Hydro-Quebec Leads the Way in Introducing Electric Vehicles

As the primary producer of hydroelectric power in the Canadian province of Quebec, Hydro-Quebec is well-situated to advocate for the use of electric vehicles. The utility is participating in several pilot studies intended to determine how to best integrate these vehicles into the grid.

By Hydro-Quebec

The Canadian province of Quebec faces a challenge common among many countries: reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. For example, in its Fifth U.S. Climate Action Report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, completed in 2010, the U.S. government concluded that GHG emissions increased by 17 percent from 1990 to 2007. Quebec has set a target of reducing GHG emissions to 20 percent by 2020, compared to 1990 levels. The target for Canada as a whole is a 17 percent reduction from 2005 levels.

As the above numbers show, GHG emissions pose a significant challenge. Is there a way to overcome this challenge? And how can hydropower help?

Worldwide, the two largest sources of GHG emissions are electricity generation and transportation.1 Depending on how a country produces its electricity, some can generate significantly lower levels of GHG emissions from this sector than others.

In the fight against climate change, hydropower makes an important contribution. Hydroelectric stations that use water stored in a reservoir to produce electricity emit 40 times fewer GHGs than natural gas stations and 100 times fewer emissions than coal-fired stations. According to life cycle analysis performed by Hydro-Quebec, for plants with equivalent energy output, GHG emissions from a hydro station with a reservoir in a northern region are comparable to those from wind generation and less than a quarter of those from photovoltaic solar generation.2

Hydropower represents about 16 percent of the world’s electricity generation capacity. In Canada, about 60 percent of electricity is generated from hydropower. Hydro-Quebec, the provincial utility in Quebec, has a hydropower installed capacity and available supplies of more than 40,000 MW. The utility generates almost a third of the electricity in Canada, and a full 98 percent of its output comes from hydropower.

For many years, the utility has been working toward sustainable solutions to the global issue of GHG emissions. For example, Hydro-Quebec’s Strategic Plan for the period from 2009 to 2013 calls for the development of new hydropower projects and the integration of about 4,000 MW of wind power by 2015 to maintain a low-emitting electricity supply for its customers. As a result of this plan, a total of 2,500 MW of new hydropower generation is under construction in the province.

In Quebec in 2007, electricity generation was responsible for only 2.7 percent of GHG emissions, whereas transportation represented 42 percent (see Figure 1). Therefore, transportation represents the most common challenge in terms of GHG emissions, both in Quebec and globally.

Providing renewable energy to neighbors

One important way Hydro-Quebec contributes to the fight against climate change and pollution is by supplying neighboring markets with renewable, competitive, and reliable energy. With this practice, Quebec hydropower replaces predominantly conventional thermal generation, which emits large quantities of GHGs and other airborne pollutants.

Hydro-Quebec is working with its neighbors to make more of its hydropower available to their markets. The 2009 commissioning of a 1,250-MW interconnection with the neighboring province of Ontario increased Hydro-Quebec’s interchange capacity with this province, as well as with New York State and the U.S. Midwest. With partners Northeast Utilities and NStar, Hydro-Quebec is now working on a project that will involve installing a 1,200-MW direct-current line into New Hampshire, thus increasing energy exports to New England.

Ford Escape hybrid
This Ford Escape hybrid is one of the vehicles Hydro-Quebec is testing as part of a demonstration project of electric vehicles. The utility is seeking to determine the charging performance of the vehicles, among other factors.

Since 2001, emission of more than 39 million metric tons of GHGs has been avoided in northeastern North America as a result of electricity exports from Quebec. This is equal to the annual emissions of close to 10 million automobiles.

Electrifying transportation

Public and personal transportation account for about a quarter of GHG emissions in North America.3

If a majority of the personal vehicles and public transit options were powered using electricity, associated GHG emissions would decrease, as would urban pollution and smog. For example, for a distance covered of 37,000 kilometers per year, a trolley bus powered using electricity emits 85 tons less CO2 than a diesel bus.

