Two trends are gaining momentum and bolstering North America ’s electricity supply. After years of comparative neglect, characterized by eroding reserve margins and “squeaking by, ” it ’s refreshing to observe a resurgence of interest in making solid, long-term investments in electrical production capacity. Electricity is a key part of the vital infrastructure that supports modern life, and the attention now being given to shoring up generation capability is overdue.
However, before embracing the current — and healthier — development philosophy, in many instances utility industry personnel had to get beyond their obsession with installing natural gas-fueled generation. Natural gas has turned out not to be the expected panacea, and the strategic error of over-commitment to natural gas is now apparent to all. Power producers are returning to basics.
One of today ’s major trends is toward bringing on line more-or-less conventional capacity. Many new coal-fueled power plants are in the works — and while not emissions-free, they ’re much cleaner than their predecessors. Also, after a decades-long hiatus, the idea of building nuclear plants — of new and better designs — is again being earnestly considered. Hydropower, too, is seeing lots of activity. In Canada, numerous projects exceeding 100 MW are in development, as are many more projects of smaller capacity. In the U.S., few large projects are being considered; however, many small projects are being pursued, and existing projects are being re-examined for adding capacity through upgrading.
The other major trend is an intensified focus on adding renewable energy. It ’s notable that the wind industry, especially, has reached the stage of rapid growth.
These trends gain force from several factors, including:
— Greater public awareness about energy and energy issues.
— Higher petroleum — and energy — prices, and broader knowledge that much of the oil-based energy we use comes from hostile world regions.
— More frequent electrical grid failures than in the past, occasionally affecting large areas.
While the noted trends relate to generation capabilities, it ’s also widely understood that electrical grids — i.e., transmission and distribution facilities — are overdue for upgrading and reinforcement. T&D deficiencies are certainly a contributor to grid unreliability.
Hydro benefits from both of the trends that are affecting the expansion of generation … for hydro is both conventional and renewable.
Developments now being pursued will add substantially to North America ’s hydroelectric capacity. In Canada, more than 40 hydro projects are under construction and in advanced stages of planning that, over the next several years, promise to add about 6,000 MW of new capacity. In the U.S., at least 36 projects are in the pipeline that hold promise for adding about 5,800 MW of newly constructed and incremental hydro.
On the renewable energy front, hydro is benefiting from incentive programs. In the U.S., a number of states recognize hydro in their renewable portfolio standards or in other programs aimed at encouraging renewable energy. Certainly incentives provided by the U.S. Congress — e.g., production tax credits and clean renewable energy bonds — are most helpful.
Wind energy ’s rapid growth is significant for hydro. That ’s because hydro — by providing essential energy storage and specialized electrical services — is often the best and most economical way to offset the effects of wind ’s intermittency.
Hydro ’s future remains bright — for from era to era, hydropower adapts to be a stalwart provider of energy, power, and valuable electrical services. Also, hydro plants are embracing an ever-higher level of environmental stewardship. Overall, hydro projects perform well for their owners and for the benefit of electricity consumers.
What ’s not to like about that?