Author: Siobhan McClelland, Canadian Geographic
Publish Date: Oct 9, 2013 Last Update: Sep 21, 2018
Hydro plants are often on lakes or reservoirs, where they harness moving water to create energy.
Dams hold back the flow of water, and as the water is released, it falls and strikes the blades of a turbine attached to a generator to create electricity. Once the water has gone through the turbine, it returns to the body of water through pipes.
In normal precipitation years, approximately 75% of NWT’s electricity comes from hydroelectricity and in drier years, the territory relies on diesel generation to make up for the shortfall in precipitation. Newfoundland and Labrador generates 95% of its electricity from hydro sources.
All the hydroelectric stations in Canada generated 378.8 terawatt hours in 2014.
In some places, dams and falling water aren’t used to generate electricity. Instead, fast-moving rivers are diverted through a turbine in the river or off to the side.
Hydroelectric stations have been developed in Canada where the geography and hydrography were favourable, particularly in Quebec. Other areas producing large quantities of hydroelectricity include British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Manitoba, and Ontario.
Hydro can help lower overall greenhouse gas emissions as it replaces the use of fossil fuels. However, there are some emissions associated with decomposing plant material in flooded areas. To reduce these effects, vegetation is sometimes removed before an area is flooded with water.
Flooding and damming bodies of water can also disrupt nearby communities and impact ecosystems. Hydro operators monitor the ecosystems in the area and have procedures in place to reduce environmental impacts, such as setting up fish ladders or other ways to allow fish to pass over a dam.
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