An undervalued tip that is expensive

Not only did an understatement of peak demand by Hydro-Quebec last year cost millions of additional dollars, according to internal documents seen by The dutybut this also foreshadows the difficulties the network will have in meeting demand during very cold weather in the coming years.

These documents indicate a peak – when the demand for electricity is at its peak – higher than what Hydro-Québec had announced last year. The studies that the state corporation had prepared before the extreme cold predicted a winter peak of 39,422 MW.

Reached on January 11, the peak was instead 40,537 MW, which represents nearly 2,000 MW more than the historical peak of 2013. increase by around 500 MW, the equivalent of the normal consumption of 180,000 homes, the document reads.

To meet demand, Hydro-Québec used “interruptibles” for a total of 2,510 MW, well above what it had planned. “Interruptibles” refer to contracts that the company signs with large companies that agree to interrupt or significantly reduce their consumption when demand is higher than expected.

These « means [de gestion] were nearly all sold out by the end of February,” the document read. Moreover, the demand to produce electricity has caused « a rapid drop in the levels of certain reservoirs », at the same time reducing the production capacities of Hydro-Québec.

Conversely, wind generation, which varies according to the strength of the winds, exceeded the distributor’s forecasts during this period.

3.3 million to supply gas

To meet the strong demand, Hydro-Québec had to resort to the Bécancour power station, which runs on natural gas. The latter was started 18 times to produce 9437 MWh of additional electricity. And the exercise was expensive: 3.3 million dollars.

The use of this gas-fired power station, owned by Hydro-Québec, makes it possible to meet stronger-than-expected demand. Last year, it far exceeded the average of the previous five years. Hydro-Québec used the gas-fired power station eight times a year, for costs hovering around $965,000.

In an email sent to To have toHydro-Québec explains that, « when the power balance is tight, as was the case on several occasions last winter due to sustained extreme cold, the power reserve has a greater probability of being called upon ».

With regard to last year, “we must keep in mind that the winter of 2021-2022 was very cold with a probability of occurrence of once every 20 years”, indicates Hydro-Québec. The state corporation explains that it forecasts peak energy needs under normal climatic conditions. The actual peak results from climatic conditions which will differ from the average.

A network running at full speed

The duty spoke with several employees and managers at Hydro-Québec. All declined to be named, but they confirm that “the network is under great pressure”. Everyone also agrees that this pressure will only increase with the need to decarbonize the province.

Could the network have difficulty meeting demand as early as 2025? The state-owned company assures that “Hydro-Québec anticipates sufficient supplies to meet Quebec demand, without adding production, until the winter of 2025”.

In its most recent strategic plan, Sophie Brochu’s team estimates that electricity demand in Quebec should grow by 20 TWh between 2019 and 2029, which represents an increase of 12%. Result: Quebec production will not be able to meet peak demand from 2027, according to the organization.

Hydro-Québec plans to send nearly 20 TWh of electricity to the United States over the next few years. Also in its strategic plan, it is estimated that more than 100 additional terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity will be required for Quebec to achieve carbon neutrality in 2050, or more than half of Hydro-Quebec’s current capacity.

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