What is electricity? 

To understand the electricity we use every day, you must first understand a few common concepts to help explain it. 

  • Electricity is the flow of electrons through a conductor (wire), like water through a garden hose. This flow is called an electric current.  
  • Current is measured in amps, which is the rate or amount of electrons flowing. Using the same example, amps would measure the amount of water flowing through the hose.  
  • Volts measure the force or pressure of electrons flowing. Specifically, it measures the difference in electrical potential – the number of electrons between two points in a circuit. Volts would represent the water pressure in the hose. Residential users in Canada have 120 V or 240 V outlets.
  • Watts (power), measures the rate electricity is consumed. Power equals current multiplied by volts. To increase the watts, you can increase amount of water flowing through the hose (amps) or increase the pressure of the water in it (volts). 

Appliances we use in homes and businesses draw specifics amounts of power. For example, a LED light bult might use 10 watts (W), a dishwasher 1,440 W, and an electric water heater 4,500 W.

Electricity bills typically provide customers information in kilowatt-hours (kWh), which identifies the amount of electricity used in a period of time.  

  • Ohms measures electrical resistance in the conductor. More resistance slows down the flow of electrons. For example, copper wires are better conductors and have less resistance than aluminum ones. Thinner and longer wires also have relatively greater resistance. 

Source: https://www.popsautoelectric.com/solving-automotive-electrical-problems-amperes/

A history lesson: 

AC/DC isn’t just a popular band – it is an important electrical concept.  

Electrical currents are either direct (DC) or alternating (AC). Direct current, which was pioneered by Thomas Edison in the late 1880s, flows continually in one direction. Alternating current, pioneered by Nikola Tesla at the same time, reverses direction many times each second (60Hz in the Canada). Direct current is not easily converted to higher or lower voltages, so it become the prominent current source for decades.

More recently, direct current has grown in popularity as many battery-powered devices use this current (laptops, electric vehicles, etc.). It is possible now to concert direct current into higher or lower voltages, and because it is more stable, some utilities are using it to transport electricity long distances with fewer losses.

Canada-USA transmission line, 1909

Source: Electricity Canada, History of Electricity: https://www.electricity.ca/knowledge-centre/about-the-electricity-sector/history-of-electricity/

What is the role of electricity in Atlantic Canada’s net-zero future? 

Atlantic residents and businesses will need to electrify more and more of the technology we use for the region to meet net-zero targets. Some technologies are easier to electrify than others today. For example, many homes in the region are already heated with electric heat pumps or baseboards, and most stoves and other appliances use electricity. Using natural gas or propane for heating is much more common in other parts of North America.  

Some other technologies, such as electric vehicles, are becoming increasingly common. And while electricity is an important tool to help reduce emissions, it isn’t without its challenges and there are other options available. Firstly, some electricity generation in Atlantic Canada still depends on burning fossil fuels. While emissions from electricity generation is decreasing, it will take time and significant investment to completely phase out fossil fuel-fired generation 

Competing clean energy sources, such as using clean fuels like hydrogen in transportation, may be more practical than using EVs (especially for larger vehicles or heavy transportation applications). Biomass, including firewood and wood pellets, are already commonly used to heat homes across Atlantic Canada. Fossil fuels and clean fuels will continue to play important roles to help maintain energy security in the region, which continuing to reduce emissions. 



Full disclosure: The Atlantica Centre for Energy represents many of the largest energy producers and consumers in Atlantic Canada, including renewable energy. However, the Centre’s members also represent governments, research groups and academia. The Centre examines all types of energy to help decarbonize while growing economies across the region.