Sep 28, 2020
Waterpower is Canada’s most abundant source of clean and renewable electricity. In fact, because of this, Canada is the second largest generator of hydroelectricity in the world. So, what’s next for Canada’s waterpower industry? Is there untapped potential? What are the plans for growth nationally and what influence does it have on the world stage? Our special guest, Anne-Raphaëlle Audouin, President and CEO of WaterPower Canada, helps us demystify the water industry.
Related Content & Links:
Dan Seguin 00:02
Hey, everyone, welcome back. This is the ThinkEnergy podcast, one of Canada's oldest hydroelectric generating station was commissioned right here in the nation's capital in 1891. Located in the heart of downtown Ottawa, is a stone throws away from the parliament building. Chaudière Falls is still providing clean and renewable electricity today, nearly 130 years after it went into service. While hydroelectricity first powered our great country, it was fossil fuel that became the dominant energy source of the 20th century. But it seems that what was old is new again. And cleaner electricity is making a comeback in a big way. I'm convinced it will be the energy source that powers the 21st century. Because Canada is a water rich country, it's not surprising that water power is Canada's most abundant source of clean, and renewable electricity. It provides more than 60% of our country's total electricity, with an installed capacity soon exceeding 85,000 megawatts. As such, Canada is the second largest generator of hydroelectricity in the world after China. To reduce Canada's emissions of greenhouse gases that cause climate change, we must strategically reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and increase the amount of electricity we produce from non-emitting and renewable energy resources. Hydroelectricity produces no air pollution, and has ultra-low greenhouse gas emissions, especially for those stations that are run of the river. From a full lifecycle assessment basis, Canada's hydro power is amongst the lowest emitting resources available and like Chaudière falls proves hydro power assets can last well over 100 years if properly maintained, making them very cost effective long term investments. Canada is already a leader in hydro power generation, but it has a potential to more than double its current capacity, thanks to its abundant, untapped water power resource. Contrary to popular opinion, Canadian hydro power is cost competitive, which helps keep rates low for customers. In fact, provinces with the highest hydro power installed capacity tend to have the lowest electricity costs. So here's today's big question: What's next for Canada's water power industry? What are the plans for growth nationally? And what influence does it have on the world stage? Our special guest today will help demystify the water industry: Waterpower Canada's president and CEO, Anne-Raphaëlle Audouin. Perhaps you can start by telling us a bit about yourself, what drew you to your current role, and how you became an advocate for renewable energy, particularly waterpower.
Anne-Raphaëlle Audouin 04:04
I think what really brought me to waterpower is a mixed bag of training and experiences. I specialized in environmental law at school. So my passion has always been sustainability and environmental protection. And after graduating, I had the opportunity to work for justice for a bit mostly focusing on mining projects. But that kind of took me to the next you know, job which was to work for Hatch, an international engineering firm, where I worked on international project projects across the world as an environmental and social impact management specialist. So that's where I got my hands dirty in terms of really seeing how projects are done from start to finish the whole pre-feasibility to commissioning. So that was very, very good, a great experience over about four years. And then I kind of switched a little bit - wanting to have a broader approach to sustainability. So not just look at projects, but also look at corporate sustainability. How do you integrate that thinking into your processes, the way you work with your employees? And also how do you continue to obviously implement the best procedures on projects. And so I looked at other opportunities. And I was then hired by what was then called the Canadian Hydropower Association, which we rebranded about two years ago as Waterpower Canada. So that was my first real exposure to the water power industry. Now, about seven years ago, I'd say, which, you know, time flies, as they say, but it's been a great experience, because it really allowed me to bring my legal experience and my passion for sustainability in my role as an advocate for renewable energy.
Dan Seguin 06:01
What is the mission of Waterpower Canada? And what kind of initiatives is it pursuing to advance and support hydro power, nationally, and even internationally,
Anne-Raphaëlle Audouin 06:13
So we are a national trade association. So our mission as an organization is really to promote and actively advocate for hydropower. That means, you know, promoting the existing assets, the existing fleet, promoting the attributes, what it does for Canadians what it does for the country in general, and also promoting future developments, be it sometimes reinvestment in the fleet through refurbishment redevelopments, or, of course, as well, Greenfield, Greenfield projects. So nationally that's really our focus is to bring awareness, I always say my job is 50%, government relations, 50% communications, and they tend to marry in the sense that you're always communicating in this field, right, you're always trying to bring more knowledge and more awareness about your sector, no matter who you're talking to. But you aim it a different way, depending on kind of where you focus, what you focus on. And then internationally, we definitely focus more and more on, on working with the US in terms of leveraging the clean exports of hydro power to the US. It's not a new thing. You know, it's been ongoing for decades. And it's been a huge source of wealth for Canada and for certain provinces in particular. But it is something that we see as an opportunity in the future because the US has a pretty emission intensive electricity sector. And they're looking at decarbonizing similar to us, right, but they don't have necessarily all the attributes ready to go that that we can offer in Canada, and we are very connected north-south. So it is it is almost a self-fulfilling prophecy in the sense of being able to send us clean electrons across the border, without too many too many hurdles. So we were also kind of deploying that kind of efforts internationally.
