50 years of daring and innovation
Hydro-Québec’s research institute (IREQ) from 1970 to 2020
“A research center will become a necessity if Hydro-Québec is to remain on the cutting edge of progress in the science and technology of electricity.“
1960 - 1970 A one-of-a-kind research project takes shape
Hydro-Québec was a beehive of activity in the early 1960s. Technological advances were happening very quickly, but in order to continue innovating, Hydro-Québec would need a research laboratory worthy of its name. The engineering team headed by Jean-Jacques Archambault was designing power lines at voltages never before seen, but the laboratory tests needed to analyze performance of this new technology had to be carried out abroad.
Lionel Boulet, then director of Université Laval’s electrical engineering department, was recruited to assess the situation, ascertain the state of research in the world and provide recommendations.
In 1965, in response to Lionel Boulet’s observations, Hydro-Québec created a committee to establish the conditions for creating a research institute. In February 1967, premier Daniel Johnson announced during National Electrical Week that his government had “authorized Hydro-Québec to create a research institute with laboratories like no other in the world, with a truly international mission because it would be equipped to meet not only the needs of Québec’s industry, but the needs of many Canadian and American organizations as well.“ [Translation]
Creation of IREQ, the brainchild of Lionel Boulet
Lionel Boulet was hired in 1964 as a technical consultant for the future energy research center. He became its first director in 1967 and headed the institute for 15 years. He designed IREQ down to the last detail. Together with project architect Jean-A. Gélinas, he worked meticulously on the architectural design of each building.
In addition to overseeing all instrumental, technical and financial details of the project, Lionel Boulet recruited his team of researchers from Québec and internationally. At IREQ’s inauguration, president of Hydro-Québec Roland Giroux underscored the caliber of the internationally renowned research team Lionel Boulet had assembled.
1970 - 1980 An international-caliber research center of awe-inspiring size
Premier Robert Bourassa inaugurated the research center on September 29, 1970, in a picturesque location in Varennes. The space was immense, covering more than 2.5 square kilometres. The general laboratories building (known as the Lionel-Boulet pavilion today) was inaugurated in 1970 and housed 80 research offices and 60 laboratories. The high-voltage and high-power laboratories were later added to the site, in 1971 and 1972 respectively.
Created specifically to meet Hydro-Québec’s experimental needs in extra-high voltage, the research center was built at this site to access the power required for testing. It had to be located near Boucherville substation and the 735-kV transmission lines connecting the Manic-Outardes complex to the Montréal region.
In addition to meeting Hydro-Québec’s research needs, IREQ had a number of other objectives: stimulating the expansion of the power industry by offering its services and, in so doing, promoting the development of high-performance equipment and systems.
Industry leader in fuel cells
Research into new energy sources is IREQ’s strong suit, and the fuel cell was the first project selected to help supply energy to remote areas at a reasonable cost.
In 1972, the installation and testing of the first fuel cell in Hydro-Québec’s distribution system was a world first. The cell consisted of six 12.5-kW modules and transformed the chemical energy of hydrocarbons into electrical energy, using air as fuel.
Spacer-dampers to protect against the wind
Wind can compromise the reliability of the transmission system by creating oscillations and vibrations on lines. This was one of the first phenomena IREQ set out to address. One of the institute’s breakthroughs was the spacer-damper, created in 1979 and marketed around the world. The technology provides numerous benefits: novel articulated design, unparalleled strength, flexible mechanism for attaching them to conductors and optimal distribution along lines.
Harnessing the wind’s power
IREQ began researching renewable energy in 1975. An initial assessment of wind power indicated significant potential in Québec. A partnership was created with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC), which led to IREQ’s installation of a first wind turbine in the Îles de la Madeleine in 1977.
The partnership continued with the Éole project and the installation of another wind turbine in Gaspésie in 1987. In the decades that followed, IREQ played a central role in integrating the generation from private wind farms into Hydro-Québec’s grid to obtain the best possible conditions.
1980 - 1990 Innovation through partnerships
IREQ’s history is built on partnerships and collaborations in very diverse fields of research, in Québec and internationally. Many of these partnerships were formed in the 1980s and were ongoing for several years.
Preventing turbine wear: an extensive research project
The phenomena of erosion, corrosion and cavitation of turbines have been analyzed in depth for several decades at IREQ and in several other countries. In November 1981, IREQ began research into developing an erosive cavitation detector in collaboration with the electrical engineering laboratory (LGEP) of the Université de Paris.
