Canadian Consulting Engineer

Canadian Waterpower Week showcases energy transition perspectives

October 4, 2022

The event packed meeting rooms at Toronto's Westin Harbour Castle.

Canada Waterpower Week panel

Photo by Peter Saunders.

Trade association WaterPower Canada (WPC) held its annual conference, Canadian Waterpower Week, from Sept. 21 to 23 at Toronto’s Westin Harbour Castle. As part of the event, a series of presentations and discussion panels addressed issues related to the energy transition toward a future of net-zero emissions.

Following the first day’s committee, board and council meetings and hydro pump storage concept training session, the second day opened with a plenary by Carolina Rinfret, WPC’s new president and CEO, who introduced the conference’s main theme: ‘Powerful Synergies for Our Electric Future.’

Canadian Waterpower Week theme

Photo by Peter Saunders.

Next, guest speaker Yvan Cliche—a fellow and senior energy researcher with the Centre d’études et de recherches internationals, Université de Montréal (CERIUM)—discussed the geopolitical upheaval caused by resource price fluctuation, with a focus on the internationalization of natural gas, a breakthrough for renewable energy sources and the need for critical minerals to support electrification.

The first panel of experts reached consensus on the importance of serious and strong policies to better co-ordinate provincial efforts to meet federal targets.

“Approvals will have to be turned on their head for the transition to happen by 2035,” said Jennifer Williams, president and CEO of Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro.

“Federal policy helps push investment,” added Josée Guibord, CEO of Evolugen, citing hydrogen and carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) as key transition technologies.

In concurrent breakout sessions, representatives of Ontario Power Generation (OPG) and Kiewit discussed Northern Ontario’s Little Long Dam safety project, which aims to increase the discharge capacity of the Adam Creek spillway structure to ensure floodwater can bypass four Lower Mattagami River stations; while Hatch business development director Jonathan Atkinson and regional manager Martin Dodge provided an overview of their studies to assess electricity generation costs by source and the scale of the role for hydropower refurbishments and redevelopments to play in a net-zero electricity supply.

“The benefits of hydro for net-zero emissions include flexibility and rapid response, which help balance solar and wind energy,” said Atkinson, “and hydro facilities can be expected to operate for more than 100 years, with refurbishment.”

“Half of our installed hydro capacity would benefit from investment in the future,” added Dodge. “Adding new units or a plant to an existing dam isn’t common, but it achieves the best increase in capacity.”

A lunchtime plenary offered further perspectives on a net-zero grid from Chuck Farmer, VP of planning, conservation and resource adequacy for Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) and Marie-France Samaroden, VP of grid reliability operations for the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO).

“The benefits of widespread electrification will be substantial, including reduced overall energy costs for Canadians,” said the plenary’s moderator, Rick Smith, president of the Canadian Climate Institute.

Later in the conference, a session about the growing role of Indigenous businesses in the electricity sector showcased the need for the corporate sector to partner with Indigenous communities in the collaborative development of new projects and to provide work opportunities and training.

“Indigenous communities know the land better than we do,” said Mathieu Johnson, vice-president (VP) of strategy for Hydro-Quebec, before the session. “They are great partners.”

Concurrently, Sélim Sayah, head of the energy and water division of Switzerland’s Lombardi Engineering—which has teamed up in Canada with BBA—discussed his firm’s experience on pumped storage projects, both between existing dams and with new reservoirs.

“Pumped storage should be used seasonally and to meet peak demand,” he explained.

Lombardi Engineering presentation

Photo by Peter Saunders.

BBA’s own power systems business director Nishant Gehani was part of the next panel, along with SNC-Lavalin director of grid solutions Tarek Abdel-Galil and others, which covered the theory and practice of net-zero energy systems. Meanwhile, a technical session addressed the replacement of two 100-year-old scroll cases for the Niagara River’s 10-unit Sir Adam Beck Generating Station.

At a gala dinner, astronaut Chris Hadfield, Canada’s first commander of the International Space Station (ISS), provided his own perspective about the fragility of the planet and the need for action to reduce the impact of climate change.

On the second day of the conference, a panel of human resources (HR) experts revealed Canada’s hydropower industry is currently only 26% female. To solve current staffing shortages, they said, the industry will need to attract more women, more young people and more out-of-country talent. This will call for work with academic institutions.

Breakout sessions discussed protecting aquatic resources with fish passages, outlined the potential benefits of alternative contract models, suggested how Canada can meet its carbon reduction objectives (based on analysis by SNC-Lavalin) and highlighted BC Hydro’s Site C environmental mitigation and compliance programs.

Finally, in the closing plenary, a panel discussed the importance of pursuing regional synergies and the role of new hydroelectric transmission infrastructure.

“The conference was a success,” said WPC president/CEO Rinfret. “Participants were happy to get together and network. Attendees really appreciated the subjects covered by the speakers and panelists.”


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