Dan Seguin 08:15
In Canada, we know about the environmental benefits of hydro power, in terms of renewable energy, cleaner air, and less pollution, overall, perhaps less known lies under the surface, and the impact of these facilities, particularly turbines can have on fish and other water species. Can you talk a bit about what the industry is doing to contribute to the recovery of endangered, threatened and other species at risk?
Anne-Raphaëlle Audouin 08:47
The first thing I'll say is that our sector has been around for more than a century. So any impact that we have is very well understood, and has been very well studied. And there's been a lot of research going into avoidance or when you cannot avoid an impact, mitigation, right, which is the rule for sure. So in terms of fish habitats, in particular, I'll give you an example which is something I've learned through my career working within the water power sector. And it's quite interesting and it happens across the nation right from coast to coast to coast, but you have requirements that are set by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and also of course, by your local regulating bodies, that you know, operate at different levels. And those you know, dictate kind of the measures that you have to put in place and in many cases when you have a hydro site, runoff river or reservoir, you tend to have offsets and you know protocols or fish habitat banking is what we call and without getting into the you know the terminology of you know, that we use with an industry, but through those techniques, you actually have a great opportunity to operate a site that now has a greater fish population that what you found when you actually started with your Greenfield project, and that has been seen and studied. And there's been a lot of, you know, case studies presented on this, where, you know, different fish species actually respond very well to habitat banking. And, they're thriving, more than, you know, maybe the conditions that they were having before the hydro site was developed. So it's that that's just an example. And of course, it's a great success story, but it's not to overshadow the fact that, yes, we operate in water, we do have impacts, and there's always, and they will always be room for improvements. And so a lot of research above and beyond this protocols and, and systems that we implement. A lot of research is actually invested in making sure that the first rule is to avoid impacts, and you don't turn to mitigation right away.
Dan Seguin 11:10
When you envision the future of hydro power, what do you see? And what are some of the most exciting things that the industry is doing? Or that Waterpower Canada is spearheading?
Anne-Raphaëlle Audouin 11:23
So, you know, with COVID-19, of course, the landscape is different now. But I'm going to put that aside, and for the only reason that we don't know what's going to happen, right, we don't know what's going to happen post COVID the ramifications how long it's going to last. So kind of crystal balling the future on this is a bit of a risky exercise. But if I if I said that crisis aside, what was really exciting, just you know, over the past few years, and what we were lining up and gearing up to, to work on was the huge wave of refurbishment and redevelopment. The average age of a hydropower facility in Canada is 50 years. And that's about the same in the US, right? Our assets are what we call generational assets. Which is great, because you can refurbish them, you know, throughout generations, and it's yours to keep for decades and decades and decades. But what it also means is that every once in a while you have to invest, and inject those capital reinvestments so that you can continue to operate your fleet. And also, you know, modernize the fleet. So that's very exciting. Because no matter what happens with the global pandemic situation, this is going to happen, I don't know if it's going to happen within the next year, or now within the next five years. But what it means is that it's going to inject billions in the Canadian economy, it's going to sustain a lot of jobs. And it's going to help us decarbonize, you know, further, we already have about an 80%, non-emitting electricity grid, thanks to Hydro and other renewables, and thanks to nuclear, but of course, there's more room for improvement. And so anything you can do to leverage your existing fleet and just pull out those clean electrons is good news in a very exciting.
Dan Seguin 13:15
What do you think is the biggest myth or misunderstanding about water power?
Anne-Raphaëlle Audouin 13:20
You know, I, there are quite a few. So but it raises my blood pressure when I think about all of them, so I'll just focus on one. But what I what I hear often and above and beyond the lack of knowledge, generally speaking, I think it's always mind boggling to hear that people don't necessarily know or understand the role that waterpark plays in our in our generation mix. But above and beyond that, I think that the biggest misunderstanding is the fact that people really assume that hydro is an old, dusty, non-innovative technology, because we've been around for so long. And it is actually really, really incorrect because we've been around for so long because we are extremely innovative because we are extremely fine tuning research. Every corner that we take, right, and if we weren't innovative, and if we weren't investing in digitalization and new systems, we wouldn't have survived. And so I always say that the original clean tech in Canada is water power, and is the most enduring one, which is a pretty impressive fact.
