Energy Use in the Transportation Sector

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Key highlights

Over the 1990 to 2017 period,
  • Energy efficiency improved 47%, saving Canadians 830.7 PJ of energy and $22.7 billion in energy costs in 2017.
  • Energy use increased 41%, from 1,877.9 PJ to 2,642.8 PJ. More cars, more trucks and greater freight mileage all contributed to increased energy use in this sector.

  • Passenger transportation
    • Energy efficiency improved 36%, saving 402.2 PJ, or $10.3 billion in energy costs in 2017.
    • Energy use increased by 22%, but it would have increased 57% without energy efficiency improvements.

    Freight transportation
    • Energy efficiency improved 64%, saving 428.4 PJ, or $12.4 billion in energy costs in 2017.
    • Energy use increased by 67%. It would have increased 130% without energy efficiency improvements.

  Overview - Energy use

The sector is diverse and covers several modes of transportation including road, air, rail and marine. In Canada, these modes of transportation are used for transporting both people and goods.

In 2017, Canadian individuals and businesses spent $72.1 billion on fuel for transportation, which was more than 86% that of the industrial sector. This was due to the much higher cost of transportation fuels as compared to the sources of energy used in the industrial and other sectors.

Passenger transportation accounted for 53% of total energy consumption, while the freight transportation subsector accounted for 42%. Off-road vehicles1 consumed the remaining 5%.

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Distribution of energy use by subsector, 2017

Percentage
Passenger transportation 53.2
Freight transportation 42.3
Off-road transportation 4.5


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Distribution of energy use by mode, 2017

Percentage
Road passenger 42.3
Road freight 36.1
Air 11.0
Rail 3.2
Marine 2.9
Off-road 4.5

  Transportation energy use

Between 1990 and 2017, total energy use by the transportation sector increased 41%, from 1,877.9 PJ to 2,642.8 PJ, and associated GHG emissions increased 40%, from 131.3 Mt to 182.1 Mt. Just in time shipping and on-line shopping/home delivery have been the major factors in the increase of freight traffic.

Among the subsectors, freight transportation experienced more rapid growth, representing 58% of the increase in energy consumption. Furthermore, the growing preference to use commercial trucks, which typically consume more energy than other modes of transportation, in itself accounts for 100% of the increase in energy consumption of freight transportation and 51% of all transportation. The growth of this subsector was the main contributor to the increase in demand for diesel fuel.

The freight transportation subsector was the main contributor to the increase in demand for diesel fuel.

From 1990 to 2017, diesel consumption increased 60%, because of the increasing use of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles on Canadian roads. Moreover, motor gasoline consumption, including ethanol, increased 37%, with freight transportation vehicles and passenger vehicles accounting for almost half and more than a third of that figure, respectively.

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Transportation energy use by energy source, selected years (petajoules)

1990 2000 2010 2017
Motor gasoline 1120.4 1282.5 1461.0 1536.7
Diesel fuel oil 469.8 660.4 819.0 750.6
Aviation fuels* 187.4 240.1 228.9 291.0
Other** 100.3 83.0 149.5 64.4
* “Aviation fuels” include aviation turbo fuel and aviation gasoline.
** “Other” includes electricity, natural gas, heavy fuel oil, and propane.

Toward the end of the 1970s, the Canadian government proposed voluntary targets to the vehicle industry. Between 1978 and 1985, performance standards for passenger vehicles improved from 13.1 L/100 km to 8.6 L/100 km but saw little further change up to 2010 because no stringent fuel efficiency standard were in place. Targets for light trucks were introduced in 1990, resulting in a performance improvement from 11.8 L/100 km to 10.0 L/100 km by 2010.

In October 2010, the Government of Canada approved the Passenger Automobile and Light Truck Greenhouse Gas Emission Regulation. The goal of the regulation was to reduce CO2 emissions by 12% to 19%, depending on the light vehicle category, by 2016.

