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The Decarbonized Electrification Pathway: Taking Stock of Canada’s Electricity Mix and Greenhouse G

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The single constant in Canadian carbon policy has been the drive towards decarbonizing Canada’s electricity system. Successive governments within the Federation have implemented real and binding clean energy and greenhouse gas (GHG) policy, systematically reducing the quantity of fossil fuel used in Canada’s electricity mix.

Results are evident, with GHG emissions from the electricity sector peaking at 128 Mt in 2001 and dropping to 79 Mt (38% decrease) by 2015. The pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change and Canada’s Mid-Century Long-Term Low-Greenhouse Gas Development Strategy both point to a continued aspiration of the federal government to work with the provinces and territories to further decarbonize electricity.

Looking forward, it is likely that provincial and federal policies will continue to increase the quantity of non-emitting generation in the supply mix leading to less electricity sector emissions. Given the policy that is being designed and implemented, now is a good time to pause and take stock of Canada’s GHG aspirations for the electricity sector.

In this paper, we use modeling and analysis to assess the effectiveness of current and developing policy to further decarbonize Canada’s electricity sector. We use a regionally explicit electricity dispatch model to assess the pan-Canadian impact of provincial and federal policies on non-emitting generation to 2030. We use the federal government’s stated objective of 90% non-emitting generation by 2030 as a benchmark to gauge success.

Specifically, we ask:

Is Canada on a pathway to achieve 90% non-emitting electricity by 2030?

In assessing this question, we conclude the following:

  • Canada is not on target to achieve 90% non-emitting electricity generation by 2030. Our analysis suggests Canada is significantly off a pathway to the 90% target, with 2030 non-emitting generation forecast at 80%, which is slightly better than the current level of 78%.

  • Natural gas generation is well above a level consistent with the 90% target. Even with current clean energy and GHG policies, our simulations suggest about twice as much natural gas generation in 2030 relative to a pathway that achieves the 90% non-emitting target.

  • Generation from renewables is about 30% below a pathway to the 90% non-emitting target, with annual growth needing to double above the current trajectory to be consistent with a pathway that achieves the 90% target.

  • Coal and oil are not shedding generation on a pathway consistent with the 90% target. Current policies, while significantly reducing coal generation to 2030, are not enough to fully remove coal from Canada’s electricity mix by 2030.

  • GHG emissions will continue to fall due to policy to shutter coal generation. GHG emissions from fossil fuel sources are forecast at 48 Mt of CO2e in 2030, or 39% below current levels and 63% below the peak of 128 Mt in 2001.

  • Increased natural gas use will offset somewhat the emission reduction gains from reduced coal-fired generation. Our analysis suggests natural gas GHGs will more than double current levels by 2030, accounting for three quarters of GHG emissions from the sector, up from 30% today. This is 19 Mt more GHGs and a grid GHG intensity that is 70% higher than a scenario that achieves the 90% non-emitting target.

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