Dan Seguin 14:33
The hydro power sector contributes more than $30 billion to the Canadian economy and supports a labor force 130,000 strong. What kind of growth does waterpower Canada foresee in the future?
Anne-Raphaëlle Audouin 14:47
So just through the refurbishments and redevelopments that was talking about earlier. This is going to trigger a huge growth in the fleet because with no major new and harmful impacts with, you know, a pretty reasonable injection of funds into your fleet, you can actually get a lot more generation out of an existing site. So that's very exciting. And, it's going to trickle down in terms of economic ramifications. But what we will always kind of try and advocate for is to not let go of Greenfield hydro. And, and the exciting thing about hydro is it comes in many shapes and forms. So you don't have to just focus on large hydro reservoir, you also have run of the river of all sizes , by the way, because a lot of people assume that run off river is small hydro, but you can have 1000 megawatt, run of the river facilities, right, which is pretty big. But what's really exciting too, and we hear about more and more these days is pump storage. So we, you know, we didn't focus too much on pump storage, I think as a nation in the past, because we didn't really have to, we had so many easily developable sites run of the river, reservoir and reservoir is embedded storage, right. So it's a great way to have on demand clean electricity. But now more and more, we're looking at exciting projects that are investing in pumped storage, and its across Canada, as well, there's a project in Ontario, another one in Alberta, but pump storage is basically a closed loop hydro system where you have elevation, and you take advantage of that elevation to bring water down, and then back up depending on cost of electricity and low demand. So that you can meet peak load requirements, and also reduce your expenditure by managing that curve, in a very smart way. So it is it is very innovative. It is it is something that again has existed for many, many years. It's nothing new. But we had we haven't really invested a lot in this technology in Canada. So far, it's much more common in the US. But I see this coming more and more top of mind.
Dan Seguin 17:19
Hydro power infrastructure is designed to withstand floods, and often plays an important role in flood mitigation and management. We've learned that in Ottawa the hard way in 2017, and 2019. Has climate resilience and adapting to the impacts of climate change been front of mind, for Canada's electricity producers? Where do you see making the biggest impacts?
Anne-Raphaëlle Audouin 17:46
So yeah, we are investing a lot in climate change research. And I'd say it should be a priority for any sector, probably in the world. So there's a lot of research going on, we are partnering with modeling agencies, like , who helped us, you know, understand, not just the impacts on the hydropower fleet, but kind of bring in external factors as well that are going to affect climate change. The difficulty and the challenge in the country that's as big as Canada is the fact that your impacts are not going to be one general, one size fits all for the sector. So you won't be able to use general categorization for your industry, you're going to have to get regions, of course. And I remember actually a few years ago, during the floods that were happening in Ontario and Quebec, my members in BC, were saying that they were actually observing low levels in their reservoirs. And so that just speaks to the fact that it's not just a small difference, you have an extreme event happening in one side of the country, and another extreme event as a drought on the other side of the country. So what that means is you have to be extremely flexible. And people have to design especially when they refurbish and when they build new sites with climate change in mind every step of the way.
Dan Seguin 19:08
You've touched on this earlier Anne-Raphaëlle, hydro power has been around for more than 100 years. What does the untapped potential in Canada look like? And what are some of the innovations within the sector that makes it even more attractive?
Anne-Raphaëlle Audouin 19:27
Yeah. So that's one of the other misconceptions that I was alluding to earlier on a previous question. When that when I talk to Canadians and also to policymakers, sometimes they tell me Well, you know, yes, we've got a lot of hydro power in Canada, it's more than 60% of our generation. But surely, because it's so big, we must be tapped out. There must not be any more hydro to develop. And it couldn't be further from the truth. We actually have a lot of water In Canada, we've got good innovation, great sights still to develop. So our untapped potential is actually more than double our existing installed capacity. So we've got about 85,000 megawatts of current installed capacity. So you can, you can only imagine what we could do if we were to just develop a portion of the untapped technical potential. And, and the great news about that now, I always emphasize that when I when I speak at conferences, or when I have discussions with government, and stakeholders in general is to say that, that potential is not just a reality in in one province, it's a reality across the country. So when we look at decarbonizing, electrifying, all of those great things that you know are happening are going to happen, you know, over the next few years, it's just a must to look at what you could do with your hydro resources in your province or in your territory, because it's there, it exists.
