Types of hydroelectric power: How do the dam things work?

Hydroelectricity, or ‘hydro’, is generated from the energy in the water cycle of the earth. The sun evaporates water on the surface of the earth, causing it to rise up to form clouds. Clouds eventually form droplets, which then rain, snow, or hail down to the surface. Water on the surface flows downhill until it evaporates again. During this time it may become trapped in glaciers, lakes, ponds, puddles, or the ocean. Driven by the sun, the water cycle is a truly renewable resource.

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Reservoir hydro resources on the Canadian prairies

We have been captivated for a long time by the intriguing possibilities inherent in combining Manitoba’s extensive hydro resources with Saskatchewan’s high-quality wind power. A number of other groups in Saskatchewan have been lobbying for greater interconnection between the two power grids to take advantage of the natural synergy that exists between wind power and reservoir-based hydro power.

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Feed-In Tariff: Government Encouraging The Market

The feed-in tariff is a well known policy mechanism in the area of electricity generation. It has been applied in many countries with the intent of encouraging the development of renewable power generation. Such a policy typically involves guaranteeing to desired types of generation both subsidized long term prices for electricity and guaranteed grid access. This policy has been well utilized notably in Germany and Spain, where residents have seen very stable electricity prices coupled with tremendous growth of the renewable energy sector of their economies.

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Leverage hydro to use wind

When wind isn’t blowing hard, use a dispatchable source such as hydro to produce power. Let’s assume that we have 150 MW of hydro on hand to cover the Centennial Wind Farm when the wind isn’t blowing. If we look at entire year of production, we can expect that about 42.4% of all energy will have come from the wind, and that the remaining 57.6% of the energy would have come from the hydro. What is necessary for a system like this to work is to have enough water behind the hydro dam that it can cover a fairly long spell of low winds. This could be as long as several days. If our hydro reservoir is big enough to cover that time, we should be able to cover the intermittent nature of the wind for the whole year. If it isn’t big enough, we will have to get our power from elsewhere. Perhaps importing it from neighboring grids or by using another source such as natural gas.

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Reliable power rather than baseload

What people really want is reliable power. We don’t want to end up freezing in the dark. Electricity is important enough to our society that our energy security is of great importance to us. This is a fundamental issue that all technically advanced nations have to face.
It would be a mistake to equate baseload with reliable. Baseload power sources still have to turn off sometimes. In some cases, the downtimes for the big thermal plants such as nuclear and coal can be several percent of their lifetimes. If our power grid were based off of only baseload sources of this type we might see rolling blackouts now and then unless we built extra power plants to cover the downtime.

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Incentives to build renewable in Saskatchewan

We proposed a feed-in tariff for renewable energy resources such as wind, solar, and hydro power. What this means is basically that people or companies who produced power from these sources would be paid more for their electricity than non-renewable providers. See our proposal for more details about the practicality and effectiveness of a feed-in tariff as well as more detail on tailoring the solution for Saskatchewan. The intent of this policy mechanism is to stimulate an increase in private investment into these technologies.

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Feed-In Tariff Proposal for Saskatchewan

A Feed-in-Tariff is a policy mechanism designed to provide an incentive for development of a desired type. Typical implementations of feed-in-tariffs for power generation usually involve guaranteed long term prices for electricity generated and guaranteed grid access. This means that if a person or company builds this type of desired generation, they are guaranteed to be able to sell their power, and guaranteed a minimum price for their power.

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