A Century of Innovation — Waterpower the Enabler

Written by Paul Norris, in Partnership with MediaPlanet for Innovating Canada.

Ontario is home to more than two hundred waterpower facilities spread across the province, three dozen of which have been providing reliable, affordable electricity for more than 100 years. It is often assumed, therefore, particularly through public policy efforts to spur innovation, that there is nothing new in the world of waterpower. The reality, in fact, is that the industry continues to advance technological, environmental, engineering and, yes, socioeconomic change. One only needs to reflect on the leadership the waterpower sector has demonstrated in the development of partnerships with Indigenous communities in recent years to appreciate the fact that the sector continues to evolve and innovate.

But it is perhaps the enablement of the integration of other renewable energy sources into electricity grids that speaks best to the fundamental role that flexible waterpower increasingly plays in facilitating innovation at a system and global scale. As the addition of intermittent wind and solar resources increases both at the transmission and distribution system levels, the operation of many waterpower facilities has rapidly shifted from following load to responding to both changes in demand and supply. Assets designed to ramp up and down daily may now be called upon to do so multiple times during a twenty-four hour period. Enabling new and innovative generation sources is therefore driving innovation in the waterpower industry. It is a classic example of necessity being the mother of invention. As we accelerate the electrification of the broader economy, waterpower will be a foundational enabler. And this is precisely waterpower’s advantage — with more than a century of continuous improvement, innovation is really nothing new.