In addition to hydroelectricity, which accounts for over 99% of Hydro-Québec’s output, there are other renewable energy options that are in development or already well established and that have good potential.

What is hydrokinetic power?

Hydrokinetic power is the electricity generated by harnessing the kinetic energy of tides and ocean or river currents.

Hydrokinetic turbines transform the water’s energy into mechanical energy, just like wind turbines transform the wind’s energy. That energy is then converted into electricity.

There are three main types of hydrokinetic turbines:

  • vertical-axis hydrokinetic turbines
  • horizontal-axis hydrokinetic turbines
  • oscillating-foil hydrokinetic turbines
Model of a horizontal-axis hydrokinetic turbine

To learn more about hydrokinetic power, see the data sheet [PDF 594 Kb]

Current state of knowledge

Ocean current turbines are currently seeing large-scale development because of their considerable potential, given the current speeds and depth of water in the ocean. Their rated output can reach 1 MW or more. River current turbines, which operate at lesser depths, are necessarily smaller, and their rated output rarely exceeds 400 kW, even in very strong currents of 4.5 m/s.

In Québec, hydrokinetic power is in the experimental and pre-commercialization stage. In September 2010, a first industrial prototype was connected to the Hydro-Québec grid. The RER Hydro turbine was submerged in the Fleuve Saint-Laurent (St. Lawrence River) near the Old Port of Montréal. With a planned capacity of 100 kW, it fed electricity into Hydro-Québec’s grid from 2010 to 2013.

Hydrokinetic potential

In theory, the global hydrokinetic potential of ocean and tidal currents near shorelines is 7,800 TWh/year. That’s roughly 40% of the world’s total electricity output in 2013. The hydrokinetic potential of tidal currents alone accounts for 10% to 15% of the total. Current strength varies around the globe, depending primarily on local submarine morphology (bathymetry) near shorelines.

River current potential

Canada’s potential is estimated to be 15,000MW. In Québec, which has approximately 35% of the country’s annual surface flow, the potential can be estimated at 5,250 MW on a proportional basis. Given the level of technical feasibility (10%–15%), the province’s deliverable potential would be between 525 and 788 MW.

Ocean current potential

  • According to the National Research Council of Canada’s Canadian Hydraulics Centre, Canada has 190 sites with a theoretical capacity exceeding 1 MW. The country’s total potential is 42,000 MW.
  • Québec’s theoretical potential is estimated to be 4,288 MW (38 TWh/year), only a portion (10%–15%) of which would be technically feasible. Over 97% of the resource is near the Ungava Bay coast, a region far removed from Hydro-Québec’s transmission system and major load centres.

Output and costs

  • River turbines: It is rare to find locations with all the right operating conditions (depth > 6 m and current speed > 2 m/s). Moreover, although their energy conversion efficiency is 30% to 40%, the maximum capture rate for a body of water’s total kinetic energy is 15% because a significant quantity of water is diverted around the turbine. Once this energy source has reached maturity, the estimated cost of electricity generated by a river turbine is over 15¢/kWh.
  • Ocean turbines: Energy conversion rates are identical to those of river turbines, but these turbines are usually much larger and generate power measured in megawatts. Since this source of energy is in its infancy, investment costs are currently high and vary depending on the developer. Once the energy source has reached maturity, the gross production cost will be over 11¢/kWh and start-up costs will vary from $3,000 to $5,000/kW, according to most developers. Estimated costs for ocean turbines are comparable to those of offshore wind turbines. Eventually, the cost of hydrokinetic power may come down slightly thanks to technological advances in underwater connections for wind turbines.

Advantages and disadvantages

  • In terms of output, more predictable than wind power
  • No retaining structure, and few or no civil engineering works required
  • Discreet or even invisible due to the turbine components’ near-total immersion
  • Winter operations possibly problematic. To optimize power output throughout the year, local variations in water levels have to be considered—a complex challenge.

