Worldwide, the electricity industry is increasingly proving its ability to provide solutions to the issue of climate change. The energy transition this entails is based largely on technological innovation, particularly in terms of energy efficiency, smart grid management and optimizing energy use. In addition to accommodating new renewables, decentralized generation and the use of large-capacity energy storage, the electricity industry must harness big data to manage the power grid with greater reliability and flexibility.

According to Re$earch Infosource, Hydro-Québec is the top Canadian R&D spender in the electricity industry. With an annual budget of $134 million, IREQ—Hydro-Québec’s world-class research centre—is at the leading edge of technological development in numerous fields related to power grids and renewable energies. After defining the innovation avenues essential to the company’s performance over the next decade, in 2016 IREQ launched pilot projects in four areas of innovation: advanced algorithmics for power system optimization; digital simulation of equipment and facilities; equipment diagnostics and prognostics; and grid-interactive technologies for customer empowerment.

IREQ’s scientific breakthroughs, inventions and R&D also enhance the company’s international renown. The work has led to technological breakthroughs, commercial agreements and partnering arrangements. Since IREQ was created, its specialists have obtained over 1,000 patents and published thousands of articles.

Patents obtained or pending between 2013 and 2016, according to two categories: “energy storage and conversion” and “other patents.” 2013: 698/297, 2014: 721/300, 2015:731/304, 2016: 817/339.

Breakdown of IREQ innovation efforts related to sustainability

This graph shows the breakdown of IREQ innovation efforts related to sustainability:

  • Environment: 9.2%
  • Asset sustainment and service continuity: 63%
  • Energy use – customers and equipment: 15.1%
  • Technology and integration of intermittent renewables: 12.7%

In addition to IREQ’s work, we contribute to university chairs. Our business units also conduct R&D with companies, industry partners and other specialized research centres.

Examples of sustainability-related innovation projects – 2016
Category Achievement or work in progress Investment ($’000)
  • We continued the Tribology/Environment project to find environmentally friendly lubricating solutions for production equipment. We want to test self-lubricating materials (dry lubrication, grease-free) and green lubricants under operating conditions to assess their performance. Adopting these types of products will let us reduce the damage to the environment caused by accidental leaks. In 2016, these products were tested in a number of facilities.
Asset sustaining
and service
  • We have developed a method for assessing power transformer ageing. We can now determine the remaining service life of the solid insulation material in transformers without opening them or removing them from the grid. Used in various locations on our transmission system, the innovation come to the notice of various power industry companies and research groups. Advantages: improving service continuity, reducing the duration of interventions and maintaining equipment availability.
Energy use
– customers and equipment
  • Support for commercial offerings with our medium-power industrial customers to get them on board to meet a growing demand for power. After assessing the potential of some of them and carrying out audits with others, we identified the best ways of managing the power demand. We also verified the relevance of tools to facilitate users’ understanding of electricity consumption developed by the Energy Technology Laboratory.
In a dry room in IREQ’s energy storage laboratory, expert technician Martin Dontigny and technician Catherine Gagnon use an automatic stacker to make large soft-pack lithium-ion batteries.

Activities in 2016

  • We developed a sensor-equipped drone to perform detailed inspections of power transmission and distribution lines. The sensor can quickly detect power line corrosion in its earliest stages by analyzing the condition of the galvanic protection: gradual erosion of the conductor’s protective zinc coating causes premature ageing. In addition to avoiding GHG emissions, this technology saves us time and money.
  • We developed and installed an automated power system instability detector at the Copper Mountain substation in the Gaspésie region. The device detects any imminent instability and triggers actions to restore stability, maintain service continuity and ensure equipment security. This innovation was required following the integration of 2,500-MW wind farms. (Gaspésie–Îles-de-la-Madeleine)
  • Development and simulation of new concepts to modify power plant generator voltage regulators and thus improve transmission system robustness. These concepts will be part of a pilot project planned for spring 2017. Ultimately, transmission system capacity will be increased without the need to add large equipment.

See also