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    Part 2: How does production of renewables contribute to climate change?


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    In part two of our look at energy production and climate change, Energy IQ breaks down the greenhouse gas emissions associated with renewable energy sources and looks at their part in Canada’s energy policy.

    The term “climate change” is used to describe shifts in global temperature and long-term weather patterns caused by excessive greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gases, or GHGs, include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases, and are released into the atmosphere through both natural processes and human activities...

    The term “climate change” is used to describe shifts in global temperature and long-term weather patterns caused by excessive greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gases, or GHGs, include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases, and are released into the atmosphere through both natural processes and human activities.


    Carbon dioxide is the primary GHG emitted by human activities. Canada is one of the highest GHG emitters in the world. Of the 704 million tonnes of GHGs emitted in Canada in 2016, the oil and gas sector and transportation sectors accounted for almost 50% of total emissions.


    Hydro emits 35 times less greenhouse gases than natural gas electricity-generating systems, and 70 times less than coal. However, when reservoirs are created for hydro projects, trees and plants become submerged in water, and the decomposition that occurs from this process releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Methane is also released as plant matter decomposes, and emissions of carbon dioxide and methane usually peak between two and four years after a reservoir is filled. In addition to flooding land to create reservoirs, constructing a hydroelectric dam also creates greenhouse gas emissions. 


    Most of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with solar power come from transporting solar panels (fossil fuel), and the manufacturing process. Photovoltaic solar panels are made from crystalline silicon, which is energy and carbon intensive to mine and refine. Crystalline silicon (in the form of sand or quartz) must first be mined from the Earth’s surface, then refined at high temperatures and subjected to intense chemical processing to be suitable before it is used in a photovoltaic cell. There is much debate over the actual size of a solar panel’s carbon footprint, but generally, after a few years, solar panels payback their carbon debt. However, with production of solar panels moving to cheaper markets in Asia, there are concerns about the regulations around emissions and chemical byproducts being more lax than in Europe or North America. 


    Wind turbines having a 20 to 30 year lifespan, during which they are able to payback the carbon emissions that occur before they are operational. Most of the associated emissions occur during construction, with offshore wind farms having higher lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions than on-shore farms since more concrete is used for underwater supports.

    Wind energy emits less carbon dioxide equivalent than any other major renewable energy source. Most estimates of wind turbine emissions during their lifecycle are between 0.02 and 0.04 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour. 


    Biomass power generating plants release nitrogen oxides, sulpur dioxide and carbon dioxide. However, the carbon dioxide it releases may not result in a net increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide, especially if the biomass resources originate from a sustainable source. If sustainably managed, biomass is considered to be a carbon neutral, renewable energy source.

    It is difficult to measure the exact carbon footprint of biomass and bioenergy, as the resource can come from dedicated land, such as crops grown specifically for biomass, or undedicated land, such as forest or landfill sites. In general, bioenergy collected and burned from dedicated land is less sustainable than bioenergy from wastes, such as landfill gas or animal waste.


    To learn more about climate change and its causes and effects, visit:


    Show Me More [+] Show Me Less [–]

    Climate change [+]

    A term used to describe the change in the earth’s climate caused by excessive greenhouse gas emissions. 

    Solar photovoltaic (PV) [+]

    A semiconductor device that converts solar energy to electricity.

    Greenhouse gas (GHG) [+]

    Created through human activities and natural processes, these gases are trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere. Carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and water vapour are a few examples of common greenhouse gasses.

    Renewable energy [+]

    Energy sources that occur naturally and that can be replenished continually. Ocean, moving water, wind and solar are sources of renewable energy.

    Wind power [+]

    Use of the energy in winds to produce power; a renewable energy source.


    A Dragonfly-Inspired Wind Turbine That's Designed For Your Backyard

    As wind energy has expanded over the years, engineers have raced to build larger and larger turbines—designed to take advantage of as much wind as possible. But the architect Renzo Piano and an energy company in Italy are trying to make a smaller ...


    Biomass accounts for 10 percent of the world’s energy demand.

    Quebec is Canada’s largest hydro producer and possesses more than half of the country’s hydroelectricity capacity.

    Canada is the world’s second largest producer of hydroelectricity.

    Take the Quiz

    How does production of energy sources contribute to climate change?


    Biomass meets almost five percent of Canada’s primary energy demand and is the second largest source of renewable energy after hydroelectricity.

    Toronto Star

    Aging Toronto Hydro system fell short during ice storm

    Bottlenecks in Toronto Hydro's aging outage management system during the ice storm left freezing customers unable to report power losses and prevented line crews on the streets from reaching the control room quickly to report completed repairs, a Star ...


    Solar farm [+]

    An installation of interconnected solar panels set up to generate electricity.

    Solar energy [+]

    Radiant light and heat from the Sun that can be harnessed and converted into an energy source for human use.

    Solar panel (solar cell, photovoltaic cell) [+]

    A panel exposed to radiation from the sun in the form of light or heat to create electricity.

    Dam [+]

    A barrier to obstruct/control the flow of water.

    Wind farms [+]

    A group of wind turbines, often owned and maintained by one company; also known as a wind power plant.

    200 Samsung Jobs Available

    Three years after the Ontario government promised London would see 200 new jobs with the opening of a solar panel plant, it seems it's all finally coming together. On Wednesday and Thursday, Canadian Solar and Samsung will hold a job fair to search for ...



    Biomass heat for poultry sheds is cost-effective

    Farmers with a high heat demand in their businesses can still benefit from government subsidy support for biomass. Since its launch in November 2011, the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) has only paid out about £20m out of a potential £800m pot to 2,386 ...


