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Solar Energy

The energy contained in sunlight is the source of life on Earth. Humans can harness it to generate power for our activities without producing harmful pollutants. There are many methods of converting solar energy into more readily usable forms of energy such as heat or electricity. The technologies we use to convert solar energy have a relatively small impact on the environment. However, they each have disadvantages that have kept them from being widely adopted.

In Canada, the use of solar energy to generate electricity and heat is growing quickly and is helping reduce pollution related to energy production. Despite Canada’s cold climate and high latitudes (which get less direct sunlight than mid-latitudes), solar power technologies are used in many places, from household rooftops to large power plants. The Canada Energy Regulator (formerly the National Energy Board) expects solar power to make up 3 per cent of Canada’s total electricity generation capacity by 2040.

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Canada and the Manhattan Project

Canada helped develop the world’s first nuclear reactors and nuclear arms. During the Second World War, Canada participated in British research to create an atomic weapon. In 1943, the British nuclear weapons program merged with its American equivalent, the Manhattan Project. Canada’s main contribution was the Montreal Laboratory, which later became the Chalk River Laboratory. (See Nuclear Research Establishments). This Allied war effort produced the atomic bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. It also led to the development of Canada’s nuclear energy industry.

Click here for definitions of key terms used in this article.

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Pipelines in Canada

Pipelines are systems of connected pipes used to transport liquids and gases — namely oil and natural gas — across long distances from source to market. More than 840,000 km of pipelines criss-cross the country, part of a larger oil and gas sector that employs between 100,000 and 200,000 Canadians. According to Natural Resources Canada, the sector earns the government an average of $19 billion in royalties, fees and taxes each year. It also contributes nearly 8 per cent of Canada’s gross domestic product.

Yet pipelines have also been controversial in Canada over fears that the fossil fuel use they facilitate could be significantly contributing to climate change. In recent years, Indigenous groups, environmentalists, municipalities, mayors and labour unions have opposed numerous pipeline projects they believe could contaminate local waterways through spills and leaks.

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Natural Gas in Canada

Natural gas ranks among the fastest-growing energy sources in Canada and is seen by many in the energy industry as a game-changer, a comparatively clean, low-cost and versatile fuel. It can directly generate power and heat and can be chemically altered to produce a wide range of useful commodity chemicals. It burns cleaner and more efficiently than other fossil fuels, releasing significantly fewer harmful pollutants into the atmosphere. Natural gas is colorless, odourless, shapeless, lighter than air and contains a mixture of several hydrocarbon gases, which are organic compounds consisting of some combination of hydrogen and carbon molecules.

The primary consumers of natural gas are the industrial (54.1 per cent), residential (26.6 per cent) and commercial sectors (19.3 per cent). Canada is the fifth largest natural gas producer after the United States, Russia, Iran and Qatar. Currently, all of Canada’s natural gas exports go to the United States through a network of pipelines, making Canada the largest foreign source of US natural gas imports. At the end of 2016, Canada had 76.7 trillion cubic feet of proven natural gas reserves and had produced 152 billion cubic metres of natural gas that year. It is forecasted that global natural gas consumption will double by 2035.

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National Energy Program

The National Energy Program (NEP) was an energy policy of the government of Canada from 1980 through 1985. Its goal was to ensure that Canada could supply its own oil and gas needs by 1990. The NEP was initially popular with consumers and as a symbol of Canadian economic nationalism. However, private industry and some provincial governments opposed it.

A federal-provincial deal resolved controversial parts of the NEP in 1981. Starting the next year, however, the program was dismantled in phases. Global economic conditions had changed such that the NEP was no longer considered necessary or useful. The development of the oil sands and offshore drilling, as well as the rise in Western alienation and the development of the modern Conservative Party of Canada, are all aspects of the NEP’s complicated legacy.