Hydro-Quebec is clearly positioned to contribute to the electrification of the transportation industry. The utility’s transportation electrification action plan, contained in the most current Strategic Plan, has four main focuses: financial support for studies on the development of electrical infrastructure for public transit; planning of support infrastructure for vehicle charging; test-driving and experimenting with integration of electric vehicles into the power grid; and development and marketing of advanced technologies, such as electric power trains and battery materials.

Public transit

Hydro-Quebec is participating in feasibility studies being conducted by major municipal public transit authorities to determine what electrical infrastructure is needed and what the utility’s level of investment might be in this infrastructure. Certain public transit systems – such as the subway in Montreal – already run on electricity. But more could be done to bring electrified streetcars, commuter trains, and trolley buses into the urban landscape.

Personal transportation and charging infrastructure

Hydro-Quebec’s research indicates it would cost seven times less to run a car on electricity in Quebec than it does to fuel it with gasoline. For compact car owners, the average annual expenditure would be only $250. Hydro-Quebec’s distribution grid already is able to handle the increase in demand brought about by electric vehicles. As a reference, a single hydro station the size of 480-MW Eastmain-1 could provide enough electricity to power 1 million electric vehicles (3 terawatt-hours per year).

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) estimates that 80 percent of the charging needs for these vehicles will be met at home and at the workplace. Thus it must be determined where car owners will want to recharge their batteries during the remaining 20 percent of the time, when they are on the go.

Hydro-Quebec is partnering with various car manufacturers – including Ford, Mitsubishi Motors, Toyota, and Renault-Nissan – to test and use electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles before they are marketed on a large scale. These demonstration projects have been designed to determine the charging performance of vehicles, particularly under northern conditions, as well as driver experience and overall satisfaction.

In particular, the tests Hydro-Quebec is leading in collaboration with Mitsubishi as part of the largest all-electric vehicle trial in Canada will contribute to planning the necessary electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Hydro-Quebec is also working with Renault-Nissan Alliance, the Quebec government, and city administrations to study various aspects of charging infrastructure required for electric vehicles, such as the most efficient business model and most appropriate locations in urban centers.

Investing in advanced technologies

Electric vehicles will only be successful if the engine technologies, batteries, and electronic components meet market needs. Hydro-Quebec’s research institute, IREQ, continues to lead extensive work to improve the performance and reduce the cost of lithium-ion batteries. Hydro-Quebec patents the advanced materials it develops and then grants licenses to battery manufacturer suppliers. Sony recently launched a battery that incorporates chemical components developed by Hydro-Quebec.

TM4, a Hydro-Quebec subsidiary responsible for developing electric power trains, has provided 100 electric motors to Miljø Innovasjon, a subsidiary of Tata Motors, for an electric car demonstration that is under way in Norway and England. TM4’s latest generation of motors for the automobile industry, the TM4 MOTIVETM series, is the product of a decade of research and development efforts. Incorporating TM4’s patented technologies, the motor has the best power-to-weight ratio in its class and industry-leading efficiency.

Paving the way to a sustainable energy future

To ensure continued sustainable economic growth, the world doesn’t only need more energy. It must also reduce GHGs. This involves being more efficient regarding energy consumption and ensuring that regions with sources of renewable energy have the transmission infrastructure necessary to export that energy to areas still dependent on fossil fuels. The use of clean and renewable energy must also make its mark in sectors of the economy, such as transportation, that have traditionally been dominated by fossil fuels. In a world where the impact of climate change is a reality, sustainable hydropower, the most flexible and reliable renewable energy, is one of the means to move toward a low-carbon economy.

1. Climate Analysis Indicator Tool, Navigating the Numbers: GHG Data and International Climate Policy, World Resources Institute, Washington, D.C., 2005.
2. www.hydroforthefuture.com/energie/2/one-of-the-cleanest-generating-options
3. Emissions of Greenhouse Gases Report, Energy Information Administration, Washington, D.C., 2010.

Hydro-Quebec generates, transmits, and distributes electricity, mainly using renewable energy sources. It owns 60 hydroelectric generating stations with a total capacity of nearly 34,500 MW.

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