From the 1990s into the early 2000s, IREQ conducted further research on this topic, international in scope as well, which gave rise to the PréDDIT system (turbine damage prediction and integrated diagnostic system). As this research was being carried out, IREQ was also developing new, more resistant materials.
For example, IRECA steel—a new stainless steel that was more resistant to erosion and cavitation—was put to use. Given its lower cobalt content, IRECA steel improved the strength of hydraulic turbine runners and increased their service life. It also facilitated welding and grinding during repairs.
Experienced Hydro-Québec partner for high-voltage direct current
In 1966, Lionel Boulet began plans to install equipment for research on direct current in the high-voltage laboratory. In 1969, researchers prepared technical specifications for the testing equipment that would be installed in the future high-power laboratory. Beginning in the early 1980s, they were therefore ready to collaborate with Hydro-Québec and its US partners to conduct studies on direct-current equipment in advance of the construction of a direct-current cross-border interconnection line.
The new equipment designed specifically for the future line, its underwater crossing and the conversion or communication systems were tested in IREQ’s laboratories. In 1992, the culmination of all of these tests resulted in Hydro-Québec’s commissioning of a multiterminal direct-current system (MTDCS) connecting the Baie-James region to New England through Nicolet substation. It was the first time anything like this had ever been done.
HYPERSIM, a real-time simulator, was also used for the MTDCS’s commissioning tests in 1992. Twenty years later, when the technology underlying the MTDCS’s control and protection systems needed to be upgraded, researchers relied on the latest version of HYPERSIM to conduct simulation tests. HYPERSIM allowed closed-loop tests to be carried out on control systems, in addition to improving the performance and reliability of interconnected grids.
Detecting faults on 735-kV transmission lines
Launched in 1981, the pioneering angular displacement measurement system (SMDA) quickly locates faults on 735-kV transmission lines. It also determines the nature and severity of the fault. In addition, it helps establish connections between phenomena that might appear to be isolated but are in fact related. Several SMDA generations later, it continues to provide an overview of the performance of the 735-kV transmission system.
Inroads into nuclear fusion
The Varennes tokamak located at the IREQ site was operated for several years by the Canadian Centre for Magnetic Fusion and its partners, including Hydro-Québec, until November 1998. Construction began in 1981 and ended in 1987.
A tokamak recreates the ambient thermal conditions of the solar corona. The Varennes tokamak was host to a scientific research program on nuclear reactors, and the results of this program served as the basis for research carried out in other countries.
A laboratory dedicated to the industry
On November 6, 1987, IREQ inaugurated its new electrochemical and electrotechnologies laboratory (Laboratoire des technologies électrochimiques et des électrontechnologies or LTEE). Located in Shawinigan, LTEE supported the development of industrial applications of electricity. Research was conducted in collaboration with industrial partners.
In May 2002, it was renamed the energy technologies laboratory (Laboratoire des technologies de l’énergie, or LTE). A leader in innovative energy-efficiency technologies, LTE has access to the latest expertise and diversified testing facilities, some of which are unique in North America.
International innovation with our manufacturers: the Québec energy transmission innovation center (CITEQ)
CITEQ was the result of a 1989 agreement between Hydro-Québec and the manufacturer ABB. CITEQ had developed a product that was made entirely in Québec: an interphase power controller (IPC). The IPC was a yet another world first, and it was commissioned in 1999 on the New York Power Authority’s system. CITEQ ceased its activities in 2003.
1990 - 2000 Innovation to benefit employees and the environment
IREQ is an essential resource for discovering solutions to the many challenges encountered by Hydro-Québec’s teams. Several innovations were developed as a result of collaboration among researchers and employees on the ground.
IREQ’s technical solutions have actively improved practices in Québec and internationally, from maintenance of massive pieces of equipment to progress in methods impacting people and the environment.
Wood preservative for utility poles (CCA-PA): a practical ecological solution!
The polymer-based additive developed by IREQ in the 1990s for treating utility poles in the distribution system permanently reduces wood hardness.
Prior to this innovation, line workers had a hard time climbing poles. The polymer additive does not contain any oil and is odorless. It softens and protects the wood, and is a better environmental choice.
Ideas for driving green with M4 technology and electric powertrains
In 1991, IREQ created M4 technology as part of its work on in-wheel motors. First envisioned in the 1980s, the in-wheel motor for electric vehicles inspired the creation of electric powertrains that are currently manufactured and marketed by Dana TM4.
As a result of this pioneering work, Dana TM4 developed major advances in the technology, which is used in both hybrid and fully electric vehicles.
