By Jesse Snyder
CALGARY — Canada substantially boosted its renewable electricity capacity over the past decade, and has now emerged as the second largest producer of hydroelectricty in the world, a new report said Wednesday.
A report by the National Energy Board said that Canada generated 66 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources in 2015. Hydroelectric power accounted for roughly 60 per cent of electricity supply, generating around 79,000 megawatts in 2015.
But as Canada aims to further boost its renewable capacity as part of its lofty climate goals, analysts are questioning hydro’s role in the future. Environmental activists have firmly opposed new large-scale hydro dams like BC Hydro’s Site C and Nalcor Energy’s Muskrat Falls Project in Labrador, which has hobbled development.
“Dams can interfere with fish migration, deplete oxygen in reservoirs, mobilize contaminants, and trap sediment that are important for maintaining downstream habitats including protecting deltas from erosion,” the NEB report said.
However, the Ottawa-based Canadian Hydropower Association estimates that Canada could generate another 160,000MW of hydro electricity, compared with 79,000MW today.
As large-scale hydropower projects face some resistance, wind and solar are set to step grown rapidly in recent years as their costs continue to fall.
Wind capacity in Canada increased 20-fold between 2005 and 2015, according to the NEB, and accounted for 7.7 per cent of total electricity capacity in 2015. Solar accounted for 1.5 per cent.
As Canada’s dependence on renewable sources like solar and wind grows — albeit gradually — governments are now grappling with how to build the high-voltage transmission lines that would be needed to offset intermittency.
“There is potential for wind, but the question there is what are the costs, and that cost-benefit calculation becomes very complicated when you have to factor in things like new transmission capacity to get that more regional dispersion,” Fellows said.
Substituting intermittent power supplies with more stable ones is vastly more costly in Canada than in higher density countries like Denmark, which generates more than 50 per cent of its electricity from wind power.
In January, researchers at the University of Ottawa’s Institute of the Environment released a report that analyzed the long-term cost savings of building high-voltage connecting lines between several hydro rich and hydro poor regions—for example between Alberta and British Columbia.
“We found that you can achieve emission reductions at a lower cost if you build those transmission lines, and that’s including the cost of construction,” said Brett Dolter, one of the report’s authors.
Canada produced roughly 10 per cent of hydro capacity worldwide in 2015, second only to China at 29 per cent, the NEB data shows. Brazil and the U.S. produced nine per cent and 8 per cent, respectively.
Canada’s proportion of electricity generated by renewables is the sixth-highest in the world behind Denmark, Norway, Brazil, Austria and New Zealand. Only 12 countries generate more than half of their electricity from renewable supplies.
Appeared and published at business.financialpost.com