A Picture of Electrical Energy Use in Canada

Energy is the fundamental driving force of all life and community infrastructure; it influences the ways we work, play and live and our future options for human well-being. The manner in which we develop and operate our energy systems is a critical first step in achieving sustainable communities and lifestyles. Many communities across Canada have implemented innovations that have resulted in considerable steps toward sustainable energy and electricity generation, such as T’Sou-ke First Nation’s Solar Community Program, Drake Landing Solar Community (DLSC), District Energy Systems (e.g., Revelstoke and Prince George), and the Ottawa Renewable Energy Co-operative (OREC). Canadians must also think of the bigger picture and consider our national energy development and consumption, in addition that of individual communities. We must ask – what has Canada relied on for energy and how will we continue to power this country? The interactive visualization below explores this question by specifically looking at Canada’s electrical energy production and consumption over the last 50 years. We invite you to enter this visualization and explore the last half-century of Canadian electrical energy use, looking at where our electricity has come from, how much we have produced, and what our levels of usage have been.

How was this visualization built?

The visualization is an animated and visually-rich way of portraying times series data on Canada’s energy history, obtained from the World Bank Group. Electricity production is expressed in terawatt-hours (TWh), where a terawatt refers to a trillion watts. Consumption is displayed in terms of per capita, meaning it shows the amount consumed in Canada for every person in the country, and is expressed in megawatt-hours (MWh) per capita (a megawatt being a million watts).

Each ‘scene’ is based on data averaged for the three years around the decade of interest (e.g., the 1980 scene portrays data averaged for 1979, 1980 and 1981). Exceptions to this include:

  • Non-hydroelectric renewable energy sources (e.g., wind, solar) emerging in the mid-1970s is shown in the 1970 scene, but calculated through an average of 1974, 1975 and 1976 data.
  • Nuclear energy emerging in the mid-1960s is shown in the 1960 scene, but calculated through an average of 1964, 1965 and 1966 data.

The graphics depicting energy operations have elements that are scaled according to the degree in which they increase or decrease from decade-to-decade; for example, the amount of coal cars increase with coal-based production, water levels increase with hydroelectric production, flame increases with oil-based production, etc. Similarly, the fume clouds from the house are scaled to represent increases / decreases in per capita energy expenditure. The number of people decrease in the household as per capita consumption increases to represent how (in the case of per capita increases) a greater level of electricity is required / consumed for every individual in the country.

The final question we have to ask ourselves, is how sustainable is this picture?

How do you interact with this visualization?

Click on the years below the visualization to change which decade you would like to view, or click on the arrow buttons to move forward or back a decade. Once the scene loads, you will be able to scroll over each of the different energy operations to view the production and percentage of total production associated with the different energy sources – coal, hydroelectric, oil, natural gas, nuclear, and renewables other than hydroelectric (represented by solar panels and wind turbines). Scroll over the house to view per capita electricity consumption and read about how these values have changed throughout the last 50 years.


To learn more about how data visualizations can serve as an integral component for disseminating and communicating research on climate change online, check out this recently published article.

Newell, R., Dale, A., and Winters, C. (2016). A picture is worth a thousand data points: Exploring visualizations as tools for connecting the public to climate change research. Cogent Social Sciences, 2(1): 1201885