Sustainable development

Since there are very few hydrokinetic turbines in operation at this time, information on sustainable development issues is still incomplete. Here are the main potential impacts:

  • Modifications to currents, wake effect and noise masking
  • Modifications to sedimentary dynamics that may affect the estuary regime
  • Modifications to substrates and the transportation and deposit of sediments: variable, depending on the type of anchor and underwater cables
  • Habitat modification, including benthic organism habitat
  • Modification of vegetation and possible impact on aquatic fauna
  • Interference with the circulation and migration of certain aquatic species, particularly as a result of magnetic fields generated by electrical cables
  • Risk of animal injury or death in the event of contact with moving machinery
  • Noise pollution during construction and operation
  • Possible conflicts with shipping, fishing, recreational boating, etc.
  • Zero greenhouse gas and atmospheric contaminant emissions during operation
  • Small environmental impact over the facility’s life cycle

See also

To learn more about hydrokinetic power, see the data sheet.

  • Types of hydrokinetic turbines
  • Canada’s hydrokinetic potential
  • Scenarios under consideration
  • Climate change and air quality
  • Life cycle assessment
  • Ecosystems and biodiversity
  • Health and quality of life
  • Land use, regional economy and social acceptability

What is osmotic power?

Osmotic power is the energy derived from the difference in salinity between seawater and fresh water, which is harnessed to generate electricity.

When fresh water is separated from seawater by a semipermeable membrane, the fresh water moves by osmosis through the membrane into the seawater. The resulting osmotic pressure, combined with the permeation flow rate, turns a hydraulic turbine, producing electricity.

To learn more about osmotic power, see the data sheet [PDF 1.2 Mb]

Statkraft’s prototype osmotic power plant in Norway. © Statkraft

Current state of knowledge

Osmotic power is in the prototype and demonstration stage. Statkraft, the world leader in the field, tested a prototype osmotic power plant in Norway’s Oslo Fjord from 2009 to 2013.

From February 2012 to December 2013, Statkraft and Hydro-Québec joined forces in an osmotic power R&D project. Their primary goal was to develop techniques for pretreating water, assess the impact of water quality on membrane performance, and evaluate the process’s repercussions for sustainable development.

Osmotic potential

In Canada, the mouths of large rivers hold considerable long-term potential for osmotic development.

In Québec, studies by Hydro-Québec's research institute (2011) estimated the exploitable osmotic potential for the 30 large rivers emptying into salt water to be 1,860 MW. Fourteen of them (1,060 MW) empty into the Golfe du Saint-Laurent (Gulf of St. Lawrence) and its estuary. The challenge today is to generate osmotic power at a competitive cost by 2020.

Output and costs

Statkraft projects that once the technology has reached maturity, gross generating costs will be between 7¢ and 14¢/kWh. Net costs should be based on generating station efficiency estimates of 60% to 75%.

Advantages and disadvantages

  • Steady, predictable output
  • Adaptable for small or large generating stations
  • Scalable or modular design (membrane modules added as required), making it possible to increase installed capacity
  • Generating sites near load centers, limiting power transmission needs
  • Good potential for power plant sites
  • Technology similar and complementary to that of hydroelectric power, with osmotic power plants able to be built on already-harnessed rivers
  • High risk of clogging and gradual degradation of semipermeable membranes, necessitating pressure-filtering pretreatment of fresh water and periodic membrane replacement (every 5 to 7 years)

Sustainable development

At this time, little is known about the social and environmental impact of osmotic generating station operations and maintenance. To a certain degree, they are similar to those of water purification plants that use membrane filtration, which are however very well documented:

  • Modification of habitat and vegetation, with potential repercussions on aquatic fauna. Among other things, the changes in salinity and regular large-volume discharges of brackish water may affect the natural mix of river water and seawater.
  • Potential effects of the use of cleaning products
  • Production of wet waste (sludge and used membranes)
  • Impact on the host environment to be expected if a dike or basin has to be built to optimize a site’s potential
  • Possible conflicts with shipping, fishing, etc.
  • Zero greenhouse gas and atmospheric contaminant emissions during operation

See also

To learn more about osmotic power, see the data sheet.

  • How an osmotic power plant works
  • Canada’s osmotic potential
  • The Statkraft prototype
  • Research around the world
  • Climate change and air quality
  • Life cycle assessment
  • Ecosystems and biodiversity
  • Health and quality of life
  • Land use, regional economy and social acceptability

What is photovoltaic solar power?

It’s energy from sunlight, captured and converted into electricity by a photovoltaic collector.

