Mt of that reduction due to lower coal-fired output.
Nunavut produces all its electricity from diesel, resulting in a carbon intensity of 840 grams of CO2e per kilowatt-hour of generation. Quebec and Manitoba sit at the other end of the scale, at 1.3 grams per kilowatt-hour, since virtually all their electricity is generated from hydropower.