Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Canada's Hydro Power

As we drove east through Canada we kept seeing these huge power transmission lines - usually three abreast (rather than the two seen here). Huge swaths had been cut through the native forest going up and down over the mountains. We wondered where the lines were going to and where they had come from. As we drove north through Quebec toward the sparcely populated Labrador, these huge transmission lines were still going - even though we were heading away from the populated areas. We were puzzled . . . we couldn't quite figure it out.

At the Anticipation World Science Fiction Convention, there had been a panel about how successful Canada had been with hydro power. We discovered that we were on the road that linked a number of huge dams with this amazing power grid.

The Daniel-Johnson Dam is the largest multiple arch and buttress dam in the world. It is the second tallest dam in Canada. 214 meters (702 feet) and a length of 1,300 meters (4265 feet). (Stretching two miles long, Buchanan Dam on Lake Buchanan is the longest multiple arch dam in the United States. It is only 145.5 feet high))

In doing some research about Canada's hydropower I found this online brochure from Canhydropower.org

From that brochure I learned that:

Canada first used water to generate electricity in 1881 at Chaudieres Falls. In 1965, the world’s first 735-kilovolt power transmission line ever built, about 600 kilometres long, linked the Manicouagan and Outardes generating stations to the metropolitan areas of Québec City and Montréal. It was one of the ten major engineering feats in Canada during the 20th Century, a breakthrough that allowed electrical power to be transferred long distances across Canada.

Canada generates most of its electricity with water for five main reasons:
1. water is abundant,
2. the technology is efficient,
3. the service life of stations is long,
4. the cost is competitive
5. and the electricity produced is renewable and clean.

Apparently, hydropower converts 95% of the rivers energy into electricity, while the best fossil fuel plants are only 60% efficient.

Only China produces more energy from hydro than Canada. The top countries in order of production: China, Canada, Brazil, and the United States.

This brochure says that there is still more potential areas for Canada to produce power from water. At the science fiction convention, the consensus was that probably hydro was already tapped out. The beauty of hydro is that it produces "clean" energy. But, I can see issues with habitat loss along the power grid transmission lines with the need to keep the area deforested. I'll talk more about Churchhill Falls, but they totally rerouted the river at Churchhill. I don't know whether migrating fish go up that tremendous waterfall or not, but certainly placing dams on other rivers can impact fish migration. In Washington state they have fish ladders around some of the dams. In the United States there has been a lot of resistance to building new dams and a lot of study as to what existing dams have done to riparian zones.

These major hydroplants are in areas largely unpopulated - and for the most part I think it is wonderful that this technology is being developed. It is amazing to me that these large generating facilities provide power not only for Canada but also for the northeastern United States.

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