Canada’s power generation: switching from coal to natural gas

coal

Coal mine

Projected decline in coal use is attributed to coal-powered plant phase-out in Alberta

The greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity of Canadian electricity generation has been declining, according to the National Energy Board.

Currently, two main fossil fuels are used to generate electricity in Canada: coal and natural gas. Coal is almost two times more GHG intensive than natural gas.

Over the last 20 years, the use of coal in electricity generation has fallen significantly, from 15 per cent of total generation in 1996, to 11 per cent by 2015.

The use of natural gas in electricity generation has increased significantly, from 3 per cent of total generation in 1996, to 11 per cent by 2015.

Canadian coal production generally declined or was flat, since a 1997 peak of 78.8 million tonnes (MT). Current NEB projections estimate total Canadian coal production in 2040 at 34 MT – close to 1979 production levels.

Estimated production in 2016 was 60.4 MT – the lowest since 1987, according to the National Energy Board.

The majority of Canadian coal production is in western Canada, namely B.C., Alberta, and Saskatchewan.

Between 2013 and 2016, Canadian coal production fell by 12 per cent, with further declines expected.

Currently, about half the coal produced in Canada is thermal and most of it is used by domestic power producers; the remainder is exported.

Coal produced in Canada is divided in two categories: thermal and metallurgical. Thermal coal is used in electric power generation and metallurgical coal is primarily used to produce steel.

The majority of Canadian metallurgical coal is exported to Asia; the remainder is used by domestic iron and steel-makers.

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