All around the world, the power 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 integrating renewable energy sources, making room for distributed generation and using large-scale energy storage, the industry must learn to maximize the use of big data to make power system management more reliable and flexible.

In 2017, according to Re$earch Infosource, Hydro-Québec was again the top Canadian power utility for R&D spending. With an annual budget of $127 million, the company’s research institute, IREQ, develops state-of-the-art technology in multiple fields related to power systems and renewable energy.

Income from patents and the commercialization of our innovations totaled $16.2 million. After defining avenues of innovation essential to our performance in the upcoming decade, the company created the Center of Excellence in Transportation Electrification and Energy Storage (CETEES) in 2017.

Hydro-Québec’s technological vision
Three main orientations Innovation areas
Our customers at the center of our vision for the future Customer participation, electrification and decarbonization of markets, decentralization and integration of renewable energies in the electrical system
Our assets give us the upper hand in a changing environment Diagnostics and prognostics of major equipment – maintenance based on actual equipment condition
Looking toward the power system of the future Digital transformation and digitization of operations – the Internet of things, data science, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity

Patents obtained or pending between 2014 and 2017, according to two categories: “energy storage and conversion” and “other patents.” 2014: 721/300, 2015:731/304, 2016: 817/339, 2017: 798/325.

Breakdown of IREQ innovation efforts related to sustainability

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

  • Environment: 16.0%
  • Asset sustainment and service continuity: 63.0%
  • Energy use – customers and equipment: 11.0%
  • Technology and integration of intermittent renewables: 22.0%

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 – 2017
Category Achievement or work in progress Investment ($’000)
Energy performance – customers and equipment
  • Water electrolysis to produce synthetic fuels from municipal waste

    This project conducted by IREQ’s energy technology laboratory (LTE) involves evaluating the possibility of incorporating water electrolysis into a process to produce synthetic fuels from municipal solid waste.

    In 2017, LTE performed a methods and cost analysis on integrating water electrolysis with an Enerkem technology in order to manufacture advanced biofuels and green chemicals from waste. The results show that the harmonized integration of the two technologies could double the expected yield while maintaining the cost-effectiveness of the waste recovery.
40
Renewable energy technologies and grid connection
  • Managing residential power demand

    The goal of the project is to elicit the participation of residential customers in reducing power demand in order to limit demand during the winter.

    As part of the project, we targeted demand from electric baseboard heating and installed communicating thermostats for baseboards in the homes of 30 employees. Temperature settings on these thermostats were adjusted based on typical demand response measures taken during cold snaps. This allowed us to observe the effects on power demand and occupants’ comfort. In addition, various scenarios were simulated to estimate the potential impact of these devices on the system load profile.
280
Environment
  • Tribology/Environment project

    The Tribology/Environment project focuses on environmentally friendly lubricating solutions for the mechanical components of generating equipment. In order to make a more informed choice of self-lubricating materials and green lubricants, we’re testing their performance under actual operating conditions. Adopting these types of products will allow us to greatly reduce the risks of damage to the environment caused by accidental leaks of lubricants.

    In 2017, we designed a new test bench to assess materials for self-lubricating bearings, which simulates operating conditions such as harsh winter temperatures, hot and humid summer temperatures and immersion in water.
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Asset sustainment and service continuity
  • SiGran project

    The latest version of the National Building Code requires that soil liquefaction potential be analyzed during geotechnical investigations. Soil liquefaction is the phenomenon of instability or loss of strength that occurs as a result of an earthquake, often in saturated granular soils. The occurrence of soil liquefaction is currently evaluated using a simplified process based on generic seismicity and geology conditions that are different from those found in eastern North America.

    The SiGran project involves the creation of a new method to study the liquefaction potential of soils in the geological and seismic context of eastern North America. The project has a virtual and an experimental component. In the virtual component, we’re attempting to understand the liquefaction phenomenon at the particle and pore level, and design effective mitigation measures when a prognosis of liquefaction has been established. In the experimental component, we use the TxSS, a seismic simulator apparatus designed to study liquefaction, to define the dynamic characteristics of soils and examine their relation to soil liquefaction. It can also be applied to examine the effectiveness of the conventional method, its limits and its relevance to seismic conditions in Québec.

    Using the TxSS, we were able to establish a prognosis of non-liquefaction for the soils underlying the foundations of five transmission substations, contrary to the previously established prognosis of liquefaction. These new results allowed us to abandon work such as the installation of piles to straighten and stabilize foundations, and thus reduce costs and GHG emissions.
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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.

2017 HIGHLIGHTS

  • A drone equipped with a LineCore sensor was used to inspect power lines. The sensor is a corrosion detector that provides detailed information on the condition of the galvanized coating on transmission and distribution lines. Developed by IREQ, the LineCore is a groundbreaking advance in transmission system maintenance.
  • Work continued on the LineDrone pilot project, involving the use of a drone to perform visual inspections of live 735-kV lines. The drone, equipped with a new onboard vision system, can now land semiautonomously, making line inspections safer.
  • We provided $3.9 million in funding (2017–2021) to Concordia University for three research chairs; smart grid cybersecurity (a first in Canada); optimized operation and energy efficiency in buildings; and energy efficiency in small electrical machines.
  • We made a donation of $1.8 million (2017 to 2021) to the Fondation de l'Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières. As well as financing a scholarship program, these funds will support research on the transactional management of residential demand (energy and capacity) and an R&D project on modeling and optimization of asset management.

See also