Two scenarios for Canada’s 2020 electricity situation

This previous post on Canada’s new commitment to generate 90% of its electricity from sources that do not emit greenhouse gasses by 2020 was a bit too wide-ranging, since it sought to consider all possible mixes that satisfied the 90% criterion. A more reasonable approach is to consider two plausible scenarios.

In the first scenario, electricity demand rises by 10%. Assuming that means 10% more generating capacity is required, that means increasing Canada’s electrical capacity to 132 gigawatts. Doing so while achieving the 90% target would mean scrapping 20.4 gigawatts of emitting capacity (about three times the capacity of all of Ontario’s coal plants) and building 32.4 gigawatts of non-emitting capacity (six giant dams or about thirty five nuclear reactors).

In the second scenario, energetic conservation efforts cause demand to fall by 10%. As such, we would be able to cut our total generating capacity to 99 gigawatts. Producing that while reaching the 90% target would mean scrapping 23.1 gigawatts of emitting capacity (3.5 times Ontario’s coal plants) and building 23.1 gigawatts of non-emitting capacity (under five giant dams, or about twenty five nuclear reactors).

The numbers might work out a bit differently if you did the calculations based on terawatt-hours of electricity use, rather than gigawatts of installed capacity.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

5 thoughts on “Two scenarios for Canada’s 2020 electricity situation”

  1. I found your analysis easy to understand. I was somewhat struck that the difference in increasing 0r decreasing electrical consumption by 10% results in a difference between the need to build 6 giant dams instead of 5. I would have thought there would have been more of a difference.

    I was wondering between the option of nuclear reactors and dams, which you would recommend and why given the present or future anticipated technologies.

  2. The difference between the gigawatts of capacity and terawatt-hours of output figures comes down to the different statistics used for the calculations.

    The GW figures were based on Canada having about 120 GW of installed capacity, about 70% of which is non-emitting.

    The more recent and authoritative TWH numbers are based on Canada producing 583 TWH of electricity, about 78.8% of which is non-emitting.

    Using the TWH figures and a scenario where electricity demand rises about 10%, about 14-16 new large nuclear reactors would be required, or alternative sources of non-emitting energy with the same output. In a scenario where demand falls 10%, only 2 new reactors would be needed.

    Note that this assumes that all existing non-emitting capacity continues to operate.

  3. Does Canada even have the option of building more ‘giant dams?’ I thought all the good sites in developed states had basically been used.

    Also, 32.4 gigawatts divided by five dams means 6,480 megawatts per dam. The W. A. C. Bennett Dam has a capacity of just 2,730 megawatts.

  4. Electricity generated from coal – Total electricity generated (2006)

    Canada: 97,625 gigawatt-hours (GWH)

    Nova Scotia: 7,054 GWH
    New Brunswick: 3,513 GWH
    Ontario: 28,494 GWH
    Manitoba: 352 GWH
    Saskatchewan: 11,620 GWH
    Alberta: 46,592 GWH

    Report on Energy Supply-demand in Canada (2006)
    Catalogue no. 57-003-X

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