Renewable energy facts

What is renewable energy?

Renewable energy is derived from natural processes that are replenished at a rate that is equal or faster than the rate at which they are consumed.

There are various forms of renewable energy, deriving directly or indirectly from the sun, or from heat generated deep within the earth. They include energy generated from solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, hydropower and ocean resources, solid biomass, biogas and liquid biofuels.

Key facts

  • Renewable energy sources currently provide about 17% of Canada’s total primary energy supply
  • Wind and solar energy are the fastest growing sources of electricity in Canada

Learn more about renewable energy in Canada

Main sources and uses in Canada

Renewable energy from its many sources is an incredible way to power, heat and fuel our country. Each type of renewable energy from hydro to solar to biomass contributes in a different way.

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Hydro, wind, tidal, geothermal, solar, and biomass are all used to generate electricity. Geothermal, solar, and biomass can also be used for heat. In addition, biomass, such as wood waste and landfill gas, can also be transformed into fuels.

International context

Find out how Canada’s renewable energy ranks on an international scale:

World production – 78,616 PJ or 1,878 Mtoe (2016)
Rank Country Percentage
1 China 14%
2 India 11%
3 United States 8%
4 Brazil 6%
5 Nigeria 6%
6 Indonesia 4%
7 Canada 3%

Compared to most OECD countries, Canada has a high share of renewables in their energy supply. 17.4% of Canada’s energy comes from renewables.

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In 2016, Canada obtained 17.4% of its energy supply from renewable sources. For comparison, OECD countries, on average, got 9.9% of their energy supply from renewables sources, while the world average was 13.4%.

Canadian production

The primary source of renewable energy in Canada comes from moving water. Wind power capacity has been growing steadily in the last 10 years.

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In 2016, hydro accounted for 67.5% of Canada’s total renewable energy use, followed by solid biomass at 22.6%, wind at 5.4%, ethanol at 1.7%, municipal waste and landfill gas at 1.2%, solar at 0.5%.

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The amount of hydro capacity has been increasing slowly since 2006, reaching 80,859 megawatts in 2016. Wind, solar and biomass capacity has been growing as well since 2006, reaching 11,973, 2,681 and 2,475 megawatts in 2016.

Hydroelectricity

Moving water is the most important renewable energy source in Canada, providing 58% of Canada’s electricity generation. In fact, in 2016, Canada was the second largest producer of hydroelectricity in the world.

International context

Find out how Canada’s hydroelectricity ranks on an international scale:

World Generation of Hydroelectricity
World generation of hydroelectricity – 4,061 TWh (2016)
Rank Country Percentage of Total
1 China 29%
2 Canada 10%
3 Brazil 9%
4 United States 7%
5 Russia 5%
Share of hydroelectricity
Share of hydroelectricity in electricity generation (2016)
Rank Country Percentage
1 Norway 96%
2 Brazil 66%
3 Venezuela 60%
4 Canada 58%
By comparison
- China 19%
- United States 6%

Hydroelectricity capacity in Canada

Hydroelectricity is generated across the country. In 2016, Canada’s hydroelectricity capacity was 80,859 megawatts (MW).

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There are 518 hydro facilities in Canada with a capacity of at least 1 megawatt, and 45 facilities less than 1MW for a total of 563 facilities. There are 20 of which are over 1,000 megawatts of capacity. Total hydro capacity in Canada was 80,859 megawatts in 2016. The largest hydro facility is the Robert-Bourassa plant with 5,616 megawatts of capacity.

Biomass

Biomass is a renewable energy resource derived from living organisms and/or their byproducts. Biomass accounts for the largest share of renewable energy production in the OECD, at 36%. In Canada, that share is 23% – the second largest after hydro’s 68%.

There are 111 electricity and co-generation facilities with capacity of at least 1 MW using biomass in Canada. Together these facilities have an aggregate capacity of about 2,745 MW. There are also 364 bioheat projects, of which 70% are less than 1MW. Institutions, including schools and hospitals, are the strongest market for bioheat in Canada.

Canadian production

Wood derived material is the most commonly used biomass.

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Canada’s total production of biomass energy has been between 504 and 610 petajoules since 2000. The production of wood pellets has been increasing slowly throughout that time. Solid and liquid wood waste make up between 66% and 76% of total biomass energy.

Industrial and residential sectors primarily use wood fuel for heat.

