November 9, 2017

The Global Energy Transition - Québec Hydropower provides clean, firm and reliable solutions

By Eric Martel

Hydro-Québec is North America’s largest generator of low-carbon electricity, and as the world moves toward a low-carbon future, our energy is an asset that can secure both environmental and economic gains. Québec’s hydropower - with its low greenhouse gas emissions, flexibility and reliability— can be the foundation on which the northeast can stabilize and even reduce overall electricity prices for consumers and integrate more renewable sources onto its electricity grids.

The US Northeast needs clean energy. Our hydropower is available now

The region is faced with the retirement of several sources of baseload energy. With this in mind, Massachusetts and New York are currently considering options to bring more firm renewable power into their energy mix. The attributes of Québec hydropower as a low-carbon, flexible baseload electricity source are well suited to contribute to all of Massachusetts’ and New York’s objectives. What’s more, Hydro-Québec’s high-performance fleet of existing hydropower generating stations produces energy that is available today, in significant quantities.

Hydropower infrastructure can’t be built in a day; it takes 10-15 years to develop from start to finish. Energy leaders in Québec have had the foresight to develop our water resources. Since 2003, we’ve brought close to 5,000 megawatts of new hydropower on line in anticipation of increased clean energy needs throughout the northeast. 

That “early mover” approach means we’re now in a position to help the northeast move towards a low-carbon future. And northeast markets have the unique opportunity now to plug into this major electricity supply source and fully benefit from the full environmental value of hydropower: clean, reliable, renewable, dispatchable energy, available in large quantities and ready when consumers need it.

Large-scale supply options over new, lasting infrastructure

Existing interconnections to northeastern states are already being used to full capacity at peak demand periods. Therefore, to provide the incremental energy these markets are calling for and to fully play our role as an enormous battery for our surrounding markets, new transmission facilities must be built. This new infrastructure will improve reliability and cost-effectiveness in both New England and New York for decades to come. Interconnected electricity markets are more efficient, using power generated from a range of resources over a much wider geographic area. That lowers the cost of producing and managing electricity for everyone. Enhanced grid integration is the way forward in bringing about a true energy transition in our region.

Foreseeable long-range operating costs

Québec hydropower has affordable, predictable costs over the long term, an important factor to keep in mind since hydropower generating stations can operate for more than 100 years. This stability can play a key role in mitigating price volatility in neighboring markets and contributing to energy security in the Northeast.

Working better, Setting new sights, Building tomorrow

This is the theme of our strategic plan, and growth is a key component. We want to increase our electricity exports to all of our markets. Thanks to our buildout over the last 15 years, we have the generation capacity to significantly increase those exports; and increased exports of clean energy means reduced greenhouse gas emissions in the northeast. With that in mind, we remain on the lookout for win-win opportunities to sell our hydropower, especially in the Northeast and Ontario. 

Going forward, as northeast markets move to integrate more intermittent renewable energy sources, energy storage solutions will become indispensable. In addition to being a major source of low-emitting energy, Hydro-Québec’s vast reservoir system enables it to firm up intermittent renewables, absorb excess generation from surrounding markets and flow that power back onto those grids when it’s most needed. We can be the battery for America’s northeast.

Hydro-Québec is also looking to acquire assets or equity stakes in power companies outside the province. We also will step up our efforts to commercialize our many promising innovations, such as large-scale battery storage systems for energy grids and robotic maintenance and inspection of energy grids.

As a recognized leader in hydropower and large transmission systems, and a long-standing partner in the northeast, we can be part of the solution in the region’s energy transition. And as a large-scale energy supplier, Hydro-Québec can provide a direct path to clean, reliable, affordable electricity. That is our vision for the region: a clean, renewable energy future.

- Eric Martel is president and CEO of Hydro-Québec.

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