Canada augmented its renewable electricity capacity over the last decade and has reportedly emerged as the second largest producer of hydroelectricity in the world.
According to the National Energy Board (NEB), renewable sources have been responsible for 66% of Canadian electricity in 2015, with 60% of total power generation coming from hydropower generating around 79,000 megawatts in 2015.
As Canada aims to continue boosting its renewable capacity further as a part of its climate goals, some analysts are already questioning the role of hydro in the future. Meanwhile, environmental activists have strongly opposed new large-scale hydro dams like the BC Hydro’s Site C and Nalcor Energy’s Muskrat Falls project in Labrador.
Kent Fellows, a research associate with the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary said that though they had not reached a hard limit in hydro, the potential for hydro in regions where they don’t already see it was very limited.
The Ottawa-based Canadian Hydropower Association, however, estimated that Canada could generate around 160,000 MW of hydro electricity as compared to the current 79,000 MW. The NEB report said that the dams could interfere with fish migration, mobilise contaminants, deplete oxygen in reservoirs, and trap sediment which is important for maintaining downstream habitats inclusive of protecting deltas from erosion.
Meanwhile, the wind and solar are reportedly growing rapidly in recent years, as large-scale hydropower projects are facing some resistance. According to NEB, the wind capacity in Canada increased around 20-fold between 2005 and 2015 and also accounted for 7.7% of total electricity capacity in 2015, also solar accounted for 1.5%.
Canada’s dependence on renewable sources like solar and wind is reportedly growing and the governments are now figuring out how to build high-voltage transmission lines. Fellows said that there was potential for the wind and highlighted how the cost-benefit calculation could become complicated when new transmission capacity had to be factored in to get more regional dispersion.
The researchers at the University of Ottawa’s Institute of the Environment released a report in January that analysed the long-term cost savings of building high-voltage connecting lines between several hydro-rich and hydro-poor regions, including the Alberta and British Columbia.
The NEB data shows that Canada produced approximately 10% of hydro capacity worldwide in 2015, while China was second at 29%. Brazil and the U.S. produced around 9% and 8% respectively.