Photovoltaic (PV) solar cells use the photovoltaic effect to convert sunlight into electricity. A PV system consists of an array of cells arranged in panels that are connected in series, in parallel or in a combination of the two.

A number of different PV technologies exist, and they are not all at the same level of development. Besides photovoltaic, there are other technologies for generating power from sunlight.

To learn more about solar power, see the data sheet [PDF 948 Kb]

Photovoltaic panels

Are you interested in installing solar panels?

See our Web site to learn more about PV solar power before you invest.

PV solar power around the world

The photovoltaic industry has grown considerably in the last decade. Installed capacity has shot up from 1.8 GW to over 400 GW between 2001 and 2017—an average annual growth of nearly 38%.

As in 2016, the photovoltaic market once again broke several records in 2017 and continued to expand worldwide, with nearly 100 GW in new capacity and a total output of close to 500 TWh, equivalent to about 2.1% of the world’s total electricity demand.

At present, 95% of PV systems are connected to a power grid while the remaining 5% are off the grid.

PV solar power in Québec

Though not widespread, photovoltaic solar does have a presence in distributed generation in Québec. At present, there are more than 500 customer-generators using solar energy.

As for large-scale, centralized generation, under the Québec government’s energy policy action plan, Hydro-Québec is to launch a solar development program so that it will have a diversified project portfolio with the flexibility needed to respond to growing electricity needs in an ever-changing energy landscape.

An intermittent energy source

When considered over an entire year, solar energy output is quite predictable. But in terms of output at a given moment, it varies widely according to the season, time of day, weather conditions and cloud cover.

Because solar power is intermittent, customer-generators wishing to have electricity available at all times must use some form of energy storage or be connected to the Hydro‑Québec grid. In the latter case, they can take advantage of the utility’s net metering option.

Québec enjoys plenty of sunlight in summer and at noon, but little or none in the morning and evening during the winter, which is precisely when demand peaks on the Hydro-Québec grid. For this reason, large-scale centralized solar generation is not well-suited to the load profile in Québec, particularly in its northern regions.

Daily sunshine levels in Canada vary by region. Southern Québec, where most of the province’s population is concentrated, has more solar potential than Germany and about as much as Japan, which are among the world leaders in PV solar energy.

Photovoltaic panels

Are you interested in installing solar panels? See our Web site to learn more about PV solar power before you invest.

Efficiency, load factor and cost

Over the past decade, the average efficiency of commercially available crystalline silicon solar cells has risen about 12% to reach 17–17.5%.

All photovoltaic technologies available on the market are more efficient in cold weather; as a result, their output for a given level of solar exposure can be up to 30% higher in winter than in summer.

The annual load factor also varies from one region to the next according to solar exposure: the average is about 15% for Canada and 25–30% in the sunniest parts of the U.S. System performance depends somewhat on climate but mainly on the intensity of the sunlight hitting the ground and the conversion efficiency of the PV technology used.

The main obstacle to the growth of PV solar power remains the cost upfront. Over the last decade, an entire industry has sprung up thanks to generous development incentives, especially for systems connected to power grids. In recent years, however, costs have come down considerably, resulting in the phase-out of incentive programs. Today, in some parts of the world where sunshine is abundant and/or utility electricity is expensive, photovoltaic solar power has now become competitive.

Québec: A special case

In Québec, the cost of a small PV solar power system for a home is still (in 2018) far greater than the cost of electricity from the Hydro-Québec grid, which is very low.

Advantages and disadvantages

Advantages

  • Little maintenance required and low operating costs
  • Long service life (20–30 years)
  • Stable quantity of sunlight available year after year
  • Innumerable potential sites (buildings, open spaces, parking lot canopies, etc.)
  • Optimized output if a storage system is used (which, however, would increase the initial outlay)
  • No moving parts, which reduces noise, visual impact and maintenance
  • Variable size and scalable or modular design, with cells added as required

Disadvantages

  • Intermittent output: variable in daytime, zero at night, sometimes difficult to predict depending on time of day, weather conditions and season
  • Ground-based systems require considerable space
  • Performance diminishes slightly over time

Environmental Impacts

The main environmental impacts of large, ground-mounted photovoltaic systems are as follows:

  • Large surface area, but smaller than those of other renewable or conventional energy sources
  • Limited visual impact, depending on the number of cells and their size, color and light reflection
  • No noise
  • Little water needed (only for washing the panels)
  • Increased risk of soil degradation, especially in arid zones
  • Impact on natural habitats, land fragmentation and disruption of wildlife
  • Little direct impact on biodiversity in the case of built environments
  • Possible conflicts with other land uses: farmland, roadways and access roads, woodlands and built environments (impact on property values)
  • Very few toxic materials used in manufacture
  • Zero GHGs and air contaminants emitted during operation
  • Small life-cycle impact

What is biomass power?

