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Blog | Interview: Jacob Irving, Canadian Hydropower Association
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Interview: Jacob Irving, Canadian Hydropower Association

Jacob Irving is the president of the Canadian Hydropower Association. In this interview he speaks about the hydropower sector in Canada, plans to develop new installed capacity, and cross-border trading with the USA.

Jacob IrvingCanada consistently ranks among the top five countries in the world in terms of its hydropower generation. What can the rest of the world learn from Canada’s experience in the sector?

The example that Canadian hydropower offers to others is its proven long-term benefit.  We have provinces in Canada whose electricity generation profile is over 95 per cent hydro, and they enjoy some of the lowest electricity prices in North America.  While the upfront cost of building new hydro can sometimes be daunting, it’s good to remember that once you build a hydro facility, it’s yours to keep.

We have hydro facilities dotted throughout the country that are 50 to 100 years old, some even older. Undoubtedly in their day, they were not inexpensive to consider or build.  Today, decades after their construction, they continue to provide predictable and reliable electricity at an affordable cost.

Hydropower built much of Canada’s industrial base.  Any country with hydropower potential is wise to maximise its development.  Given its technical, economic and environmental benefits, I am never shy to say that hydropower is the best way to make electricity in Canada.  I should think this would hold equally true for many other countries around the world.

More of Canada’s hydropower generation is traded across the border with the United States than within Canada. How has this relationship benefited both countries, and what difficulties have been overcome in co-operating across the region?

Canada is a federation, and our individual provinces have jurisdiction over their natural resources and energy development. As such, many of our provinces have successfully pursued energy self-sufficiency objectives and have interconnected with neighbouring Canadian provinces and US states for enhanced grid reliability and import/export opportunities.

Even as the world’s third largest generator, Canada could still more than double its current hydropower installed generation capacity."

The North American grids in both Canada and the US have generally developed more north-south than east-west for a number of technical, historic and socio-economic reasons.  One important motivating factor is that Canada and the US naturally complement each other in terms of seasonal peaking. The US peaks during the summer, in part from its air conditioning load and Canada peaks during the winter, in part from its heating load.  

While Canada is a net exporter of electricity to the US, both countries benefit from their interconnection. On a forward looking basis, should the US seek to reduce the emissions profile of its electricity consumption, Canadian hydropower could offer a powerful solution in terms of providing clean and renewable baseload generation that can also enable the development of new US domestic renewables such as wind and solar while complementing US hydropower as well. 

It is regularly assumed that Canada’s hydropower potential has been almost fully exploited. What are the plans to develop the untapped capacity, and what are the challenges that will come with it?

Even as the world’s third largest generator, Canada could still more than double its current hydropower installed generation capacity.  We have an undeveloped technical potential of approximately 161 GW on top of our current installed capacity of 76 GW.  

Of the 163,000 MW of undeveloped technical potential, a total of approximately 25,000 MW in projects across Canada are slated development (from publicly announced through to current construction phase).  Even in a country like Canada that currently benefits from the proven long-term advantages of hydropower, overcoming the challenge of upfront investment costs can be difficult.

The advent of seemingly more abundant and potentially less expensive natural gas in North America could be a complicating factor.  At the same time, across North America, a good deal of existing electricity generation will need to be replaced over the coming decades and economic recovery could always drive additional generation demand.  

The desire for cleaner and more renewable electricity should persist as the dangers of climate change become more broadly understood.  Canadian hydropower will remain poised to assist.

What are the biggest focus areas of work for the Canadian Hydropower Association in 2014?

We will continue to focus on ensuring that Canadian federal legislation and regulations pertaining to hydropower development both protect our environment and allow for the efficient deployment of Canadian hydropower.  

We also plan to enhance our efforts to communicate the advantages of Canadian hydropower strategically and more generally to ensure everyone is more fully aware of the solutions we can bring to a world that craves more clean and renewable energy.

You can read more about cross-border trading between Canada and the USA in our Canada country profile.