Why a diverse energy mix is key to energy security in Canada

by | March 2024

Often times when we talk to women about energy and its role in creating energy security in Canada, we find ourselves talking to two distinct groups — one hears about the subject often, while the other rarely does.

The frequency of discussion around this subject is typically based on where these women live, what lands in the news cycle, and what conversations they have with others.

One thing that does come up in within both groups, however, is the increasing use of renewable energy sources and timelines around energy transformation and whether a shift away from oil and gas is necessary.

In these conversations there is recognition that technology and innovation play a big role in reducing emissions. But questions also emerge around the practicality and consequences of an overnight or complete shift away from traditional energy sources.

When we talk with each group about energy transformation, there is actually overwhelming support for an energy mix that includes all types of energy.

Why? Because a mix offers affordability, reliability, and prosperity which we know from our research are core priorities of engaged women.

How? Let’s dive in…

What does ‘energy mix’ mean?

The energy mix refers to the variety of energy sources used in a given geographic region or energy system, including petroleum, natural gas, coal, nuclear power, hydroelectricity, and other renewable resources like wind and solar power.

In a single day, it’s likely we use at least three sources of energy to power our laptops, drive our cars, cook our meals, and heat our homes.

How we use energy depends on who we are, what we do for work, and where we live.

In 2021, Canada’s total energy supply was made up of natural gas and oil (72%), followed by hydro (11%), nuclear (8%) and other sources. The primary energy source also differs by province:

  • Natural gas is used across Canada for heating, cooking, and lighting
  • The majority of energy in B.C., Quebec and Manitoba comes from hydroelectric sources.
  • A quarter of homes in Atlantic Canada are heated by oil
  • Alberta’s electricity is primarily produced from natural gas, wind and solar (coal is on its way out)
  • Most of Ontario’s electricity comes from nuclear energy
  • Much of the electricity PEI uses comes from its wind farms
  • Many residents of rural or off-grid communities use diesel power and propane
  • Most solar energy projects are in Alberta and Ontario
  • Nunavut relies exclusively on petroleum for heating

What happens if we don’t sustain a diverse energy mix?

Driven largely by population growth and increased consumption, demand for energy in Canada is expected to increase over the next 25 years.

Failing to maintain a diverse energy mix can have serious consequences.

  • Having more than one energy source allows us to keep the lights on when extreme weather (hot or cold) hits.
  • Even with renewables added to the mix, if the balance isn’t right, we can’t keep up with growing demand.
  • A diverse energy mix allows us to avoid blackouts or service disruptions.
  • An energy mix helps us avoid downtime or disruption when supply chain issues occur.

A diverse energy mix also supports energy security, and we can take lessons on that from what is happening in other countries.

For example, when Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, it prompted a drop in gas imports to Germany and effectively pushed the country into an energy crisis.

The war and global sanctions created severe uncertainty about the stability of the supply chain, which triggered fear of shortages. Those fears led to panic-buying and bidding wars which made energy prices surge to unprecedented highs that were well outside of the means of everyday people.

Price volatility wasn’t the only issue, either.

This happened at a time when Germany was in the midst of an energy transformation that sought to phase out the use of coal in order to reduce emissions. Even though the country supports wind, solar, biomass and hydroelectric energy, these alternatives couldn’t fill the gap created by a lack of natural gas.

Germany was forced to reactivate some of its coal-fired power plants and delay the shuttering of others to literally keep the lights on.

While the move back to coal was touted as a temporary measure in 2022, Germany announced in October that it would again use coal-powered plants to generate enough electricity to keep its people warm through March of this year.

The country also doubled down on building infrastructure to import liquified natural gas (LNG) to manage its energy crisis and reduce dependence on Russian pipeline gas.

With the right energy mix, we can avoid significant issues.

An energy mix helps keep energy prices affordable in Canada

Renewables are important in the energy mix, but if we attempted to rely exclusively on those sources, we would not only have energy security issues, but costs would also go way up.

Did you know:

  • Energy sources like solar and wind are intermittent, requiring additional investments in energy storage and backup generation to maintain grid stability.
  • The upfront capital expenditure for building renewable energy infrastructure, along with necessary grid integration and infrastructure upgrades, contributes to higher costs.
  • The variability of renewable resources and regional disparities in availability can impact the economics of electricity generation.

There is also established infrastructure across Canada that carries energy to our homes which allows us to keep cost down, whereas new energy sources need substantial investment in infrastructure which lead to higher costs.

This is not to say we shouldn’t pursue renewable energy sources, but instead consider that an energy mix helps us reduce emissions in an energy transformation while also maintaining affordability.

Energy is what makes Canada prosperous

No matter what group you fall in (the one that hears about energy and Canadian energy security often, or the one that rarely does) it’s important to consider the pros and cons of the different types of energy we use, the practicality of the options in front of us, and the consequences of drastic change too quickly or unnecessarily.

Today, the oil and gas industry continues to innovate to reduce emissions, and renewable energy sources are rolling out alongside it. Maintaining a diverse energy mix is the only way to ensure the continued reliability and affordability of energy, while also reducing emissions.

And when all Canadians can access reliable and affordable energy, we’re positioned to contribute to our country’s continued economic success and overall prosperity.