Use this handy primer to gain an understanding of key terminology found in discussions about energy-related issues.
We are always updating the glossary and you can help us add more terms. Use the form below to request a term, and be sure to check back often as our list grows.
Active solar system[+]
A process that transfers energy from captured sunlight, using a collector such as a metal plate or mirror, to air or water.
Alternating current (AC)[+]
A type of electrical current that reverses directions at regular intervals or cycles in a circuit. In North America, the standard is 60 cycles, or 60 Hz, per second.
A term referring to fuels like ethanol, biodiesel, biogas and hydrogen that are used as a replacement for fossil fuels.
A unit of electrical current. One volt across one ohm of resistance causes a current flow of one ampere.
A process where organic material is broken down by bacteria in the absence of oxygen, producing biogas as a byproduct. This process occurs naturally in landfill sites that have organic wastes.
A device that measures wind speed.
Impurities such as silica, iron, alumina, and other noncombustible matter contained in coal.
Average wind speed[+]
The mean wind speed over a specified period of time.
Barrel of oil (bbl)[+]
A measurement of oil that has not been standardized universally. In Canada and the U.S., it is equivalent to approximately 159 litres (42 US Gallons).
Barrels per day (bb/d)[+]
A measurement of oil usage or production in barrels per day.
The average amount of electric power that a utility must supply in any period.
Two or more electrochemical cells enclosed in a container to provide an electric current. The term can also apply to a single cell if it makes up the full electrochemical storage system.
A diesel-equivalent, processed fuel made from both vegetable oils and animal fats.
A term referring to the variety of ecosystems and species within it.
Fuels derived from biomass or waste feedstocks, including ethanol and biodiesel.
A gaseous mixture of carbon dioxide and methane produced by breaking down organic matter in the absence of oxygen.
Organic material, such as trees, agricultural waste and municipal waste, that can be burned or converted into biofuel to produce energy.
Semi-solid or solid forms of petroleum.
The aerodynamic surface of a wind turbine that catches the wind.
An organic compound produced from petroleum and found in natural gas.
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.
Another term for charcoal.
A porous, black solid that occurs as a residue when wood or other organic matter is heated in the absence of oxygen.
A term used to describe the change in the earth’s climate caused by excessive greenhouse gas emissions.
Closed loop system[+]
A geothermal heat pump system that uses water or an antifreeze solution in underground pipes to provide heating and cooling. The water or solution stays in the system and is reused.
The process of replacing part of the fossil fuel supplied to a power station or boiler with a renewable alternative, such as biomass.
The simultaneous production of electrical and thermal energy from a single fuel.
The resulting substances and materials that accompany the production of a fuel, such as ethanol.
Hardened sedimentary rock made of ancient plant material. Thermal coal is burned to produce heat, which can be converted to electricity. Coking (metallurgical) coal is a vital ingredient in the steel-making process.
Coal bed (coal seam)[+]
A bed or deposit of coal.
Coal bed methane (CBM)[+]
Also known as coal bed gas, it is a form of natural gas extracted from coal beds.
The process of converting coal into gas. Coal is crushed to a powder then heated in the presence of steam and oxygen to produce a gas. The gas is then refined to reduce impurities and can be used as a fuel or processed further and concentrated into chemical or liquid fuel.
Residue leftover from distilling materials, such as coal or petroleum, and is used as a fuel.
Compressed natural gas (CNG)[+]
Natural gas compressed under high pressures.
Concentrating solar power systems[+]
A process that uses captured solar energy in the form of heat to boil liquid to create steam and produce electricity using a generator.
A liquid produced by the condensation of a gas or vapour.
The end use of energy and energy sources.
Conventional crude oil[+]
Naturally flowing, liquid petroleum capable of being pumped without further processing.
The process of breaking down complex hydrocarbons into simpler ones by thermal, catalytic, or hydrocracking. Heavy hydrocarbons, such as fuel oils, are broken up into lighter hydrocarbons such as gasoline.
Liquid petroleum that is naturally occurring.
Cubic metres (m3)[+]
A measurement of volume made by a cube that is one metre on each side. It is equal to 1,000 litres.
A barrier to obstruct/control the flow of water.
A measurement term used to determine how heavy crude oil is.
Refers to a liquid used to dilute bitumen so that it flows easier.
The process of converting biomass material to heat energy.
Direct current (DC)[+]
A type of electrical current that flows in one direction through the conductor, usually at a relatively low voltage and high current.
Geothermal heat that is used without being converted to electricity, such as for space heating and cooling.
Direct use of heat energy in which a utility system supplies multiple users with hot water or steam from a central plant or well field.
Moving or situated in the direction in which a stream or river flows.
A term used in the petroleum industry for the refining and marketing sector.
The act of digging a hole in the ground to find energy resources.
A fundamental form of energy that occurs naturally (e.g., lightning) or is produced (e.g., in a generator) and that is expressed in terms of the movement and interaction of electrons.
A crop grown specifically for its fuel value, such as food crops like corn and sugar cane and nonfood crops like poplar trees and switchgrass.
