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Can Quebec really electrify its entire economy? MEI says probably not

May 13, 2020 | By Anthony Capkun

May 13, 2020 – For several years, according to the Montreal Economic Institute, there has been talk of electrifying the entire Quebec economy, and while “Quebecers sometimes seem to believe that electricity is king in Quebec,” said Jean Michaud, “the numbers clearly indicate the opposite”.

Michaud is an engineer and the co-author (along with Germain Belzile) of a new MEI research paper “Energy in Quebec: What role for natural gas in the context of electrification?”, which shows fossil fuels currently account for the majority (56%) of Quebec’s energy consumption, while electricity represents 36%.

The paper presents the province’s energy profile, quantifies its hydroelectric potential, and advocates natural gas as a realistic solution for meeting Quebec’s energy needs.

According to the paper, Hydro-Québec’s production capacity—in principle—is sufficient for the electrification of transportation in periods of low energy demand, “but it would be unthinkable during peak periods”.

“Quebec is particular in that it uses electricity rather than natural gas for heating. The mathematical reality is that much too high a percentage of Hydro-Québec’s capacity is already in use during peak periods for people to be able to charge their cars at the same time,” said Michaud.

According to the authors, the 5.4 million electric personal vehicles that would hypothetically be circulating on Quebec roads would require around 37,350 MW just to recharge each day, which is almost as much as the province’s peak demand in winter.

“Alternatives like solar or geothermal power are often proposed. As things currently stand, however, these energy sources are not efficient, reliable, or affordable enough,” added co-author Belzile.

“Quebec’s recoverable natural gas reserves would be able to meet our needs for at least the next 40 years, and we would only need a limited number of new gas pipelines. The current price of natural gas makes the development of this resource unattractive for companies, yet this remains an entirely realistic and desirable alternative for the future,” Belzile concluded.

Visit the Montreal Economic Institute for more facts and figures, and where you can also download a copy (PDF) of the report “Energy in Quebec: What role for natural gas in the context of electrification?”.

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