Dan Seguin 21:01
Technology is enhancing digitization, and automation of hydro power plants to realize their full potential. What are some of the digital solutions around monitoring, maintenance, and service that you see the industry benefiting from either now or the near future?
Anne-Raphaëlle Audouin 21:22
So I hear a lot about virtual reality, and also artificial intelligence in my sector. And of course, they're two different things, but they tap into that new world of technologies that can help you operate your site in a different way. I think anything that's going to allow us to have remote access to our sites, and that means from a controlling operation. Also, from a supply chain perspective - actually COVID-19 brought one positive from my perspective, which is the fact that we're leveraging tools, more and more that allow us to do remote inspection, for example, because of course, during the pandemic, we couldn't actually go to two warehouses and inspect equipment as it was coming in from China, wherever across the world, right? You had to just wait until it arrived on site. And sometimes we're talking big pieces of furniture, now just a screw and a hammer. So just having tools that really allow you to get in and take a full scope, engineering, look at your equipment, as it comes in before it is delivered is a huge progress, and those tools exists. And that was a huge discovery, I think for me, because I wasn't aware that technology was that far ahead, already ready to respond. Another example, which is always interesting, because I've toured quite a few hydro sites. And I remember at one of the oldest sites in Canada, you know, we were looking at the control room: tons of switches, you know, probably a room that could probably accommodate eight to 10 people at one time. And, and the operator was saying, well, we refurbished and now the person can actually control everything from his living room at home, and is that his laptop, because it's all integrated, and the system is talking to that control room here on site. And that's all it takes. So automation is definitely going to be needed in the future. But it doesn't mean that we won't need, you know, physical, you know, staff and people to manage, because, of course, it's still going to be a huge requirement, but it is more efficient. And that is every day that that kind of innovation happens.
Dan Seguin 23:44
You indicated earlier that waterpower in Canada provides more than 90% of our renewable power and 60% of our overall electricity supply. Canada is blessed with an abundance of untapped potential, residing both in existing sites and new developments. Any thoughts on the pros and cons of refurbishment and redevelopment opportunities versus the development of new projects?
Anne-Raphaëlle Audouin 24:15
Yes. So I mean, it's all case specific: that's the obvious answer. And so what makes sense for a site may not make sense for another one, meaning that, you know, we've got a lot of members that are actually assessing a specific site and considering everything like from decommissioning, which is, you know, turning off the lights basically and saying, Okay, this asset has played its role and that we're going to return the site back to nature. When the economy, you know, just circumstances or environmental or just the general circumstances surrounding a specific site dictate certain decisions. So I think it's not very common that, you know, people would decide to decommission a hydro site because most of the time, even if it's just a little bit of generation, when you've had a site for 80-90 years, and you've refurbished it and maintained it over the years, it's still it's still a great provider of clean electricity. It's still a money-maker for the utility or for the independent power producer. So it's still definitely a great benefit to have within your fleet. But so I don't see any downside to refurbishment, or redevelopment. I think it's a low hanging fruit for electrification, it's something that's going to happen. It's just a question of when, and Greenfield hydro is not going anywhere. I think it's just, let's focus on what we can do first, which is refurbishment. It's the obvious thing to do and it's needed. And in a decade or two, we'll probably see another wave of investment in Greenfield hydro.
Dan Seguin 25:55
Before I forget, are you able to demystify for our listeners what Greenfield hydro is?
Anne-Raphaëlle Audouin 26:03
Greenfield hydro means you take a site that is completely natural. So an untouched site, and you develop a hydro site. And it's a terminology that can be used for any industry, not just hydro. So you can say Greenfield mining Greenfield wind, it just means that you start with a site that hasn't been touched.
Dan Seguin 26:24
Hydro power can provide abundant low carbon energy, with its storage from reservoir and pump storage. As the only renewable form of baseload electricity, how essential is hydro power to leading Canada's transition away from fossil fuels, while maximizing environmental benefits.
Anne-Raphaëlle Audouin 26:46
It's not only essential, it's critical. We always say that if we didn't have what a power within our generation mix, we would be in in a terrible situation as a country, because again, 60% of our overall electricity generation is coming from that big renewable giant, which is water power. So you know, if we take a step back and consider for one second the world we live in, in Canada, without water power, it would be quite different, and it would probably be much dirtier in terms of emissions. So we start with a huge asset, and a huge advantage compared to some countries and you know, people from across the world come to Canada to actually learn about our mostly non-emitting electricity grid. How did you do it? What are the systems you put in place? What is your regulatory environment? How did you get to where you are now? But of course, it's not to say that we are perfect because we're not we've got high emission, or emission intensive sectors. Some provinces are doing better than others for historical reasons, you know, different decisions. And I think we've been blessed with an abundance of natural resources across the nation. And so we shouldn't point fingers. It's really not about that. It's just about Okay, how do we get better? How do we clean up our system? So that we move away from, you know, negative emissions and move toward electrification, which is the priority? Right, the easiest thing to do is to turn to electrifying our transportation, of course, and then buildings, and hydropower is there, you know, we just need the right, you know, economic environment, the right signals from governments, in terms of regulatory streamlining, for example, in terms of regulations that incentivize investment in hydro, and the sector will respond because we've got the resources to develop and do more to decarbonize Canada.