Biomass power is the energy derived from animal or vegetable matter, which can be harnessed to generate electricity.

In Québec, there are three types of biomass with significant energy potential: forest, agrifood and urban biomass. Forest biomass is the most frequently used source of energy, with slash continuing to show development potential.

The methods used to produce energy with biomass vary depending on the type of biomass and its intended use. In Québec solid biomass combustion is widely used; biomethanization and gasification could be interesting avenues to explore.

Entreposage de biomasse forestière

To learn more about biomass power, see the data sheet [PDF 630 Kb]

Current state of knowledge

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, biomass accounted for 10.2% of the world’s total output of primary energy (energy that has not undergone any conversion or transformation) in 2008. The International Energy Agency projects that it will be the fastest-growing renewable energy source between now and 2030, providing as much as 30% of the power consumed worldwide by 2050.

In Canada, only about 4.4% of the primary energy consumed comes from biomass. Nevertheless, it is the second-biggest source of renewable energy, after hydropower.

In Québec, forest biomass is the most frequently used organic matter due to its ready availability and the maturity of the generating method involved.

Biomass potential

In 2009, biomass generated 27.5 EJ/year (7,639 TWh/year) of primary energy worldwide. While most biomass energy is used to produce heat, it also generates 158 TWh/year of electricity. Canada is the world’s seventh-largest producer of primary energy and electricity from biomass.

In 2011, Québec’s potential forest, agrifood and urban biomass was estimated at 19.5 million tonnes of dry matter, representing gross thermal energy of 334 PJ/year (93 TWh/year). A total of 42% of that energy is already being harnessed. Forest biomass is the most frequently used type, with only slash consistently showing significant potential for power generation. Urban and agrifood biomass has not yet been widely harnessed as a source of energy, except for cooking oil.

Output and costs

In a cogeneration (electricity and steam) plant fueled by forest biomass, 30% to 35% of the energy in the solid biomass can be converted into electricity, during the steam cycle. By recovering the heat produced and using it for other purposes, total efficiency can exceed 80%.

From 1999 to 2009, upfront costs in Québec were much lower and more stable for forest biomass than fuel oil. However, the technical infrastructure required for biomass power costs slightly more than comparable technologies using fossil fuels. The reason: since biomass has a lower energy density than fossil fuels, a larger quantity of biomass and consequently greater infrastructure are needed to produce the same amount of electricity.

Harnessing urban and agrifood biomass would be profitable in terms of avoided landfill costs, especially since they have climbed significantly in recent years.

Main technical advantages and disadvantages

  • Relatively low and stable upfront costs for forest biomass
  • Continuous source of power, unlike wind and photovoltaic solar power
  • Lower energy density than fossil fuels
  • Large-scale operations expensive because biomass resources are widely dispersed
  • Need to build biomass-fueled cogeneration plants near the resource or near power transmission lines
  • Complexity of using urban biomass, particularly because of waste diversity: need for sorting operations, a range of processing technologies, etc.

Major sustainable development issues

Here are the main issues associated with generating electricity from biomass:

  • Reclamation of industrial wood waste, which would otherwise be buried
  • Loss of biodiversity and soil depletion if insufficient slash is left onsite
  • Production of air contaminants during biomass combustion and transportation (increased trucking of slash)
  • Impacts related to biomass storage: contaminant leaching, odor and esthetic nuisances
  • Production of end waste (e.g., wood ash) that can be difficult to reclaim due to its metal content.

NB: Issues related to the production of biofuel for the transportation industry from agrifood and urban biomass are not discussed in this document.

See also

To learn more about biomass power, see the data sheet.