    Greentech Media

    3 Factors Driving the Marriage of Solar and Energy Storage

    On the surface, it makes little sense to put a big battery bank next to a commercial solar array. As it is, solar power is still more expensive than the grid in many places, so adding pricey batteries would just push the cost of energy up more. But ...


    pv magazine

    A bullish outlook for solar in 2014, says Deutsche Bank

    A poll conducted by Deutsche Bank research analyst Vishal Shah at this week's Solar Power International event in Chicago has revealed that most solar companies in attendance anticipate a rather bullish 2014 for the industry. Although official figures ...


    In Canada, wind energy supplies three percent of total electricity demand.


    Bike with solar panels for wheels is basically as green as you can get

    It has solar panels instead of spokes, see? Yeah, solar has waste and pollution issues, but this bike is still rad. According to Yanko Design, Mojtaba Raeisi's creation can run on electricity, solar power, or just your own two legs. The solar panels ...


    Canada NewsWire (press release)

    A signal of renewed awareness of significant renewable energy potential

    OTTAWA, March 4, 2014 /CNW/ - The Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) is pleased that the Speech from the Throne delivered yesterday signals the Government of Alberta's commitment to developing an Alternative and Renewable Energy ...


    The Globe and Mail

    BC Hydro on the edge of change as huge growth planned for North

    B.C.'s north is in a frenzy of planning. There are applications for port expansions, coal and mineral mines, oil terminals, pipelines, synthetic fuel plants, liquefied natural gas facilities and hundreds of new drill rigs for shale gas extraction ...


    Vancouver Sun

    BC firm looks at sewers to power sustainable energy shift

    After a 20-year career in the geothermal heat-pump sales, Mueller started his company three years ago to manufacture turnkey systems that can act as sources of environmentally sustainable energy for clients in projects ranging from condo complexes to ...


    Windpower Engineering (press release)

    Building wind farms is easy. Transmission lines are tough

    Building a wind farm is easy. Building transmission lines to move the power generated has proven to be a bit more difficult. Transmission line planners must deal with conflicting state and federal regulations, concerned land owners, shortsighted ...


    NBC Bay Area

    49ers' New Stadium Goes Solar to Save Energy

    It's almost too good to be true, but the new 49ers stadium used 49 solar panels (big ones) to reach phase one of "net zero" status. That means, during the regular season home games, the entire stadium will not use a drop of power that doesn't come from ...


    Huffington Post

    Can a Wind Turbine Kill You?

    I first saw wind turbines in a vast field on an empty Australian cliff decades ago. The tall white bird-like structures were gigantic and silent, rolling in the wind with endless motion. They looked so peaceful and so innocent; I was convinced then ...


    Every province and territory, except P.E.I. and Nunavut, produces hydroelectricity.

    Canada has 450 hydro stations with a total installed capacity of about 70,000 megawatts, with the potential to more than double that.


    A Bright Year for Solar in the US—But There Are Clouds on the Horizon

    The picture is almost as bright for solar as a whole in the U.S. According to statistics released today by the Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group, demand for solar increased by 41% in 2013, with 4.75 gigawatts of photovoltaic panels ...


    Huffington Post Canada

    BC Hydro: Site C Dam Could Withstand Rare, Powerful Earthquakes

    JOHN, B.C. - BC Hydro engineers have told the Joint Review Panel for the Site C project that the dam's design is robust and could withstand an earthquake more powerful than any ever recorded in northeastern British Columbia. Speaking at public hearings ...


    The Green Optimistic

    Beautiful Renewable Energy – World’s Largest Solar Power Bridge Now Online

    Renewable energy, such as solar power, is just one part of addressing climate change, and the more solar power we can generate, the less greenhouse gas emissions


    New York Times

    A Struggle to Balance Wind Energy With Wildlife

    Conservation groups reacted with anger to the rule, saying it gives wind farms too much leeway to operate without sufficient environmental safeguards and does not consider the long-term impact on eagle populations. “A 30-year permit is like a blank ...


    Vancouver Sun

    BC Hydro's planned Site C dam threatens critical wildlife: report

    The Peace River forms a critical part in a conservation puzzle spanning the Rocky Mountains of Canada and the U.S. and is at risk from rampant resource development, including BC Hydro's planned Site C dam, a wildlife consultant's report concluded ...


    In the last five years, Canada’s wind energy supplied enough electricity to power up to 2.6 million households.

    Huffington Post (blog)

    5 Reasons Solar Is Already Beating Fossil Fuels

    It's frustrating to still hear dissenters say that renewable energy is not ready to compete with fossil fuels as a means to power our country. The solar ... Stunning advancements in production and financing have brought solar to the playing field with ...


    Almost all of Nunavut’s electricity is generated from diesel fuel imported during the summer and then stored for year-round use.

    Renewable resources [+]

    A natural resource that can be replenished over time.

    Carbon dioxide (CO2) [+]

    A non-toxic gas produced from decaying materials, plant and animal respiration and the combustion of organic matter (including fossil fuels), it is the most common greenhouse gas emitted into our atmosphere.

    Biomass [+]

    Organic material, such as trees, agricultural waste and municipal waste, that can be burned or converted into biofuel to produce energy.

    Reservoir [+]

    A large natural or artificial lake used as a source of water supply for hydroelectricity production.

    A naturally occurring subsurface pool of hydrocarbons that is confined by impermeable rock or water barriers.


    Canada had 35 biomass-fuelled power plants in 2011 in several provinces, including Alberta, British Columbia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Quebec.


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