Dan Seguin 28:46
You've touched on this earlier, but wondering if we can explore further. Both Canada and the United States are looking for ways to reduce carbon emissions to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets. With 60% of US electricity still being generated from coal and gas powered thermal plants, is Canada's clean, renewable hydro power becoming an attractive option for Border States? How are those partnerships negotiated? Has it been an easy sell? Are those states coming to you?
Anne-Raphaëlle Audouin 29:22
So it's as we discussed, yes, it's been something that has been done for years. So it's nothing new under the sun. But I think it's becoming more top of mind because big players like the mayor of New York, you know, for the past year has been saying, you know, we want to import a lot of clean and renewable hydro from Quebec. And he's right you know, it's a few hours north of his of his state. It's available there. There are big surpluses in Quebec it's the cheapest electricity you can buy not just in Canada - in North America. And it's a source of wealth for this province. And it's the same story in Manitoba. You know, who sends electricity to Minnesota and other states and neighboring that border on that side of the country, with new transmission lines going through the approval process in each of those jurisdictions. So I think this is definitely going to be more talked about in the future. I think it's probably rising to news headlines more and more because of politics. And depending on the political environment on either side of the border, it can be framed as a positive story, or it can be framed as a negative story, but for all intents and purposes for Canadians and for Americans, it is a great, great thing to do, because you decarbonize the system, you have a low electricity cost, and on top of everything, it's clean and renewable, so why wouldn't you do it?
Dan Seguin 30:51
How about we close off with rapid fire questions? Are you ready?
Anne-Raphaëlle Audouin 30:55
Dan Seguin 30:57
What is your favorite word?
Anne-Raphaëlle Audouin 31:01
Um,you know, I'm a Francophone. But there's a word that I really like in English, not necessarily for its meaning, but for the sound it has on the tongue. It's serendipity. I just find it funny. It rolls well.
Dan Seguin 31:14
What is the one thing you can't live without?
Anne-Raphaëlle Audouin 31:17
Probably in equal measures: my family and coffee. Is that an acceptable answer?
Dan Seguin 31:24
What is something that challenges you?
Anne-Raphaëlle Audouin 31:29
As a mom, with a young family, I'm not a big fan of the terminology, you know, work life balance, but just trying to set some time for what's important, and not being consumed by work or other things. So just knowing your limits, I think is going to be a lifelong exercise for me.
Dan Seguin 31:51
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Anne-Raphaëlle Audouin 31:55
Oh, that's a good one. Probably traveling through time.
Dan Seguin 32:00
Okay. If you could turn back time, and talk to your 18 year old self? What would you tell her?
Anne-Raphaëlle Audouin 32:08
That you're on the right path, you know, continue to travel as much as you can. And, and learn from people who want to mentor you, you know, on your path to whatever you want to achieve. Because you know, people want to help each other. That's what I've learned. They're always happy to share insights. And most the time you just have to ask and people will be there to help you.
Dan Seguin 32:33
And lastly, what do you currently find most interesting in your sector?
Anne-Raphaëlle Audouin 32:40
I think all the excitement around the electrification, the fact that we know this is probably the next Industrial Revolution. It's hard to really tangibly feel what this is going to look like. But it's going to affect everybody in a good way. And there's not going to be one sector that's going to be left to the side because we're all going to need to collaborate. And so just that aspect of working together and being able to find new ways to revolutionize a system that has been implemented for years and years is very exciting.
Dan Seguin 33:13
Last question for you. How can our listeners learn more about your organization? How can they connect?
Anne-Raphaëlle Audouin 33:20
So website is always the first stop: waterpowercanada.ca We're very active on social media too, so they can find us on YouTube. They can find us on Twitter and on LinkedIn. And don't be a stranger because we love hearing from people.
Dan Seguin 33:39
Thank you for joining us today. I truly hope you enjoyed this episode of The ThinkEnergy podcast. For past episodes, make sure you visit our website hydroottawa.com/podcast. Lastly, if you found value in this podcast, be sure to subscribe. Cheers, everyone.