Sources from which energy can be obtained to provide heat, light, and power; includes fossil fuels, uranium, water, wind, the Sun and geothermal energy.
Enhanced oil recovery (EOR)[+]
Refers to any method used to help increase oil production. This is by using techniques or materials that are usually not part of operations.
A fuel produced from fermenting any biomass high in carbohydrates, such as starches and sugars. In Canada, ethanol is mainly used as fuel additive.
The process in which bitumen is separated from its natural source.
A material used as a fuel directly or converted to another form of fuel or energy product.
An area of open land, especially one planted with crops or pasture.
The surface area located above underground petroleum pools that share the same infrastructure.
A term referring to the pressure of natural gas, found underground, from which it is produced.
A row of ascending pools connected by short falls to allow fish to pass a dam or other obstruction.
Volume of water, expressed as cubic feet or cubic meters per second, passing a point in a given amount of time.
Any naturally occurring organic fuel (petroleum, coal and natural gas). Produced from plant and animal matter that have transformed through heat and pressure.
Another term used to describe hydraulic fracturing (link to hydraulic fracturing definition).
A partial oxidation process where a solid carbon source such as coal, natural gas or biomass, is changed into a gas or gases.
Generating station (power plant)[+]
A plant that includes all the structures for generating power from an energy source.
A machine that converts energy, such as mechanical energy into electrical energy.
Energy released from within the Earth’s crust in the form of hot water or steam.
Geothermal heat pump[+]
A device that uses the relatively constant temperature of the Earth's interior as a source and sink of heat for both heating and cooling. When cooling, heat is extracted from the space and dissipated into the Earth; when heating, heat is extracted from the Earth and pumped into the space.
The increase in average global temperatures due to the greenhouse effect.
The heat effect from the Sun’s radiant energy being trapped in the Earth's atmosphere by greenhouse gases produced from both natural and human sources.
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.
The point at which the cost of an alternative energy source, such as solar or wind, matches that of grid electricity.
A linked collection of solar electric or photovoltaic (PV) panels that collect solar energy, convert it to electricity and supply it directly to the power grid. These systems seldom use batteries.
Water located beneath the earth’s surface filling the space between soil, sand and rock. It supplies fresh water to wells and springs.
The water level above a generating station.
The act of drilling horizontally to reach oil and gas reservoirs. This technique reduces the amount of wells drilled in a particular land area.
A solar electric or photovoltaic (PV) system that includes other sources of electricity, such as wind or diesel.
Also known as fracking, it is the process of using high pressure fluids to extract oil and gas from rocks underground.
Electricity that is generated from hydropower.
A means of harnessing running water from lakes and streams to create electricity; A renewable source of energy.
In situ recovery[+]
Meaning in its original place or in position. In oil sands production, it refers to recovering crude bitumen by drilling.
Unit of work or energy, equal to the work done by the force of one newton acting through the distance of one metre, equivalent to one 3600th of a watt-hour.
A unit of electrical power equal to one thousand watts.
Light crude oil[+]
Liquid petroleum that freely flows at room temperature and has low density.
A type of sedimentary rock in which oil and gas reservoirs are often found.
Liquefied natural gas (LNG)[+]
Natural gas converted temporarily to a liquid form for ease of storage or transport by cooling it to approximately -162 degrees Celsius.
A unit of electrical power equal to one million watts or one thousand kilowatts.
Megawatt hour (MW/h)[+]
A megawatt hour (Mwh) is the equivalent of one million watts, used continuously for one hour.
Metallurgical coal (coking coal)[+]
Coal mainly used in steel-production.
A colourless, odourless gas that is the main constituent of natural gas and is also a greenhouse gas.
The middle of a stream or river.
Refers to the energy industry sector involving the processing, storage and transportation.
The act of moving natural gas and crude oil through rock.
Mobile offshore drilling units (MODUs)[+]
Exploration drilling rigs used off the Atlantic coast of Canada.
National Energy Board (NEB)[+]
The federal regulatory agency of Canada that is in charge of regulating international and interprovincial aspects of the oil, gas and electric utility industries.
Petroleum in a gas form.
Natural gas liquids (NGLs)[+]
Liquids obtained through the production of natural gas.
Resources that are derived from the environment for human use.
A metering and billing practice that enables electricity consumers to generate electricity from renewable, low-impact, generators to offset part or all of their own electrical requirements.
Natural resources that cannot be replaced once they are consumed.
The act of splitting uranium atoms into lighter nuclei, causing a release of energy.
A way of creating heat through the fission process of uranium atoms. All power plants convert heat into electricity using steam.
A device in which a nuclear fission chain reaction occurs under controlled conditions to produce heat which can be harnessed to generate electricity.
A flammable liquid derived from petroleum. It is used to produce heat and energy.
A mixture of sand and other rock materials containing crude bitumen.
Oil sands deposit[+]
A natural reservoir containing deposits of sand saturated with bitumen.
Open loop system[+]
A geothermal heat pump system that uses an available body of water, such as a nearby lake or pond, to provide heating or cooling through pipes underground. Water is also discharged into the body of water after it passes through the system.