SCOMPI, the versatile robot
Created in 1991, SCOMPI the robot was the result of a major research program created in the 1970s by Hydro-Québec to protect against cavitation, a phenomenon that damages the steel surface of turbines over time and involves costly repairs.
SCOMPI works at generating stations to help maintain and repair turbine runners damaged by cavitation. It has five rotational axes allowing it to move along curved rails to weld, gouge, grind and hammer. It does this automatically and can work in difficult-to-reach areas.
SCOMPI the robot is now in its fourth generation.
Plasma-assisted sludge oxidation (PASO)
Management of organic sludge generated by the production of pulp and paper, agriculture and water purification is a global issue. The volume of sludge produced rises each year, and the traditional methods for disposing of it involve significant economic and environmental limitations.
Created in 1999 at IREQ’s energy technologies laboratory (LTE) in Shawinigan, the plasma-assisted sludge oxidation (PASO) process incinerates organic sludge using an atmospheric-pressure rotary kiln equipped with a plasma torch.
Extremely energy-efficient, the process also eliminates 95% of the volume of the waste being treated.
The technology has been marketed and used worldwide since 2001.
Creation of the Lionel-Boulet Award
Created in 1998 and awarded since 1999, the Lionel-Boulet Award is presented each year to a researcher for an outstanding career in the industrial field.
The Lionel-Boulet Award is among the top seven distinctions conferred by the Québec government in the field of science.
The 1998 ice storm: making us stronger
From January 5 to 9, 1998, between 88.5 mm and 98.5 mm of freezing rain fell in the Montréal area. It was unprecedented. Cascading towers, a severed distribution system, paralyzed water filtration plants . . . At the height of the crisis, no fewer than 1,393,000 Hydro-Québec customers were without electricity.
To this day, the 1998 ice storm remains the most serious crisis in Hydro-Québec’s history.
This event is one of the best examples of Québec solidarity and ingenuity to which Hydro-Québec has contributed.
New equipment for increased robustness
After the ice storm, IREQ’s researchers and engineers began working on improving the grid to better equip Hydro-Québec’s workforce in the event of another catastrophe.
A new test line was built at the IREQ site to validate various concepts and parameters under extreme conditions. Climate chambers were also built to ascertain the performance of a variety of equipment in a broad range of weather conditions.
New generations of equipment were built, including the interphase spacer, which reduces the risk of short circuits and is currently in use in Québec and internationally.
New robots that can do more in less time!
In response to the extreme conditions the power grid was subjected to during the ice storm, IREQ was called upon to develop a device to effectively de-ice transmission lines (including live lines).
A prototype was developed and served as the starting point for a new range of robotic platforms designed and developed at IREQ in the 2000s. Today, these robots are essential for inspecting and maintaining the grid, in addition to extending the service life of its components.
2000 - 2010 New century, new possibilities
As illustrated by much of the research conducted since IREQ was created in 1970, exemplary management of Hydro-Québec’s assets is a constant concern.
Inspection, prevention and repair work needed to optimize and extend the service life of Hydro-Québec equipment provides a limitless source of topics for the research teams. There are many needs, whether overhead, underground or underwater!
Major innovations developed at the turn of the millennium, along with the development of a wide range of sophisticated tools based on new technologies that had been inaccessible until then, are reflective of Hydro-Québec’s asset-management approach.
The sniffer: an innovation with a nose for safety
Developed to ensure worker safety in underground facilities, the partial discharge detector and analyzer developed by IREQ in 2006 consists of two complementary tools.
The detector, called a “sniffer“, determines within 10 seconds whether the accessories of the underground distribution systems are generating partial discharges (anomalies that cause short circuits). If so, the partial discharge analyzer (PDA) accurately and reliably locates the anomalies.
Automated classification of generators for optimal performance
Maintaining generating equipment in good condition is essential to optimizing water resources and the long-term operability of Hydro-Québec’s facilities.
For this reason, as well as to diagnose generators in the fleet and better prioritize maintenance, IREQ collaborated in the development of the MIDA system (integrated methodology for generator diagnostics).
MIDA consists of seven diagnostic tools selected for their effectiveness in detecting the main signs of degradation. A database receives, analyzes and stores measurement data from generating sites to assess the condition of the generators. The system then automatically classifies the generators by assigning a rating based on their state of wear, which helps to establish maintenance priorities.
Robotics: an idea that has come a long way
The development of robotic tools has been ongoing for quite some time at IREQ. Robots are valued partners in Hydro-Québec’s activities because they can carry out important inspections and repairs in difficult-to-reach and dangerous areas.
