Most Americans are only dimly aware of Canada’s importance to U.S. energy imports. The typical American audience, if they are aware of Canadian energy exports to the U.S. at all, has been focused on the debacle surrounding the Keystone XL pipeline.
In fact, according to the U.S. Energy Administration, the United States total crude oil imports now average 9,033 thousand barrels per day (tbpd), with Canada providing 2,666 tbpd, making it the number one U.S. source of energy imports.
This picture is about to change further however, as Canada is diversifying its energy exports, and is implementing an ambitious energy program that, if implemented, will see its energy matrix of exports to the U.S. increasingly add a hydroelectric component to its traditional fossil fuels sales to south of the border.
Canada’s hydroelectric industry is considering investing up to $70 billion in hydroelectric projects nationwide across the country in the next 10 to 15 years, increasing its hydroelectrical output to an extraordinary 88,500 megawatts. Canadian hydroelectric projects include both large-scale “storage” hydroelectric dams and “run-of-river” installations in streams and rivers that use moving water without damming the river.
Canada’s first hydroelectric project was installed in 1881 at the Chaudiere Falls on the Ottawa River and currently Canada’s 420 hydroelectric facilities have an installed capacity of 69,125 megawatts.
The transition is already underway, as Quebec is upgrading its current infrastructure by building another 4,570 megawatts, British Columbia - 3,341 megawatts, Labrador - 3,074 megawatts and Manitoba adding another 2,380 megawatts to its hydroelectric grid.
Canadian Hydropower Association head Jacob Irving sees this as a good thing, telling reporters that because hydroelectric power generation can be turned on and off almost instantaneously, it is an ideal partner with solar and wind, “filling in the gaps from intermittent sources. Each terawatt hour of hydro exported to the United States largely replaces fossil fuel generation. You need water and elevation and we have no shortage of interesting geography or water in Canada for our electricity.”
The Canadian Hydropower Association calls Canada a “hydro superpower,” noting that nearly 60 percent of the country’s electricity supply comes from hydroelectric dams, as opposed to a global ration of roughly 16 percent overall.
Canada began its investment in hydroelectric power over fifty years ago. Manitoba saw its two largest rivers and three of the five largest lakes dramatically reengineered while in Francophone Quebec, 571 dams and control structures would eventually alter 74 rivers to produce electricity.
A big component in expanding the country’s hydroelectric facilities is the prospect of exporting power to the U.S.
American interest in hydropower is linked, in part, to its low cost and its low greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, where 600 coal-fired plants produce 45 percent of the nation’s electricity by burning nearly a billion tons of coal annually, with another 24 percent fuelled by natural gas. Eight states receive between 85-98 percent of their electricity from coal – North Dakota, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, West Virginia, Kentucky, Wyoming and Utah. Six months ago April, Hydro-Quebec, Canada’s largest generator and exporter of hydroelectricity, said in a press release, “The major environmental challenge facing North America is to replace coal to generate power and oil used in transportation.”
And the future? Canadian government agencies predict electricity demand in Canada will grow almost 10 percent over the next decade, and in the U.S. by approximately 30 percent between now and 2035. According to estimates, Canada still has more than 163,000 megawatts of technical potential, which is more than twice the country’s current capacity of 70,000 megawatts.
The deal seems like a win-win one for Ottawa and Washington, unlike the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
Clean energy generated by Canada’s massive rivers, unburdened by carbon concerns- what’s not to like?
By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com