Electricity Generation in Canada: Public Perceptions

As part of my presentation to the Ontario Energy Association’s ENERGYCONFERENCE13, I asked Canadians about their views on different sources of electricity.  At the conference, I released the results for Ontarians only but I wanted to share what Canadians across the country think about different sources of electricity and how they compare across region, education level, and political support.

In this post, I report on two questions we asked: (1) overall impressions of different ways to generate electricity and (2) perceptions about how their province generates electricity.

Generally speaking, Canadians have a pretty good understanding of where their electricity comes from.  On average, respondents estimated that 43% of electricity generated in Canada comes from hydroelectric compared with 20% from natural gas and 13% from nuclear.

When asked about the different sources of electricity, a large majority of Canadians have a positive impression of hydroelectric, solar, wind, and natural gas generation.  Impressions were more mixed when it comes to nuclear power and only a small minority of Canadians have anything good to say about coal powered electricity generation.

Hydroelectric Power

Canadians love hydroelectric power and Canadians from across Canada agree on that.  Nationally, 77% of respondents to our survey said they have a positive impression of hydroelectric power compared with only 4% who had a negative impression.  When asked to rank seven sources of electricity from most to least environmentally friendly, 28% of respondents ranked hydro first or second and only 7% ranked it as 1st or 2nd most harmful to health and safety.

Hydro power is perceived to be clean, safe, but not as cheap as other sources of electricity.  Canadians recognize the importance of hydroelectric power to Canada’s economy and energy mix and generally have positive feelings about it.  You can’t go wrong with hydroelectric power.

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Wind Power

Nationally, 79% of Canadians have a positive impression of wind energy compared with 8% who have a negative impression.  Wind powered electricity has seen its share of controversy in Canada’s largest province.  While wind energy is viewed positively by almost all respondents in Atlantic and Western Canada and in Quebec, it’s reputation is somewhat weaker in Ontario at 70%, nine points lower than the national average.

When asked to compare wind energy to other sources of electricity, 69% of Canadians rank wind energy as 1st or 2nd when it comes to environmentally friendliness, and only 12% ranked it in the top 1 or 2 in terms of its negative impacts on health and safety.  Like hydro power, wind energy is perceived to be clean, but a large proportion of Canadians (28%) rank it as the 1st or 2nd most expensive source of electricity.


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Natural Gas Powered

Natural gas is the carbon-based fuel that gets a lot of love from Canadians.  Overall, two thirds of Canadians have a positive impression of natural gas compared with 7% who have a negative impression.   There is little variation in opinion across the country with Albertans being somewhat more likely to have a positive impression of the fuel source than other Canadians (Alberta 79% positive vs. Canada 67%).

Natural gas is perceived to be environmentally unfriendly or unsafe as less than one in five Canadians ranked it as least or 2nd least in terms of safety or environmentally friendliness.

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Nuclear Power

Unlike the three electricity sources above, nuclear power’s reputation in Canada is far less positive.  Only 25% of Canadians have a positive impression of nuclear power while 48% have a negative impression.  Outside of Ontario (where it is most popular at 41%), nuclear has a weak impression with less than one in five Canadians living in BC, Alberta, Quebec, and Atlantic Canada saying they have a positive impression of nuclear.

Compared with other electricity sources, nuclear power is ranked as least or 2nd least environmentally friendly by  63% of Canadians and 69% rank it as most or 2nd most harmful to human health and safety.  Along with views that its not clean or safe, 50% of Canadians believe that nuclear is either the most or 2nd most expensive way to generate electricity.

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Coal Powered

Coal is viewed most negatively by Canadians. Only 12% of Canadians have a positive impression of coal powered electricity generation while 61% have a negative impression.

Over seven in ten Canadians (72%) rank coal as either least or 2nd least environmentally friendly and two thirds rank its as most or 2nd most harmful to human health and safety.  It is also considered most or 2nd most expensive among 21% of Canadians.  There is no region in the country that has a positive impression of coal powered electricity generation.

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Perceptions about Canada’s Electricity Mix

In an effort to understand what Canadians know about Canada’s electricity mix, we asked respondents to estimate what percentage of their province’s electricity is generated from seven possible sources of electricity.  Respondents were free to enter any number ranging from 0 to 100 for each source with a total that must add up to 100.

On average, Canadians estimated that 43% of their provinces energy was generated from hydro, 20-points lower than the actual percentage as reported by the Canadian Electricity Association.  Natural gas was second at 20% followed by nuclear power at 13%.  Canadians have a pretty good understanding of where their electricity comes from – except when it comes to renewable energy.

Across the country, respondents overestimated the importance of renewable sources of electricity such as wind, solar, and biomass, and underestimated the importance of another renewable source hydro power.

This is especially true in Ontario where all the discussion about the province’s Green Energy Act has likely caused perceptions about Ontario’s energy mix to seem more “renewable” and “green” than it really is.

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Methodology

The survey was conducted online with 1,600 respondents in English and French using an internet survey programmed and collected by Abacus Data. A random sample of panelists was invited to participate in the survey from a representative panel of Canadians.  The survey was completed from Aug 30 to Sept 4, 2013.

Since the online survey was not a random, probability based sample, a margin of error could not be calculated.   The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association prohibits statements about margins of sampling error or population estimates with regard to most online panels.

The margin of error for a probability-based random sample of 1,600 respondents using a probability sample is +/- 2.5%, 19 times out of 20.

The data was weighted according to census data to ensure that the sample matched Canada’s population according to age, gender, education level, and region.

These questions were posed as part of the Abacus Data monthly Omnibus survey.  

David Coletto is CEO of Abacus Data and leads its Public Affairs research practice. He has a PhD from the University of Calgary and is an adjunct professor at Carleton University.  He’s an avid road cyclist.

Contact David Coletto:

T: 613-232-2806 x. 248

E: david@abacusdata.ca

W: http://www.abacusdata.ca

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