Passive solar system[+]
A process that involves using parts of a building, such as walls, windows or roofs, to absorb the sun’s energy and keep heat from escaping.
Peak demand (peak load)[+]
The maximum energy demand or load on a system in a specified time period.
A naturally occurring mixture comprised of hydrocarbons in a gaseous, liquid or solid form.
A long pipe, typically underground, used to transport water, gas and oil resources.
Power grid (electricity grid)[+]
A network of transmission lines and other equipment designed to deliver electricity to a region.
Energy sources as found in their natural state such as coal, crude oil, etc.
The thermal degradation of waste in the absence of oxygen to produce char, pyrolysis oil and syngas.
A synthetic fuel extracted by biomass to liquid technology.
Raw natural gas[+]
A term used to describe the gas found naturally in the reservoir (before processing).
Returning the land disturbed by industry operations to a sustainable landscape. Reclamation is a government requirement and a plan to reclaim the land must be developed and approved by government as part of any project’s approval process.
An establishment created to purify crude material like gas and oil.
Energy sources that occur naturally and that can be replenished continually. Ocean, moving water, wind and solar are sources of renewable energy.
A natural resource that can be replenished over time.
A term used to describe the portion of resources that is recoverable and available for use based on current knowledge, technology and economics.
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.
The owner’s share of production or revenues retained by government or freehold mineral rights holders.
Energy sources that are the result of the transformation of primary or secondary energy sources.
A sedimentary rock from clay.
Natural gas that is found, along with crude oil, in underground reservoirs. As the oil surfaces, the gas expands and comes out of the solution.
A term combining ‘smoke’ with ‘fog’, it is the brown haze that hovers over some cities.
Radiant light and heat from the Sun that can be harnessed and converted into an energy source for human use.
An installation of interconnected solar panels set up to generate electricity.
Solar panel (solar cell, photovoltaic cell)[+]
A panel exposed to radiation from the sun in the form of light or heat to create electricity.
Solar photovoltaic (PV)[+]
A semiconductor device that converts solar energy to electricity.
Natural gas that is dissolved in crude oil in the underground reservoirs.
Raw natural gas that has a high concentration of sulphur compounds.
The release of a substance (oil or gas) that is controlled or accidental.
People with an interest in industry activities that influence them. This includes Aboriginal communities, landowners, nearby municipalities, environmental groups, government, regulators and other industries.
Steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD)[+]
A recovery technique for extraction of heavy oil or bitumen that involves drilling a pair of horizontal wells one above the other; one well is used for stream injection and the other for production.
A type of surface mining technique in which layers of soil and vegetation are removed to get at shallow deposits of minerals/resources.
Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations.
Sweet oil and gas[+]
Petroleum with little or no hydrogen sulphide.
A fuel produced from the chemical conversion of coal, natural gas or biomass.
Syngas (synthesis gas)[+]
A gas mixture comprised of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and hydrogen produced by converting a carbon-containing fuel to a gaseous product that has some heating value. An example of syngas is the gasification of coal.
Synthetic crude oil[+]
Similar to crude oil, it is a mixture of hydrocarbons derived by refining or upgrading bitumen from the oil sands.
Waste products from mining, resource extraction and upgrading operations in the oil sands.
Another name for oil sands – a deposit of sand saturated with bitumen.
Thermal coal (steam coal)[+]
Coal mainly used in power generation.
Use of energy produced by the surge of ocean waters during the rise and fall of tides to produce power; a renewable source of energy.
Found in sedimentary rocks that are cemented tightly together slowing the extraction, it is a term describing the very low flow rates of the gas.
Similar to tight gas, it is oil found in a rock formation with low permeability.
Total installed capacity (peak installed capacity)[+]
The maximum capacity that a system, such as a wind or solar farm, is designed to operate at.
Traditional oil and gas[+]
Any upstream oil and gas operation that excludes the oil sands.
A static device that transforms power from one circuit to another without changing the frequency of the energy but usually changing the voltage and the current.
A machine for producing power in which a wheel or rotor revolves by a fast-moving flow of water, steam, gas, air or other fluid.
The process of converting bitumen (heavy oil) into synthetic crude oil.
Moving or situated in the opposite direction from that in which a stream or river flows.
Referring to the exploration and production sector of the petroleum industry.
A mildly radioactive element and the basic fuel of nuclear energy.
A term used to describe the resistance to flow.
A unit of measurement that indicates the amount of voltage in a circuit.
The electrical force or pressure that causes current to flow in a circuit; measured in volts.
A unit for measuring electrical power. A watt is the energy consumption rate of one joule per second. The watt is named after James Watt who invented the steam engine.
A deep hole drilled into the Earth to extract resources, such as water, natural gas, oil or geothermal heat.
A hole drilled or bored into the earth, usually cased with metal pipe, for the production of gas or oil.
A group of wind turbines, often owned and maintained by one company; also known as a wind power plant.
Use of the energy in winds to produce power; a renewable energy source.
Technologies used to contain the emissions associated with energy production from coal, removing much of the CO2, particulates and nitrogen oxides.