For some years now, Hydro-Québec has been conducting research on new renewable sources of electricity generation. We have published data sheets on osmotic power, hydrokinetic power, photovoltaic solar power, biomass power and small wind power. The sheets discuss the energy source’s current status, potential in Canada and Québec, output and costs, main advantages and disadvantages, and sustainability.

Solar Power

Thanks to falling prices, the market for photovoltaic (PV) solar power is soaring. In fact, solar power will soon cost less to produce than energy generated by fossil fuels, and could even replace them as an energy source.

For the residential sector, the price of solar power could become competitive by the mid-2020s. Customers could then opt for self-generation by installing solar panels. However, solar power is intermittent and, just like wind power, requires the use of energy storage systems to be sustained. Furthermore, according to a 2014 CIRAIG study based on life-cycle assessment [PDF 545 Kb], photovoltaic solar energy emits five times more GHG is than the hydropower generated by Hydro-Québec. The main environmental impacts relate to the energy and metals required to manufacture PV cells, and the system’s relatively low output during its service life.

The evolving PV solar power market could affect our operations on many levels, including decreased energy consumption, rate changes, demand forecasting, the balance of supply and demand, and an increase in light load periods.

Nevertheless, the current energy transition is also an opportunity to offer new services based on new technologies, maximize export revenue, boost power grid flexibility and pursue acquisitions outside Québec.

The numerous measures in the 2017–2020 Action Plan for implementing the Québec government’s 2030 Energy Policy include a 25% increase in the province’s total generation from renewables. In this context, solar energy could represent business opportunities for Hydro-Québec.

Photovoltaic solar technology is being tried out in Quaqtaq, Nunavik.

Energy Transition

In all markets, energy generation and consumption modes are undergoing a profound shift. For example, in the United States, microgrids are becoming more popular due to the increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events. Hydro-Québec is keenly interested in this transition and, through a series of projects, is preparing to integrate new technologies and adapt the range of services that it offers.

In coming years, distributed solar photovoltaic (PV) technology could become competitive with current generation modes. Hydro-Québec may have to integrate into its grid various self-generation technologies (solar or small wind), as well as storage and energy management technologies such as electric cars that can store energy and feed it into the grid during peak periods. Other types of systems that can function independently or be unplugged from the grid could also emerge in Québec. This decentralization of energy resources also represents an opportunity to innovate and to offer innovative energy services that go beyond mere electricity distribution.

Among Hydro-Québec’s solar PV energy projects, the installation of 69 solar panels in the village of Quaqtaq in Nunavik will be crucial, guiding future energy transition strategies for off-grid systems. The capacity of the module represents 2% of that of the thermal power plant that supplies the village. This new technology could reduce fuel consumption by 5,000 litres a year.

Another first was the connection of a large-scale energy storage system to a feeder line at Hemmingford substation in the Montérégie region. This demonstration project will help provide solutions in managing power demand during peak periods and the integration of renewables into power grids.

See also