Innovations in robotics really took off during the 2000s. With the development of an impressive range of tools based on the latest technology, IREQ’s researchers, engineers and technicians have developed innovative solutions that continue to contribute to IREQ’s unparalleled reputation.
Overhead missions of LineROVer and LineScout
Commissioned in the early 2000s, these light, compact robots enable remote inspection of live overhead lines and maintenance work in places that are difficult for line workers to access. The robots are remarkably agile in crossing obstacles in their way, and they can perform many tasks.
LineROVer and LineScout are pioneers in the robot family currently commercialized by Hydro-Québec to inspect and maintain transmission systems.
Maski, the underwater robot
A key member of the diving team since 2006, IREQ’s underwater robot Maski inspects underwater structures so their condition can be assessed and any damage repaired.
Since some dam walls are at depths of over 200 m, inspections can be dangerous for divers. Operated from a mobile control console, Maski allows pinpoint inspections to be carried out safely, even under difficult conditions. With its sonar and cameras, the underwater robot can also produce a complete 3D profile of its environment.
Ouranos: anticipating the future through environmental studies
While it is essential to plan for the service life and wear of large-scale equipment such as dams, generating stations, transmission lines and substations, it is also necessary to forecast the types of conditions in which the equipment will be operating during their many years of service.
Given the reality of climate change and its impacts, the Québec government, Hydro-Québec and Environment Canada established the Ouranos consortium in 2001.
This non-profit organization brings together 250 scientists having a common objective of advancing knowledge on the types of climate change that are likely to occur in Québec in the decades to come.
Through its members’ research, Ouranos allows us to predict the climate future, assess its impacts and prepare for them.
2010 - 2020 Imagining the future
Just as Lionel Boulet anticipated 50 years ago, IREQ has allowed Hydro-Québec to expand its activities and actively advance knowledge and technology in the energy sector on an international scale.
IREQ’s current research projects are a reflection of Hydro-Québec’s vision of the future—one founded on pioneering technologies and supported by five decades of innovation.
Hydro-Québec’s priorities evolve with societal and environmental changes, and IREQ continues to focus its research on current and future issues.
To achieve this, Hydro-Québec must imagine the future and have an ambitious technological vision. This is exactly what the organization’s employees have been doing since 2017. Hydro-Québec’s Technological Vision was developed as a result and has been relied on since to ensure that innovation is in line with the eight technology-related goals identified.
Heading toward the energy transition
Beginning in the 2010s, the foundations were laid for a technology-driven energy transition, with Hydro-Québec taking on a major role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, both with respect to generation and consumption.
The innovations developed during this decade are being used today in several major research projects.
A joint venture for wide-scale energy storage
The R&D joint venture Esstalion Inc. was created in 2014 as the result of a collaboration between Hydro-Québec and Sony. Its mandate was to design high-capacity energy-storage systems for power grids.
Testing began the following year on the first prototype capable of storing 1.2 MWh—the average daily consumption of 23 homes in Québec!
This type of high-capacity energy storage helps meet electricity demand during peak consumption periods. It can also facilitate integration of renewable energy sources into off-grid systems, particularly in remote regions. Such a system was tested in 2018 in Quaqtaq in Québec’s far north to enable integration of new green-energy sources such as solar energy into the local system.
Some of the activities of this joint venture, which has since ceased operations, have been taken up by Hydro-Québec’s subsidiary HQ Energy Storage.
Reliable integration of wind power
By the 1990s, IREQ was already recognized worldwide for its simulation of power grids that integrate wind power to determine the impacts of this energy source.
As a logical conclusion to the research commenced 10 years earlier, IREQ and ENERCON Canada Inc. in 2016 announced a new R&D partnership involving the integration of wind power into power grids.
Through this new partnership, Hydro-Québec and ENERCON collaborated to advance expertise concerning the impacts of new electronic wind-turbine control systems on power grids to make the integration of this energy source more reliable.
The sun: a source of progress
In 2019, Hydro-Québec announced the construction of two experimental solar generating stations as part of its energy-transition research.
This project had several objectives:
- test the latest solar-panel technology
- analyze performance of these panels in Québec’s climate
- determine the cost-effectiveness of the technology
- determine the best strategy for incorporating solar power into our power system
The two generating stations (one located at the IREQ site in Varennes and the other in La Prairie on land belonging to Hydro-Québec) will have a combined annual generating capacity of close to 10 MW, enough to supply about 1000 residential customers.
