What are the pros and cons
Good for the environment
Hydropower generates very little greenhouse gas – even less than solar. There are no emissions due to combustion, which is good for air quality, and consequently climate change.
Reliable and local
The source of hydropower is the water from a river, so it is always available! You do not have to worry about price fluctuations or shortages, as in the case of oil and gas. In addition, it supports the economy because the electricity is produced locally.
The cost of hydropower can vary considerably depending on the application, but on average, it is one of the cheapest means of generating electricity! Quebec has the cheapest electricity of all Canadian provinces because most of it comes from hydropower.
There are several ways of generating electricity from running water.
The following are a few examples of hydropower:
Hydroelectric power from a dam
This is the most common type of hydroelectricity. Huge dams are built to create water reservoirs. The power comes from the potential energy of the water behind the dam, which drives a turbine and a generator.
Run-of-river hydro plants have virtually no if any reservoir, so only the water coming from upriver is available for the production. A constant supply of water is needed from an upstream lake or an existing reservoir. The advantage of such a system is a reduced environmental footprint because it causes less disruption of the terrain.
Tidal energy is a form of hydropower that captures tidal energy to produce electricity. Tidal energy is not yet widely used, but it does have potential for the future production of electricity.
Where does hydropower come from?
The dam holds back the water
The water passes through the penstock to the turbine, which turns and activates a generator. This produces an alternating electric current.
The transformer raises the tension in the electric current to carry it through the system’s power lines.
The largest hydroelectric plant in Canada is the Robert-Bourassa generating station, located in James Bay, Quebec. Built in the 1980s, the generating station has 16 sets of alternating turbines and a capacity of 5,616 MW. It generates close to 20% of Quebec’s energy!
The reservoir extends over close to 3,000 km2 and contains 61.7 cubic metres of water. The generating station is the largest underground hydroelectric installation in the world. It extends 137 metres underground to the turbines, and the dam itself is as high as a 53-storey building!
This generating station is a true marvel of engineering, providing clean, cheap and reliable energy to the province of Quebec!
Bay of Fundy
The Bay of Fundy has the highest tides in the world and efforts to harness energy from the tides date back 100 years! A project of more than 50 million dollars!
¹ Generating stations – Hydro-Québec Production | Hydro-Québec (hydroquebec.com) – Did you know? 6 interesting facts about Robert-Bourassa Generating
² Faits sur l’électricité (rncan.gc.ca)
³ Centrale hydroélectrique (nbpower.com)
4 Facts About Hydropower | Wisconsin Valley Improvement Company (wvic.com)