Part 2 In A Series – Canadians Pragmatic About Electrification, Affordability, Reliability And Emissions Reductions

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Part 1 of this series focused on Canadians’ climate ambition and views on the importance of oil and gas to Canada’s current and future economy.

While Canadians want climate action, they are pragmatic about the role of oil and gas now and in the future.

Canadians are likewise pragmatic in their views on Canada’s electricity mix, electrification and the importance of affordability, reliability, safety and emissions reductions to Canada’s future energy needs.

Canadians want a diversified electricity mix

Start with Canada’s electricity mix. In summer 2023, we shared with respondents the Canada Energy Regulator’s projection that the amount of electricity generated and consumed in Canada in 2050 would need to more than double from current levels to meet the federal government’s net zero targets.

We asked Canadians to assign the percentage of electricity they believe should be produced by each type of generation source in the years ahead.


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The results underscore that Canadians want to see an electricity mix that is diverse, low emitting and reliable. They assigned the greatest proportion of the mix to hydroelectricity (27 per cent), followed by nuclear (16 per cent), solar (15 per cent), wind (12 per cent), and natural gas (12 per cent).

When asked the reason for their chosen mix, they most often said that it was to reduce the impact on the environment or to use clean energy (40 per cent), followed by the reliability of energy production methods long-term (24 per cent) and to diversify using multiple methods of electricity production (21 per cent).

Support for hydro tended to be higher in Quebec (40 per cent), support for nuclear tended to be higher in Ontario (24 per cent) and the Prairies (18 per cent), and support for natural gas was higher in the Prairies (22 per cent).

Canadians interested in electrification but have concerns

In spring 2023, we asked Canadians about their level of interest in transitioning more of their energy needs for things like transportation or heating to electricity and away from gasoline for their vehicle or natural gas for their furnaces.

Three-quarters of Canadians are interested in transitioning, with 41 per cent saying they are interested in transitioning but haven't started yet, 25 per cent saying they are interested in transitioning and have taken steps to do so and eight per cent saying they are interested in transitioning and have done all that they plan to do. One in four Canadians (25 per cent) say they are not interested (26 per cent).

Residents of Quebec are most likely to be interested in transitioning (only 11 per cent say they are not interested) with 15 per cent saying they have already done all that they plan to do. Residents of the Prairies are more like to say they don’t plan to transition (38 per cent).

When asked why they answered the way they did, the top reason provided was affordability and cost (36 per cent). Those who are interested in transitioning but haven’t started yet were the most likely to cite affordability (52 per cent), followed by not being ready to change or not needing to replace their car or heating (18 per cent) and not enough confidence in new technologies / too many uncertainties (12 per cent).

Affordability and cost were also the top reason for those not interested in electrification (44 per cent), followed by not enough confidence in technologies / too many uncertainties (17 per cent) and not enough infrastructure / capacity / rural setting (15 per cent).

Those who have begun taking steps to electrify and those who have done all they plan to do gave similar answers, noting they already had an electric or hybrid vehicle (36 per cent and 49 per cent, respectively) or electric heating / heat pump (32 per cent, 30 per cent) and that they had reduced consumption by using less electricity and improving their energy efficiency (24 per cent and 26 per cent).

These results underscore the recurring theme of pragmatism in the findings. Two-thirds of Canadians are interested in electrification, but have concerns about cost and reliability. These will be crucial barriers to overcome for policy makers trying to foster electrification.

They will also be challenging barriers to overcome in an environment of high interest rates, concerns over affordability, challenges to building out new energy infrastructure fast enough to maintain reliability and growing fiscal constraints, particularly at the federal level.

Affordability is of particular concern for Canadians.

Energy affordability a concern and top priority

Since fall 2022, we have been asking Canadians about their energy affordability. We ask them to rank their level of concern for the energy prices they will pay for things like heating and transportation over the next six months on a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is not at all concerned and 10 is very concerned.

In the most recent survey, more than six in ten Canadians (62 per cent) are concerned (score 7-10 out of 10), a decrease from the previous two waves (66 per cent in May 2023 and 68 per cent in November 2022). While concern has declined, it’s noteworthy that close to one in three Canadians rate their level of concern at an outright 10 out of 10 (31 per cent in October 2023; 32 per cent and 35 per cent in May 2023 and November 2022, respectively).

Those in the Prairies and Atlantic Canada are most concerned about energy prices (means of 7.8 and 7.9, respectively), as are Conservative Party supporters (mean of 8.0).

Affordability of energy likewise comes out on top when we ask people to think about the energy needs of Canadians in the next five years and to rank the importance of four imperatives: affordability, reliability, lower emitting energy and safety.

Two in five Canadians rank affordability first (39 per cent), while almost one in three rank lower greenhouse gas emissions first (31 per cent), one in five rate reliability first (20 per cent) and one in ten rank safety first (10 per cent).

As shown in the figure, looking within each of the categories reveals that affordability was most frequently ranked first, reliability was most frequently ranked second (39 per cent), safety was most frequently ranked third (37 per cent) and lowering greenhouse gas emissions was most frequently ranked fourth (37 per cent).

Residents of Quebec are more likely to rank lower greenhouse gas emissions as most important (45 per cent) compared to those from other regions. Similarly, left-leaning Canadians were more likely to rank lower GHGs as most important (53 per cent), while right-leaning respondents tended to rank affordability as most important (56 per cent).

So what should we make of these findings?

First, Canadians want an electricity supply that is diverse, low emitting and reliable. In contrast to political debates that pit renewables against natural gas, or that push for a single electricity source to dominate, Canadians want diversity. They also want more than just emissions reductions. They want a reliable grid. This pragmatism can be missing from polarized political debates over electricity.

Second, pragmatism also comes through in Canadians’ electrification intentions. A solid majority of Canadians want to electrify more of their energy needs, but they have concerns about cost and reliability. Policy makers will need to address affordability and reliability.

Finally, when it comes to Canada’s future energy needs, Canadians want low emissions energy, but their top priority is affordability and they also prize reliability.

These are crucial messages for policy makers. They underscore the importance of an approach to emissions reductions that integrates both climate and energy imperatives. Without affordable reliable energy, Canadians are unlikely to change their behaviour and support climate action in the years ahead.


Sources: Nanos Research, RDD dual frame hybrid telephone and online random surveys, accurate 3.0 percentage points plus or minus, 19 times out of 20. Survey dates and sample sizes:  January 29th to 31st 2024, n=1114; October 29th to 31st 2023, n=1071; July 30th to August 2nd 2023, n=1081; April 30th to May 3rd 2023, n=1080; January 27th to 30th 2023, n=1054.

Complete survey results available at: https://www.uottawa.ca/research-innovation/positive-energy/publications

Notes: charts weighted to the true population proportion; figures may not add up to 100 due to rounding.


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