  • Types of biomass in Québec
  • Methods of harnessing biomass energy
  • Harvesting forest biomass
  • Energy potential of biomass in Québec
  • Price comparison: forest biomass vs. fuel oil in Québec
  • Climate change and air quality
  • Life cycle assessment
  • Ecosystems and biodiversity
  • Health and quality of life
  • Land use, regional economy and social acceptability

What is small wind power?

It is the kinetic energy of the wind converted into electricity by small wind turbines (300 kW and less)

There are two main types of small wind turbines:

  • horizontal axis wind turbine
  • vertical axis wind turbine

To learn more about small wind power, see the data sheet [PDF 1.3 Mb]

Current state of knowledge

After a slowdown in 2013, wind power development continued to grow in 2014, with a record 52 GW of new installed capacity. By year end, global installed wind power capacity totalled 370 GW.

Large wind dominates the market, that is, wind turbines connected to electric power grids and operated by electric power companies. Today’s development efforts focus on building wind turbines with a capacity of at least 2 MW. These large turbines are designed for integration into an electric power grid, a trend that will only intensify.

Small wind (<100 kW), on the other hand, is much less widespread, and the small wind turbines that produce it are owned by small power producers. Total installed small wind capacity in 2013 was 755 MW, produced by 870,000 turbines, a 12% increase over 2012. China is home to more than 41% of these facilities, the United States 30% and the United Kingdom 15%. Average installed capacity of these small wind turbines seems to be increasing, but not by much—from 0.66 kW in 2010 to 0.85 kW in 2013.

Supported by government strategies, the large wind industry has grown substantially over the last ten years. Small wind, on the other hand, is virtually non-existent in Québec.

Wind potential

Wind is a very plentiful resource and it is widely distributed throughout the world. Studies have demonstrated that wind could meet the global demand for power many times over. However, constraints of all sorts limit development possibilities, and market forecasts remain the best indicators of the real potential for wind power development.

In 2013, the International Energy Agency forecast that total installed wind capacity would reach 611 GW by 2020 and 1,684 GW by 2050. Forecasts for the year 2014 have already been surpassed. The Global Wind Energy Council’s forecasts are even higher, with predictions of a total installed wind capacity of 801 GW in 2020 and 4,042 GW by 2050. As for small wind, the World Wind Energy Association predicts a total installed small wind capacity of 2 GW by 2020. In other words, expectations are that small wind’s market share will remain marginal.

Wind conditions are favorable in Québec, making it one of the best regions in North America for development of wind power. However, despite the interest in small wind, its potential remains largely unharnessed because of unfavorable market conditions.

Output and costs

Theoretically, wind turbines can convert to electricity up to 59% of the kinetic energy of the wind. In practice, however, the average is much lower. In this respect, small wind fares worse than large wind, as its development is never the object of major technological innovations or investments. Annual utilization factors average between 15 and 25%.

The cost of small wind generation is difficult to establish because the price of the equipment varies widely. In addition, it all depends on a key variable: the quality of the winds at the site of the facility. Furthermore, small wind turbines are not always certified, because of the limited financial capacity of many of the manufacturers. Without a basis for comparison, it is thus impossible at the time of purchase to make an informed technological choice and to obtain guarantees of the desired performance. The way things are now, it is very difficult to know the cost (¢/kWh) of the electricity produced by small wind. Given existing market conditions, there is no indication that small grid-connected wind facilities could become an economically viable option in Québec in the short term. Off grid, however, small wind is an excellent option for a wide variety of uses.

Advantages and disadvantages

  • Often cost effective in remote areas, far from the power grid
  • In remote areas, can be used in tandem with other energy options, such as a diesel generator
  • Energy independence: self-generation for residential, institutional or agricultural purposes or for small communities or small businesses
  • Variable production (including times when little or no electricity is produced, especially if only one wind turbine is installed) that is difficult to predict with limited means

Sustainable development

  • Zero interference with television and radar signals, and low electromagnetic wave emissions
  • Zero emissions of greenhouse gases and air contaminants during operation
  • Small environmental footprint over the life cycle
  • Significant visual impact at some sites: successful integration with the environment is crucial
  • Noise pollution varies depending on the type of equipment and the host environment
  • Bird and bat fatality rates lower than with other types of infrastructure or attributable to domestic cats

What is geothermal energy?

