Canadian Occupational Projection System (COPS)

Industrial Summary

Electric, Gas and Water Utilities

NAICS 2211; 2212; 2213

This industry comprises establishments primarily engaged in operating electric, gas and water utilities. These establishments generate, transmit, control and distribute electric power; distribute natural gas; treat and distribute water and operate sewer systems and sewage treatment facilities and related systems (such as steam and air conditioning systems). They generally operate through a permanent infrastructure of lines, pipes, treatment and processing facilities. Electric power generation, transmission and distribution are by far the largest of the three segments, accounting for about 80% of production in 2016. The industry is mostly oriented toward the domestic market and is very sensitive to fluctuations in industrial production and construction activity. It employed 137,200 workers in 2016, with 73% in electric power generation, transmission and distribution, 10% in natural gas distribution, and 17% in water, sewage and other systems. Employment is mostly concentrated in Ontario (36%), Quebec (20%), Alberta (14%) and British Columbia (10%). The workforce is primarily composed of men (73%) and benefits from much higher wages than the national average, partly attributable to a high unionization rate. Key occupations (4-digit NOC) include:

  • Electrical power line and cable workers (7244)
  • Water and waste treatment plant operators (9243)
  • Power engineers and power system operators (9241)
  • Supervisors, petroleum, gas and chemical processing and utilities (9212)
  • Utilities managers (0912)
  • Power system electricians (7243)
  • Construction millwrights and industrial mechanics (7311)
  • Electrical and electronics engineers (2133)
  • Electrical and electronics engineering technologists and technicians (2241)
  • Waterworks and gas maintenance workers (7442)
  • Gas fitters (7253)

In 2007 and 2008, output growth in the industry was primarily driven by solid increases in non-residential investment, particularly in public infrastructure and electric power engineering structures. After falling significantly in 2009 as a result of the economic downturn, output quickly recovered in the following two years, supported by renewed growth in industrial production and construction activity. Since 2011 however, output has remained essentially flat. On average, real GDP grew at an annual rate of 0.8% over the period 2007-2016, with output growth almost evenly split between electric power generation, transmission and distribution and natural gas distribution, water sewage and other systems. In comparison, employment growth averaged 1.2% annually, but all the gains were recorded in 2007 and 2008 when the number of workers in the industry reached an historical peak. Employment fell continuously from 2009 to 2012, grew modestly in 2013 and 2014 and remained relatively stable thereafter. The significant gap between output and employment growth resulted in negative productivity growth, on average, for the full period 2007-2016. This partly reflects the fact that output growth was constrained by advances in energy efficiency and the resulting decline in the electricity intensity of the Canadian economy (electricity intensity is defined as the unit of electricity used per $ of GDP). The shift in the sources of electric power generation from hydro to non-hydro technologies has also resulted in lower production capacity, as wind and solar energy technologies have generally lower capacity factors.

Over the projection period, real GDP growth in the utilities industry is expected to accelerate significantly relative to the period 2007-2016, primarily driven by the electric power segment. While the electricity intensity of the Canadian economy should continue to decline gradually, stronger demand from the industrial and commercial sectors is expected to outpace those efficiency gains. Indeed, the oil and gas industry is expected to push industrial demand higher, as electricity use will grow in tandem with higher oil sands production, an energy intensive process. Electricity exports to the United States are also projected to contribute to faster output growth in the utilities industry. Investment in the industry is expected to be supported by mega energy projects in various provinces, including Newfoundand-Labrador (Lower Churchill), Quebec (Romaine Complex), Ontario (Darlington and Bruce Power nuclear stations), British Columbia (Site C Clean Energy) and Manitoba (Keeyask Hydropower). A continued shift toward a low-carbon economy could also create significant opportunities for electricity to gain market share in areas such as transportation. Faster growth in electric power generation, transmission and distribution activities is however expected to be accompagnied by slower output growth in natural gas distribution and water, sewage and other systems. Nevertheless, the resulting pace of growth for the overall utilities industry is projected to average 1.5% annually over the period 2017-2026, a notable acceleration relative to the previous ten years. In contrast, employment growth is projected to weaken significantly, averaging 0.7% per year. This reflects the need to contain production costs as the gradual increase anticipated in interest rates are expected to lead to higher borrowing costs for the industry. Renewed growth in productivity reflects a return to normal as this industry is highly capital intensive, with its capital stock per employee being six times that for the goods-producing industries. Rapid innovations in solar and biomass energy technologies should also help to boost productivity.

Real GDP and Employment Growth Rates in Electric, Gas and Water Utilities

Figure showing the annual growth of real GDP and employment over the periods 2007-2016 and 2017-2026 for the industry of Electric, Gas and Water Utilities. The data is shown on the table following this figure

Source: Statistics Canada (historical) and ESDC 2017 COPS industrial scenario (projections).

Text Version of Figure Real GDP and Employment Growth Rates in Electric, Gas and Water Utilities, 2007-2016 and 2017-2026, in Percent
  Real GDP Employment
2007-2016 0.8 1.2
2017-2026 1.5 0.7

Source: Statistics Canada (historical) and ESDC 2017 COPS industrial scenario (projections).

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