Customers as key players in the energy transition
For an energy transition centered on optimal use of energy resources to be successful, the parties concerned must be able to experiment with and adopt IREQ’s innovations.
By placing customers at the heart of its research, Hydro-Québec obtains results based on their concerns, needs and lifestyles.
A smart home designed for real life
In February 2017, IREQ’s energy technologies laboratory (LTE) began an unprecedented research project in Shawinigan. Researchers equipped two identical homes nearby with photovoltaic solar-power generation and next-generation lithium batteries for energy storage. In addition to this high-tech equipment, a number of home-automation solutions were installed, including some that could be controlled directly by the occupants.
Smart homes allow IREQ to assess the impact that home automation and residential self-generation have on the power grid and its customers.
Open-air laboratory in downtown Lac-Mégantic
In 2018, Hydro-Québec announced the construction of Québec’s first microgrid in Lac-Mégantic, marking a major milestone in the integration of several innovative technologies.
Developed in partnership with the municipality, the microgrid creates synergy among the innovations from various research projects recently rolled out by Hydro-Québec. Beginning in 2021, the microgrid will combine smart-home technology developed at LTE with high-capacity storage systems and solar panels tested in Quaqtaq so that downtown Lac-Mégantic will become Québec’s benchmark for the energy transition.
Toward an even more reliable smart grid
How can we make our power grid even more reliable, flexible and robust?
Over the last decade, IREQ has been developing “smart” technologies for this very purpose. The goal is to allow a more in-depth analysis of data received from our equipment in real time, which will yield a better understanding of its behavior on Hydro-Québec’s grid.
Research that supports a smart energy system also presents an opportunity to build business relationships with internationally renowned partners and showcase the expertise of Hydro-Québec researchers.
Stabilizing a power grid to enhance its flexibility
In 2012, Hydro-Québec signed an agreement with Alstom Grid to work jointly on the smart grid technological innovation. In 2014, the partners were pleased to announce the release of a new, innovative product: the MiCOM P848 protective relay.
This advanced system enables detection of grid instabilities, such as overvoltages and overloads on transmission lines, and a quick response to protect the grid.
The MiCOM P848 relay helps significantly reduce irregularities that can arise from the growing number of interconnections and from multiple sources of electricity generation.
Research: battery technologies at the forefront of tomorrow’s solutions
The history of Hydro-Québec’s battery materials research dates back many years. As early as the 1990s, IREQ researchers created a first battery—the ACEP (polymer-electrolyte fuel cell)—as part of its research on in-wheel motors.
In 1995, Hydro-Québec was pleased to welcome researcher Karim Zaghib on board. Afterwards, the science behind lithium-ion battery materials grew exponentially, which solidified Hydro-Québec’s reputation in the field 25 years later.
Exceptional contribution of Karim Zaghib
Karim Zaghib was named three times as one of the world’s most influential scientists based on the exceptional reach of his research. His career at IREQ spanned 25 years, from 1995 to 2020.
He initiated IREQ’s research on lithium-ion batteries. He was also appointed general manager of the Center of Excellence in Transportation Electrification and Energy Storage, a world-class hub of innovation in the field since its inception.
In 2019, Karim Zaghib received the Lionel-Boulet Award from the Québec government in recognition of his outstanding career. He is a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Engineering and of the Electrochemical Society. He holds a Ph.D. in electrochemistry and is associated with over 550 patents and 60 licences. He has also participated in over 420 articles and 22 monographs.
In June 2020, he accepted a new challenge with Investissement Québec as part of his commitment to establishing Québec as a leader in battery materials.
Battery materials: from laboratory to Center of Excellence
Having established a solid reputation in lithium-ion battery research, IREQ continued to make advances in the field by partnering with Arkema through Hydro-Québec’s subsidiary SCE France. This partnership led to the creation of a joint R&D laboratory in the energy-storage sector.
This laboratory set itself apart through its research on safe and efficient battery technologies that could be produced at low cost.
The reputations of Hydro-Québec and its research institute as global leaders in the field of battery materials was already well established, and new and exciting achievements were still to come. In 2018, Hydro-Québec and the Québec government announced the creation of the Center of Excellence in Transportation Electrification and Energy Storage, at IREQ’s site in Varennes.
The Center’s objective is to market Hydro-Québec’s technologies, which are protected by 800 patents. It has also been tasked with creating new research partnerships and to continue developing new technologies.
Ground-breaking history repeats itself
In 2017, IREQ adopted a new and innovative technological vision that pays homage to its brilliant history.