This article was published by the Canada Energy Regulator on May 19, 2021.
The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on Canada’s energy demand and sources of energy supply in 2020. Lockdowns and travel restrictions imposed during the year had the largest effect on the demand for transportation fuels, which saw substantial declines throughout the year.
Demand for other energy sources varied, and on the power production side, renewable electricity generation actually increased in 2020.
Overall, consumption of refined petroleum products (RPPs) declined by about 15% compared to 2019. Gasoline consumption decreased the most, followed closely by jet fuel, then diesel fuel.
For all three fuels, consumption was the lowest in April 2020. Diesel consumption recovered to 2019 levels by September. Gasoline consumption, although close, did not reach 2019 levels by December 2020. In contrast, monthly consumption of jet fuel remained well below half of that seen in 2019 from April through December of 2020.
Natural gas demand was less affected, declining on aggregate by about 4% in 2020 relative to 2019. However, this overall decrease hid trends across different parts of the economy; on average, monthly industrial and commercial consumption decreased (by 2.6% and 6.5% respectively), while residential consumption increased (by 1.8%) relative to 2019.
Similarly, pandemic-related measures affected total electricity consumption, which fell for the first time since 2015, and declined by about 2.5% in 2020. This contributed to a decline in overall electricity generation of 0.8% in 2020. Generation from hydro increased slightly, and nuclear generation decreased slightly.
Notably, generation from the combustion of fossil fuels (primarily natural gas and coal) decreased by 7.9% relative to 2019. Over two-thirds of this decrease was in Alberta, with the remainder spread between British Columbia, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, and Nova Scotia.
Electricity generation from wind and solar moved in the other direction, increasing by 12.3% over the year. Wind accounted for 97% of this growth, with the largest growth split evenly between Alberta, Ontario, and British Columbia. Almost all of the national total growth in solar generation from 2019 to 2020 (about 120 megawatt hours) was in Ontario.
In 2020, lower consumption of fossil fuels likely led to lower Canadian greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions compared to previous years.
Recent analysis by Environment and Climate Change Canada estimates an 11% reduction in GHG emissions relative to 2019 levels, which mirrors estimates for U.S. and global emission trends. Additionally, trends in the monthly data summarized above are similar to the projected values found in the CER’s Canada’s Energy Future 2020.
Although energy demand was significantly affected by pandemic measures in spring 2020, consumption patterns for most fuels have since returned to pre-pandemic levels (with the exception of gasoline and jet fuel). By December 2020, consumption of diesel fuel, natural gas, and electricity generated by burning fossil fuels returned close to 2019 levels, as will have their associated GHG emissions.
Going forward, many factors will influence energy demand and GHG emissions in Canada, including the speed and nature of economic recovery, market dynamics, and government policy.