For passenger automobiles of model years 2017-2025, the CO2 equivalent emission target value applicable to a given vehicle’s footprint is decreased by 5% average per year, taking the 2016 model year standards as the baseline and applying that rate each year, up to and including the 2025 model year. Most light trucks face greater challenges in terms of CO2 equivalent emissions than typical passenger automobiles do related to the specific characteristics (towing capacity, storage room, additional passenger seat) they provide. Consequently, the target values for CO2 equivalent emissions for light trucks of model years 2017 to 2021 are decreased by a lower annual rate of 3.5%. In recent years, initiatives and regulations designed to encourage technological progress were introduced for all other transportation modes in order to increase energy efficiency and improve the performance of the transportation modes.

Energy efficiency improvements in the transportation sector resulted in savings of $22.7 billion in energy costs for Canadians in 2017.

Between 1990 and 2017, energy efficiency in the transportation sector improved by 47%, which resulted in energy savings of 830.7 PJ in 2017. These savings were due to energy efficiency improvements in passenger transportation (402.2 PJ) and in freight transportation (428.4 PJ).

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Transportation energy use, with and without energy efficiency improvements, 1990–2017

Energy use without energy efficiency improvements Energy use with energy efficiency improvements
1990 1785.3 1785.3
1991 1738.0 1717.6
1992 1798.4 1761.5
1993 1861.2 1784.8
1994 1976.2 1879.2
1995 2057.4 1916.5
1996 2102.5 1958.4
1997 2214.7 2028.7
1998 2277.8 2085.8
1999 2348.4 2136.9
2000 2398.9 2157.4
2001 2404.1 2135.6
2002 2458.2 2161.1
2003 2540.4 2231.4
2004 2633.1 2310.5
2005 2685.6 2347.5
2006 2732.3 2329.0
2007 2807.1 2418.8
2008 2802.8 2407.3
2009 2758.7 2399.2
2010 2908.7 2484.2
2011 2931.7 2486.4
2012 2989.4 2513.3
2013 3069.1 2560.6
2014 3097.0 2516.9
2015 3160.9 2500.9
2016 3261.8 2497.5
2017 3330.5 2499.8

  Passenger transportation energy use and GHG emissions

Transportation infographic
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Passenger transportation energy indicators

1990 2017
Total vehicles 14.2 million 23.2 million
Light trucks 19.5% 42.0%
Average per vehicle 17,517 Km/year 14,393 Km/year
Pkm covered 384.5 billion 546.7 billion
Vehicles per person aged 18 years and over 0.68 0.79

Light-duty vehicles (small cars, large cars, light trucks and motorcycles) were the main mode of transportation used by Canadians for passenger transportation2. Air transport, rail transport and transportation by bus or coach were also used, though to a lesser extent.

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Distribution of energy use by mode of passenger transportation, 2017

Percentage
Cars 36.3
Light trucks 39.7
Motorcycles 0.4
Air 20.3
Rail 0.1
Buses and urban transit 3.2

The number of light-duty vehicles per person aged 18 years and older has increased slightly.

The distance covered in Pkm3 for light vehicles (excluding urban transportation and coaches) increased on average by 1.3% per year. However, this number for urban transportation and coaches increased on average by 1.9% per year between 1990 and 2017.

Consequently, the market share of public transit has increased over the past 27 years. Over this period, the energy consumption for passenger transportation increased by 22%, from 1,154.0 to 1,405.9 PJ, and the associated GHG emissions increased by 19%, from 79.7 to 94.8 Mt.

The mix of fuels used in the subsector has remained relatively constant. Motor gasoline has been the main energy source, representing 75% of the combination of fuels used in 2017.

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Passenger transportation energy use by fuel type, 1990 and 2017 (petajoules)

1990 2017
Motor gasoline 902.4 1055.6
Diesel fuel oil 47.2 50.8
Aviation fuels* 180.9 284.9
Other** 23.5 14.7
* “Aviation fuels” include aviation turbo fuel and aviation gasoline.
** “Other” includes electricity, natural gas, heavy fuel oil, and propane.