It is energy recovered from heat in layers deep beneath the earth’s surface, used to generate electricity.

Geothermal systems harness the heat energy of rock formations like wind turbines harness wind energy—and convert it into mechanical energy, which in turn is converted into electrical energy.

Four main types of geothermal power plants exist:

  • Dry steam power plants
  • Flash steam power plants
  • Hydrothermal power plants
  • Enhanced geothermal system (EGS) power plants

To learn more about deep geothermal energy, see the data sheet [PDF 877 Kb]

Current state of knowledge

Deep geothermal energy in the form of steam is currently used to produce electricity in more than 50 countries (United States, Iceland, Mexico, etc.). In 2015, installed capacity totaled 12.6 GW worldwide, producing 73.5 TWh of energy.

The deep geothermal option is being developed in every corner of the planet. Worldwide installed capacity should reach 21.4 GW in 2020 through public and private investment. Various types of technology exist but a number of technical challenges remain.

In Canada, the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin is of particular interest for its geothermal energy potential. In British Columbia (Meager Creek), the Northwest Territories (Fort Liard) and Saskatchewan (DEEP project near Estevan), hydrothermal geothermal projects (using heat from naturally present hot subsurface water) are at the technical economic study stage. A study has been conducted in Alberta on the potential of deep geothermal energy. In 2016, not a single geothermal power plant had yet been built in Canada.

In Eastern Canada, recent technological progress in drilling to reach geothermal fluids, and in creating and managing geothermal reservoirs kilometres beneath the earth’s surface presage the harnessing of thermal energy at very great depths over the medium to long term.

In Québec, the potential of deep hot rock geothermal energy has been assessed. However, no exploration, demonstration or industrial operation projects have been planned for the medium or long term.

Potential of deep geothermal energy

The U.S. ranks first for electricity generation from geothermal steam. In 2015, U.S. installed capacity totaled 3.45 GW and energy production, 16.6 TWh. Installed capacity there could rise to 5.6 GW in 2020. In the Eastern U.S., deep hot rock electricity generation has an estimated potential of 500 GW, equal to the country’s total installed capacity today.

Québec’s geological environment consists of rock formations potentially thousands of metres deep. In southeastern Québec, geothermal power plants could be powered by reservoirs more than 6 or 7 km beneath the earth’s surface and covering 10% to 15% of the region’s area. The fluid at about 150°C from such reservoirs could power plants with installed capacities of 2 to 5 MW per production site.

Output and costs

Capital costs for an enhanced geothermal system (EGS), including the power plant, drilling and hydraulic stimulation, amount to at least $10,000/kW. The electricity generated would cost between 22¢ and 32¢/kWh, or even more.

Capital costs would drop to at least $6,000/kW once the technology matures. The cost of the electricity generated would then range from 10¢ to 15¢/kWh, or even more.

The efficiency of heat-to-electricity conversion is roughly 10% to 15%, depending on the temperature of the geothermal fluid and the thermodynamic cycle (power cycle) used. Over the medium to long term, however, efficiency could reach or even exceed 25% by using new geothermal fluids and higher-performance power cycles.

Advantages et disadvantages

  • EGS geothermal power plants can be installed anywhere, provided drilling is deep enough to reach the desired temperature.
  • Generation is predictable and continuous with a load factor exceeding 95%, better than with photovoltaic solar and wind generation, for example, and comparable to some nuclear power plants. An energy storage system is not needed.
  • The energy source requires no particular treatment analogous to oil refining or uranium enrichment.
  • Power plants being sited directly above the heat source, there is no need to convert and transport fuel, avoiding such hazards as oil spills.
  • EGS power plants will not be cost-effective in many regions over the medium term.
  • Geothermal energy is a renewable resource, the heat removed from a geothermal reservoir being naturally replenished.

Sustainable development

  • Systems have a small footprint.
  • The vast majority of geothermal power plants emit few greenhouse gases and air pollutants.
  • Geothermal systems, and particularly EGSs, have a small environmental footprint throughout their lifecycles.
  • Groundwater and surface water contamination can be avoided by proper wastewater management during drilling and hydraulic stimulation operations.
  • Water use issues arise in regions with scant water resources.
  • Microseismic activity raises concerns.