For much of the 19th century forest resources provided cheap, widely available fuel. Water-powered milling and manufacturing and sail-powered transport, despite their importance, made up only a small fraction of total energy consumption, compared to the use of wood for heating and cooking. The clearing of land for agriculture and the growth of urban places soon exhausted accessible wood-fuel resources particularly near major urban centres.
With increasing industrialization, technological advances in heating systems and the engines of transport and industry demanded increasingly large quantities of a more uniform and more concentrated energy source. Contributing less than 10% of total energy production at Confederation, coal surpassed wood fuel as the nation’s leading energy source by the end of the century. Coal provided the essential fuel for both the expanding railway network and the growing iron and steel industry, the twin cornerstones of the country’s industrialization. Unfortunately Canada’s high-quality coal resources were located on the periphery of industrial development.
Today, Canada is one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of energy. In 2005, Canada produced 19.1 quadrillion British Thermal Units (Btu) of total energy, the fifth-largest amount in the world. Since 1980, Canada’s total energy production has increased by 86 percent, while its total energy consumption has increased by only 48 percent during that period. Almost all of Canada’s energy exports go to the United States, making it the largest foreign source of U.S. energy imports.