In 2004, the International Conference for Renewable Energies, held in Bonn, Germany, brought together officials and other delegates from 154 countries, including Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, the United States and Vietnam. Participants agreed that “renewable energies” included solar, wind, hydropower, biomass (including biofuels) and geothermal.
In September 2009, the 33rd Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers recognized hydropower as a renewable energy source and stated that American and Canadian federal legislation should do the same.
On June 4, 2010, Vermont passed a law, titled An Act Relating to Renewable Energy, which recognizes hydropower as a clean, renewable form of energy, regardless of the generating facility’s capacity. In August 2010, Hydro-Québec signed a long-term (2012–2038) supply contract with two large Vermont-based power distributors.
In November 2010, the U.S. National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (representing the state public service commissioners who regulate essential utility services, including energy, telecommunications, and water) recognized that hydropower facilities can be valuable clean and renewable energy resources.
The Energy Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Energy classifies hydropower as a renewable energy source. In 2016, the United States generated 15% of its energy from renewable sources, of which 42% was hydropower.
Finally, in November 2017, the U.S. Energy Policy Act was amended to recognize all forms of hydropower as renewable energy sources. The amendment stems from the Hydropower Policy Modernization Act of 2017 adopted by the U.S. House of Representatives.
Hydropower is renewed through the natural water cycle
Hydropower starts with energy from the sun. The sun’s heat causes water to evaporate and rise into the atmosphere, where it condenses and turns into clouds that are blown about by the wind. When the droplets and ice crystals that form clouds become too heavy, they fall back onto the ground as rain or snow. The water then flows through the rivers, and generating stations harness this cycle to produce electricity.
Québec hydropower is a generating option with very low greenhouse gas emissions and no toxic waste
In 2015, the electricity produced in Québec accounted for 32% of Canada’s total power generated from all sources, but was responsible for only 1% of GHG emissions linked to electric utilities.
Overall, GHG emissions from Québec hydropower (run-of-river generating stations and generating stations with reservoirs) are similar to those from wind, five times lower than those from photovoltaic solar, 50 times lower than those from natural gas-fired plants and 70 times lower than those from coal-fired plants.
GHG emissions in various electricity generation sectors, in consideration of equipment life cycles
run-of-river (see Note 1) 6
- Nuclear 8
- Wind 14
- Photovoltaic solar 64
natural gas 620
Grey: Continuous output
Blue: Intermittent output
Figures shown represent CO2 equivalent per kilowatthour (kWh)
Note 1: Results related to reservoir and run-of-river generating stations apply to Hydro-Québec’s generating fleet.
Note 2: Regarding GHG emissions, run-of-river generating stations differ from those with reservoirs. After it is impounded, a reservoir releases GHG emissions (due to decomposing organic matter) at a rate that gradually diminishes over the next 10 years. Reservoirs thus generate more GHG emissions than run-of-river generating stations.
Methane emissions are not an issue in Québec, because the water in northern reservoirs like ours is cold, and regularly remixed and reoxygenated. A higher level of oxygen in the water means less methane is emitted.
GHG emissions in the electricity sector 2015
- Émissions de GES
des États-Unis 33 %
- Émissions de GES
de l'Alberta 20 %
- Émissions de GES
de l'Ontario 9 %
- Émissions de GES
du Québec < 1 %
That year, the electricity sector accounted for less than 1% of Québec’s GHG emissions, compared with 45% (36 million tonnes) for the transport sector. Since nearly 99% of its overall power is generated by renewables, Québec’s GHG emissions were the lowest in Canada, at 10 tonnes per capita.
Our reservoir generating stations present numerous advantages for North America’s energy production
Since electricity needs to be generated at the very moment consumers use it, generation must constantly be adjusted according to demand. This is a real challenge for power utilities worldwide!
In this context, hydropower plants with reservoirs have a sizeable advantage: they can accumulate water when electricity demand is low, and use it later when demand rises.
Our generating fleet is made up of 63 hydropower generating stations and 28 reservoirs.
Our reservoirs help reduce the environmental impact of power generation in the U.S. Northeast
With the states in the U.S. Northeast clearly looking to reduce the GHG emissions caused by power generation, our exports can play a key role in this energy transition.
In fact, when Québec hydropower is exported to neighboring states, it allows these areas to generate less power from natural gas, oil and coal. Every year, our exports prevent the GHG emissions equivalent to that of a few million vehicles.
In addition, our reservoirs can facilitate the integration of variable renewables, such as wind and solar, which are increasingly popular in northeastern states. Energy from the wind and sun is not always available when power demand is greatest. Conversely, demand may not be high when wind and solar generation are peaking. To ensure the integration of these generating options onto the grid, they need to be combined with a stable and readily dispatchable energy source. In the U.S., that source is usually natural gas, but hydropower is a more efficient and more sustainable choice. Thanks to hydropower’s flexibility, when our neighbors have a surplus of power, we can import it to maintain the water storage levels in our reservoirs, and export the stored energy later when our neighbors’ demand outstrips their generating capacity.
We’re a key partner for guaranteeing energy security
Thanks to the quality of its engineering and construction, along with its exceptional operating flexibility, our generation and transmission fleet has been a benchmark in the industry for the past 50 years.
We regularly allocate resources to modernizing and maintaining the quality of our facilities. In 2019, we allocated $526 million in asset sustainment and optimization.
We also invest in our transmission system. Our 2019 investments totalled $1,563 million, of which $419 million went to growth projects and $1,144 million to asset sustainment and reliability projects.
We operate our system in compliance with the most stringent reliability standards, according to the criteria set out by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) and Northeast Power Coordinating Council (NPCC).