Perspectives: Hydro: A Powerful North American Answer

It has been a little over a year since I became the president of the Canadian Hydropower Association and I can hardly think of a better time to have joined the movement. Bolstered by past accomplishments, recent advances, and a promising future, there is reason for optimism in our industry. There also remain problems to solve, improvements to make, and challenges to overcome. This makes for interesting times and those of us in the hydropower industry are fortunate to be living in them.

Hydropower is a reliable technology with over 120 years of history in Canada and the United States. It is clean and renewable and can bring unparalleled operational flexibility and security to any electricity grid. We have the technical potential to more than double our installed capacity on the continent. More people need to know these facts and help communicate them.

I have been fortunate to travel North America this past year to talk and learn about hydropower. Along the way, the Canadian Hydropower Association, the U.S. National Hydropower Association, and the International Hydropower Association have shared podiums and worked together. I was privileged this past September for example, to present our consolidated message to an international audience at the World Energy Congress in Montreal. Together, we have worked with industry, governments, and environmental groups to build greater awareness of hydropower while creating new ambassadors for our industry. I’m excited to continue this approach in 2011.

Through increased outreach and collaboration, I saw how unleashing hydropower potential across North America can stimulate growth and create jobs during these tough economic times. I was also reminded that we have a powerful solution to climate change at our fingertips that can help spur the development of cleaner electric vehicles.

Many people seem to think of climate change as a relatively new issue that must therefore, require new technology. While new technologies can assist, I contend climate change is actually a well-established problem that is best fought with an equally well-established technology: hydropower. We already have a powerful North American answer to the international challenges of global warming and air pollution, we just need to rediscover and deploy it.

We need to do everything possible to ensure electric vehicles are increasingly adopted by more people. Powering vehicles with hydrocarbons represents a negative downward spiral when it comes to air emissions. You create emissions in producing a fuel that ultimately produces more emissions when it is combusted. Hydropower-backed electric vehicles represent a positive upward spiral. Near zero emissions are created in generating the power for the vehicle and zero emissions are produced when the power is consumed by the vehicle.

Electric vehicles create new research and development opportunities along with new domestic economic opportunities and jobs. In our own lifetime, cell phones went from non-existent to ubiquitous and from the size of a brick to the size of a business card. What if electric vehicles followed a similar path?

It’s clear to me economic growth and jobs can be achieved in Canada and the United States by realizing our hydropower potential. It’s clear to me North America can fight climate change through hydropower. It’s clear to me hydropower-fueled electric vehicles will join our industry in doing both. Let’s continue working together to make sure it is increasingly clear to others.

Guest Editorial
by Jacob Irving

Jacob Irving is president of the Canadian Hydropower Association based in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada (

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