Québec hydropower: A reliable, sustainable and cost-competitive energy source

Québec enjoys vast hydropower resources. For several decades, Hydro‑Québec has harnessed and developed this potential with a view to profitability and with due respect for the environment and host communities. As a result, it is able to provide a reliable, sustainable and cost-competitive supply of electricity to both domestic and export markets. At the end of 2021, the company operated a 37,248 MW generating fleet, with hydropower accounting for over 99% of its output.

The advantages of hydropower

A constant source of clean, renewable electricity

Hydropower makes use of a resource with reserves that are continually replenished: water. Since it is dispatchable on demand, hydropower is the only renewable that can support the development of intermittent resources such as wind and solar power.

By utilizing a clean, renewable resource, Hydro‑Québec ensures that it can meet the energy needs of present and future generations while preserving the environment. Water flowing through the turbines of a hydroelectric generating station does not suffer any deterioration and is returned, in its entirety, to the river.

Québec has vast hydraulic resources, in the form of some 500,000 lakes and 4,500 rivers that cover 22% of its surface area. Hydro-Québec has developed 75 of these rivers for power generation.

Snapshot of Québec hydropower

Dispatchable energy: The indispensable complement to intermittent renewables

Not only is hydropower a constant, permanently available energy source, it’s also flexible. Thanks to its storage capacity, a reservoir generating station can respond instantly to changes in demand. At peak periods, hydropower generation can be adjusted almost in real time. In comparison, it can take approximately 12 hours to start up a coal‑fired power plant.

Dispatchable, regular and predictable, hydropower is the only renewable that can support the development of intermittent resources such as solar and wind power.

Reliable supply

Québec hydropower is a secure and reliable energy source because of the flexibility and quality of the province’s generation, transmission and distribution facilities. In addition, sustained innovation efforts ensure that the Québec power system is continually improved.

Because Hydro‑Québec’s power comes from a large generating fleet, supply is not affected by maintenance or equipment failure at any particular facility.

The engineering and construction quality of Hydro‑Québec’s generating fleet has been a model for the industry for 50 years. The company makes substantial investments to maintain and upgrade its facilities. In 2019, C$526 million was invested in the refitting and refurbishment of generating stations and associated structures.

Recognized worldwide for the reliability and robustness of its transmission system, Hydro‑Québec takes every possible measure to remain a benchmark in this regard. In 2019, Hydro‑Québec TransÉnergie invested C$1.6 billion in its transmission facilities.

Hydro‑Québec operates its system to the most stringent reliability standards, in accordance with the criteria of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) and the Northeast Power Coordinating Council (NPCC).

Stable, competitive prices

Québec hydropower is competitively priced when compared with other electricity generating options, including other clean sources of energy and natural gas.

Hydropower development entails high up-front capital, but very low operating costs, which translates into power at a very stable, predictable cost for the long term. Some of Hydro‑Québec’s facilities have been operating for over 100 years.

Markets that import Québec hydropower consume less natural gas, which mitigates price volatility, particularly in winter.

Reliable and competitively priced, Québec hydropower contributes to energy security in northeastern North America.

Low GHG emissions

Hydropower is one of the lowest-emission generating options per kilowatthour. Based on life cycle analysis, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from hydropower generated in Québec are:

  • Similar to wind energy
  • 50 times less than natural gas
  • 70 times less than coal

Among renewable and low-emission energy sources, hydropower is the only one offering continuous generation; all the others are intermittent.

Among the lowest greenhouse gas emissions of all electricity generation options [PDF 614 Kb]