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In 2016, wood fuel use was 432.2 petajoules. 45% of wood fuel is used by industry, 29.1% by residences and 25.6% is used for electricity generation.

Learn more about biomass.

Wind

Electricity from wind energy is one of the fastest growing sources of electricity in the world and in Canada. Wind accounts for 5% of electricity generation in Canada.

International Context

Find out how Canada’s wind power ranks on an international scale:

World capacity of wind power – 539,581 MW (2017)
Rank Country Percentage of Total
1 China 35%
2 United States 17%
3 Germany 10%
4 India 6%
5 Spain 4%
6 United Kingdom 3%
7 France 2%
9 Canada 2%

Wind Power in Canada

In 2017, Canadian generation of wind power was 30.5 terrawatt-hour (TWh). The total capacity of the Canadian industry is 12,239 MW.

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The installed capacity of wind power has grown from 444 megawatts in 2004 to 12,239 megawatts in 2017. The amount of annual new capacity peaked in 2014 with 1,891 megawatts. In 2017, 341 megawatts were added.

Capacity by province

Canada’s geography makes it ideally suited to capitalize on large amounts of wind energy, therefore wind energy is produced across Canada. In 2017, Ontario had the most wind energy capacity with 4,900 MW of power, followed by Quebec with 3,510 MW of power.

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Ontario has the most installed wind capacity with 4,900 megawatts or 41% of Canada’s total, followed by Quebec at 3,510 megawatts or 30%, Alberta at 12%, British Columbia at 6% and Nova Scotia at 5%.

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In 2017, there were 246 wind farms in Canada with at least 1 megawatt of capacity. There are 16 wind farms with at least 150 megawatts. The largest wind farm is Lac Alfred with 300 megawatts.

Solar photovoltaic

Solar power is the conversion of energy from sunlight into electricity. Solar photovoltaics (PV) are rapidly becoming an economical, renewable technology to harness renewable energy from the sun.

International context

Find out how Canada’s wind power ranks on an international scale:

World capacity of solar PV – 402GW (2017)
Rank Country Percentage of Total
1 China 33%
2 United States 13%
3 Japan 12%
4 Germany 11%
5 Italy 5%
9 Canada 1%

Solar PV in Canada

Most of the solar capacity in Canada is located in Ontario. In 2017, the capacity of the solar photovoltaic industry in Canada was 2,911 MW.

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The installed capacity of solar power has grown from 16.7 megawatts in 2005 to 2,911 megawatts in 2017. The amount of annual new capacity peaked in 2015 with 674 megawatts. In 2017, 249 megawatts were added.

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The largest solar farms in Canada are Sol-Luce Kingston and the Renewable Energy Park, both with 100 MW of capacity.

Liquids biofuels

Liquid biofuels are enhanced biomass-derived fuels that can take the form of a liquid such as ethanol or renewable diesel fuels. The liquid biofuels are mixed with traditional gasoline and diesel to reduce the overall greenhouse gas emissions associated with the blended fuel.

International context

Find out how Canada’s biofuels rank on an international scale:

World production of biofuels – 142.7 billion Litres (2017)
Rank Country Percentage
1 United States 47%
2 Brazil 22%
3 European Union 14%
4 Argentina 3%
5 China 3%
8 Canada 2%
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The annual global production of biofuels grew rapidly from 17.4 billion litres in 2000 to 88.3 billion litres in 2010, decreasing slightly around 2012 before reaching a peak 96.8 billion litres in 2016. The United States is the largest producer, followed by Brazil. Together both countries produced almost 89% of biofuels since 2000.

Canadian supply and demand

In 2017, Canadian production of biofuels reached 31.0 Mb/d (1,800 million L) of ethanol and 8.6 Mb/d (500 million L) of biodiesel.  Other biofuel activity included:

Activity Ethanol Biodiesel
Mb/d
(million L)
Canadian production 31.0
(1,800)
8.6
(500)
Imports 21.0
(1,216)
7.9
(461)
Exports 0 5.6
(324)
Domestic use 52.0
(3,016)
11.1
(637)

Regulations

The federal Renewable Fuels Regulations require fuel producers and importers to have an average renewable content of at least 5% based on the volume of gasoline that they produce or import, and at least 2% of the volume of diesel fuel that they produce and import*

* Heating distillate oil volumes for space heating purposes are excluded from the diesel regulations.

Sources