A growing number of Canadians bought light trucks (including minivans and sport utility vehicles [SUV]) rather than vehicles that have better ranking in fuel consumption. In 2017, light-truck sales were 60% of new vehicles sold for passenger transportation, compared to 24% in 1990 and 56% in 2016. This shift from cars to light trucks has resulted in a significant increase in passenger-transportation energy consumption. Between 1990 and 2017, energy consumption associated with the use of light trucks increased at a faster pace than that associated with any other mode of passenger transportation (159% increase).

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Passenger transportation energy use by mode, 1990 and 2017 (petajoules)

1990 2017
Rail 3.8 2.0
Air 180.9 284.9
Buses and urban transit 46.0 45.4
Motorcycles 2.4 5.5
Light trucks 215.5 558.4
Cars 705.5 509.7

Air transport is becoming more popular. Since 1990, Canadians are increasingly using air transport4, translating into a significant increase of Pkm (216%). However, energy consumption only increased by 57%, which shows a growing improvement in efficiency.

  Passenger transportation energy intensity and efficiency

Energy intensity

Between 1990 and 2017, energy intensity declined by 26%, from 2.3 MJ/Pkm to 1.7 MJ/Pkm. Improved vehicle fuel performance is the main reason for this reduction. The average fuel performance is measured by the quantity of litres consumed to cover a distance of 100 km (L/100 km).

All modes of transportation, except motorcycles, saw a reduction in energy intensity. Rail showed the greatest improvement, followed by passenger air and public transportation.

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Passenger transportation energy intensity by mode, 1990 and 2017 (MJ/Pkm)

1990 2017
Rail 2.82 1.31
Air 2.12 1.24
Buses and urban transit 1.29 0.77
Motorcycles 1.50 1.60
Light trucks 2.90 2.19
Cars 2.29 1.77

Energy efficiency

Measuring the effect of energy efficiency

Without energy efficiency gains, energy use would have increased 57% instead of 22%.

Various factors influenced change in energy use:

  • Activity effect – The activity effect (i.e. the number of Pkm travelled) increased energy use by 58%, or 6,454.3 PJ, with a corresponding 43.5-Mt increase in related GHG emissions. This increase in the number of Pkm (activity effect) is mainly attributable to a 243% increase in light truck activity and a 216% increase in air transportation activity.
  • Structure effect – Changes to the mix of transportation modes (or the relative share of Pkm attributed to air, rail and road transportation) are used to measure changes in structure. Thus, an overall change in structure would result in a decrease (or increase) in energy consumption if the relative share of a more (or less) effective mode increases in importance relative to others. The relative share of Pkm travelled increased greatly for passenger air transportation and light trucks. The overall effect of the structure was positive, given the growing popularity of minivans and SUVs, which are more energy-intensive than other transportation modes. As a result, the analyses show a 25.0-PJ increase in energy use and a 1.7-Mt increase in related GHG emissions attributable to the structure effect.
  • Service level effect – There is no service level effect.
  • Weather effect – There is no weather effect.
  • Energy efficiency effect – The 36% improvement in energy efficiency saved 402.2 PJ of energy and 27.1 Mt of GHG emissions. The light vehicle segment (cars, light trucks and motorcycles) for passenger transportation accounted for 64% of those savings.
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Impact of activity, structure and energy efficiency on the change in passenger transportation energy use, 1990–2017

Petajoules
Total change in energy use 251.9
Activity effect 645.2
Structure effect 25.0
Energy efficiency effect -402.2
Other* -16.1
* “Other” refers to non-commercial airline aviation, which is included in the total change in energy use value, but is excluded from the factorization analysis.

In 2017, Canadian drivers saved $10.3 billion in energy costs because of a 36% energy efficiency improvement.


