On October 14, 2016, the National Energy Board (NEB) released a report on Canada’s Renewable Energy Landscape (the Report). The Report is one of a series of publications on energy supply, demand and infrastructure that the NEB publishes regularly as part of its ongoing market monitoring.
One of the key findings of the Report is that although renewable energy capacity increased across Canada, it was primarily driven by policies and initiatives in Ontario and Quebec. Together, these two provinces accounted for over 75% of the wind and solar capacity added between 2005 and 2015. The Report also suggests that in general, new capacity additions have been limited because of low demand growth and the long-lived nature of electricity facilities.
The Report notes that a decade ago, wind, solar, biomass and other non-hydro renewables comprised just 2% of total Canadian capacity. Growth over the last decade has been very impressive, with wind capacity growing 1,900% and solar growing 12,500%. However, the total share of non-hydro renewables in 2015 was just 11% of capacity. Because solar and wind are intermittent, these renewables accounted for just 7% of generation.
As noted, Ontario and Quebec appear to be the primary drivers of non-hydro renewable capacity installation in Canada. In Ontario, renewable capacity for wind, solar and biomass increased from 1% in 2005 to 17% in 2015. In Quebec, wind capacity also increased from 1% in 2005 to 7% in 2015 (however, solar and biomass capacity did not increase in Quebec). Together, these two provinces currently have 10,574 MW of installed wind, solar and biomass capacity out of a nation-wide total of 15,602 MW.
According to the Report, continued renewable growth in Canada is facing challenges. These include public opposition to renewable projects and approval delays. Environmental effects, such as impacts on wildlife habitat from wind turbines and hydro dams, are also a factor.
In addition, one of the biggest challenges appears to be that Canadian demand for energy is generally flat. The Report notes that growth in renewables generally occurs as replacements for existing generation rather than in response to new demand. This helps to explain why some provinces, like Ontario, have installed renewables where other provinces have not, as coal-fired generation was mandatorily phased out and replaced with renewables in Ontario.
On a positive note, the Report points out that while 11% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) come from the electricity sector, emissions from this sector declined 40% from 2000 to 2014. This was due primarily to the phase-out of coal in Ontario and initiatives to reduce GHGs in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. A full copy of the Report is available here.