Quebec and the central provinces are facing a power shortage

Quebec and the other central and eastern provinces are facing severe shortages of electricity available to meet the diverse needs created by the energy transition.

That’s what researchers at Polytechnique Montréal’s Trottier Energy Institute warn in a report titled “A Strategic Perspective for the Electricity Sector in Central and Eastern Canada” released Wednesday.

According to this “white paper,” most provinces will not be able to meet the electricity demands caused by the increase in the number of electric vehicles and the decarbonization of building heating by 2030 on the current course.

The researchers invite “all public electricity suppliers to immediately review their investment plans for the coming years”.

Quebec in a better position

At a press conference on Wednesday, Quebec’s premier hinted that the province could indeed run out of power.

“We are open to exporting green hydrogen if the price is right and also according to our electricity capacities. Because currently we expect to run out of power in the next few years, so we have to be careful,” said François Legault.

However, Quebec is in a better position than the other provinces simply because it is the largest hydroelectric power producer in the country.

But this renewable energy source is also attracting new customers, which will contribute to increasing demand in the years to come.

“Hydro-Québec is seeing a lot of industries looking to locate in Quebec to harness electricity, and these are big industries that require a lot of energy,” said Normand Mousseau, scientific director of the Trottier Institute and co-author of the report.

These new industries such as data centers, cryptocurrency mining centers or agricultural greenhouses will contribute to increasing demand, but this also applies to industries that already exist in the area and that will have to decarbonize in the years to come, thus leaving fossil fuels for renewable ones energies.

Decarbonization issues in Quebec are also related to transportation, as the province aims to have a fleet of 1.5 million electric vehicles by 2030 and to stop selling gasoline vehicles by 2035.

“Hydro-Québec is broadly positioned to meet emerging demand for electric vehicles, institutional commercial buildings and manufacturers,” said Normand Mousseau, specifying, however, that electricity export contracts in the United States of America “pose a risk of limiting the distributor’s room for manoeuvre.” and “we risk ending up in deficit by 2030.”

Focus on wind power

Hydro-Quebec must therefore find new sources of electricity, and the distributor cannot rely on natural gas because of the province’s climate commitments, according to the researcher.

According to Normand Mousseau, the answer does not lie in the construction of new dams.

“The reservoirs give the network enormous flexibility, but today we don’t have the capacity to flood areas like we used to. From an environmental point of view and from the point of view of social compatibility, it is not possible,” said the scientific director of the Trottier Institute.

According to him, the solution lies in the construction of new wind farms.

“The construction of wind turbines, which is being piloted by Hydro-Quebec to reduce costs, we can do at very competitive prices” and “if we are in a situation where we have too much electricity in Quebec, we can.” sell it easily because the other provinces are in an even worse situation than ours”.

The authorities are not ready

The report notes that across the country “there is a major disconnect between current planning for electric utilities and the efforts required to meet provincial and federal climate targets.”

Authorities underestimate “the scale of the transformation needed to meet climate targets,” specified Mr. Mousseau.

In addition, researchers from Institut de l’énergie Trottier at Polytechnique Montréal are offering six workshops focusing on different topics: regulation, pricing, demand management, data, implementation support and resilience.

In terms of resilience, the report points out that technological innovations like smart meters are making networks much more flexible, but “with that flexibility comes an increased risk of cyberattacks.”

Extreme weather phenomena caused by climate change also increase the risk of physical damage to infrastructure.

“The resilience of power grids therefore remains crucial, but climate change is also having an impact on demand, particularly through an increased need for space cooling or heating during extreme summer or winter conditions,” the report says.

Better use of data

Researchers at the Trottier Institute believe governments and retailers should facilitate access to “data on current systems” to create pathways to carbon neutrality.

Better data collection and sharing could also improve energy productivity, planning, generation, storage, transmission and distribution of electricity.

Relying on energy efficiency with modulated tariffs that are cheaper outside of rush hours and regulation during winter rush hours are also part of the solutions that will help to achieve the climate targets.

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