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Passenger transportation energy use, with and without energy efficiency improvements, 1990–2017

Energy use without energy efficiency improvements Energy use with energy efficiency improvements
1990 1114.7 1114.7
1991 1092.7 1076.0
1992 1139.9 1097.8
1993 1160.5 1102.8
1994 1195.1 1127.1
1995 1231.1 1143.8
1996 1248.6 1164.1
1997 1302.8 1291.6
1998 1336.2 1218.2
1999 1365.6 1244.3
2000 1387.2 1248.5
2001 1389.7 1221.3
2002 1426.1 1264.4
2003 1431.5 1272.1
2004 1464.9 1292.3
2005 1497.8 1310.7
2006 1503.5 1287.0
2007 1557.6 1324.1
2008 1555.9 1294.8
2009 1568.0 1292.7
2010 1613.7 1317.5
2011 1632.7 1315.5
2012 1645.0 1340.0
2013 1671.5 1369.2
2014 1656.2 1332.3
2015 1706.0 1364.2
2016 1765.8 1400.6
2017 1785.0 1382.7

  Freight transportation energy use and GHG emissions

Transportation infographic
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Freight transportation energy indicators

1990 2017
Total freight trucks 1.9 million 5.4 million
Heavy trucks 297,000 471,000
Average for heavy trucks 52,400 Km/year 81,392 Km/year
Tkm travelled 136.1 billion 402.4 billion
Litres of fuel used per truck 6,800 4,900

In Canada, the freight transportation subsector includes four modes of transportation: road, air, marine and rail. Transportation by truck is divided into three types: light truck, medium truck and heavy truck. Energy consumption for freight transportation is linked to tonne kilometres (Tkm)5.

From 1990 to 2017, freight transportation energy use increased by 67%, which resulted in a 65% increase of associated GHG emissions, from 47.7 Mt in 1990 to 78.8 Mt in 2017.


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Freight transportation energy use by mode, 1990 and 2017 (petajoules)

1990 2017
Marine 106.5 75.6
Rail 85.7 81.8
Air 6.5 6.2
Heavy trucks 253.6 451.4
Medium trucks 120.6 283.0
Light trucks 97.6 219.1

The mix of fuels used in the freight transportation subsector remained relatively constant between 1990 and 2017. Diesel was the main energy source, representing 63% of all the fuels consumed for freight transportation.


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Freight transportation energy use by fuel type, 1990 and 2017 (petajoules)

1990 2017
Motor gasoline 164.6 361.4
Diesel fuel oil 422.6 699.8
Heavy fuel oil 60.1 43.3
Other* 23.1 12.7
* “Other” includes aviation turbo fuel, aviation gasoline, natural gas and propane.

Just in time delivery is stimulating the demand for transportation using heavy trucks.6

Using transport vehicles as virtual warehouses requires a transportation system that is “in time” and very efficient. Between 1990 and 2017, the number of heavy trucks increased 58%, and the average distance travelled increased 55%, reaching 81,392 km per year. However, heavy trucks are not only travelling greater distances but also transporting more freight, involving the use of an increasing number of trailers. This new trend has contributed to the increase in the number of Tkm and energy use in the freight transportation subsector.

Rail remained the main mode of freight transportation in Canada.

For many goods, such as coal and cereal, trucks are not an efficient mode of transportation. Rail and marine transport continue to be the modes of choice. They therefore have an important place in the freight transportation sector. Rail transport holds the first position in terms of Tkm of freight transported with 423.7 billion Tkm in 2017, 71% more than in 1990. In second position, heavy trucks transported 323.5 billion Tkm in 2017, which is 189% more than in 1990.

  Freight transportation energy intensity and efficiency

Energy intensity

Since 1990, all the modes of freight transportation have become more efficient with respect to energy consumption, based on the number of Tkm. Accordingly, the sector’s energy intensity has decreased by 7% over the period, from 1.2 MJ/Tkm to 1.1 MJ/Tkm travelled.


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Freight transportation energy intensity by mode, 1990 and 2017

1990 2017
Marine 0.56 0.37
Rail 0.35 0.19
Air 3.72 1.96
Heavy trucks 2.26 1.46
Medium trucks 8.89 5.99
Light trucks 9.34 6.91

Energy efficiency

Measuring the effect of energy efficiency

Without energy efficiency gains, energy use would have increased 130% instead of 67%.

Various factors influenced change in energy use:

  • Activity effect – The effect of activity (the number of Tkm travelled) translated into an increase in energy consumption of 82%, or 550.9 PJ, and in the associated GHG emissions of 38.8 Mt. This increase in the number of Tkm transported is mainly due to a 196% increase in the activity of trucks.
  • Structure effect – Changes to the mix of transportation modes (or the relative share of Tkm attributed to air, marine, rail and road transportation) are used to measure changes in structure. Thus, an overall change in structure would result in a decrease (or increase) in energy consumption if the relative share of a more (or less) effective mode increases in importance relative to the others. The change in modes is due to the increase in the relative share of goods transported by trucks compared to other modes. The overall structure effect was positive given the growth of Canada-US trade and the “just-in-time” delivery required by customers. The effect contributed to an increase in the use of road transportation modes, which are more energy-intensive than the others per Tkm. The analyses show a 324.1-PJ increase in energy consumption and a 22.9-Mt increase in related GHG emissions attributable to the structure effect.
  • Service level effect – There is no service level effect.
  • Weather effect – There is no weather effect.
  • Energy efficiency effect – The 64% improvement in energy efficiency saved 428.4 PJ of energy and 30.2 Mt of GHG emissions. The road vehicle segment (light trucks, medium trucks and heavy trucks) for freight transportation accounted for 79% of those savings.
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Impact of activity, structure and energy efficiency on the change in freight transportation energy use, 1990–2017

Petajoules
Total change in energy use 446.6
Activity effect 550.9
Structure effect 324.1
Energy efficiency effect -428.4

In 2017, improvements in energy efficiency for freight transportation generated energy savings of $12.4 billion.


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Freight transportation energy use, with and without energy efficiency improvements, 1990–2017

Energy use without energy efficiency improvements Energy use with energy efficiency improvements
1990 670.5 670.5
1991 645.3 641.6
1992 658.5 663.8
1993 700.7 682.1
1994 781.1 752.1
1995 826.3 772.7
1996 853.9 794.3
1997 911.8 837.2
1998 941.6 867.6
1999 984.8 892.6
2000 1,011.7 908.9
2001 1,014.4 914.4
2002 1,032.1 896.8
2003 1,108.9 959.3
2004 1,168.2 1,018.2
2005 1,187.8 1,036.8
2006 1,228.8 1,042.1
2007 1,249.5 1,094.7
2008 1,246.9 1,112.4
2009 1,190.8 1,106.5
2010 1,295.1 1,166.7
2011 1,309.0 1,171.0
2012 1,344.4 1,173.3
2013 1,397.6 1,191.4
2014 1,440.7 1,184.7
2015 1,454.9 1,136.6
2016 1,496.0 1,096.9
2017 1,545.0 1,117.1

  1. This category includes all the machines whose main use is not on public roads, such as snowmobiles and lawn mowers.
  2. With regard to passenger transportation, energy consumption is related to passenger-kilometres (Pkm). When the Pkm number rises, an increase in energy consumption is normally observed, unless there have been improvements in energy efficiency to compensate for the activity increase.
  3. A Pkm is calculated by multiplying the number of passengers carried by the distance covered. Consequently, when two passengers are travelling in the same vehicle and are transported across a distance of 10 kilometres, it is the equivalent of 20 Pkm.
  4. Transport Canada, Growing Canada’s Economy: A New National Air Transportation Policy, Ottawa, 2015.
  5. A Tkm describes the transportation of one tonne of freight over a distance of one kilometre.
  6. Adoption of the just in time stocking scheme by many businesses has had a significant impact on the freight transportation subsector. Such a system generally requires less inventory storage space because the orders are delivered at the moment they are required for production.