WhatWhat is Waterpower?

Water is present on earth as ice, fresh water, saline water and atmospheric water. Water is continually moving including from river to ocean, and from the ocean to the atmosphere, by the physical processes of evaporation, condensation, precipitation, infiltration, surface runoff, and subsurface flow (also known as the “water cycle” or the “hydrologic cycle”).

“Waterpower” (or “hydropower”) converts kinetic energy in falling or flowing water, into mechanical energy, and then into electrical energy (or “hydroelectricity”).

1. Falling or flowing water that has “kinetic energy” moves through a “penstock” (pipes and channels) into a “turbine”.

2. The kinetic energy in the moving water forces the blades of the turbine to turn, converting the kinetic energy into “mechanical energy”.

3. This “mechanical energy” drives a “generator” in which “electro-magnets” interact with “coils” to create “electrical energy”.

4. The generated electricity can be sent short or long distances along the distribution or transmission grid to where it is needed.

A truly sustainable energy resource

While there are a number of ways to generate power from moving water, in all cases the energy is “renewable” (“derived from a natural process that is replenished at a rate that is equal to or faster than the rate at which they are consumed”). As water is not consumed, depleted or wasted in the process, and as the greenhouse gas emissions from water power are minimal over a facility’s lifetime, waterpower is an extremely sustainable energy resource.

The large majority of hydropower generated in Canada comes from run-of-river or reservoir generating stations.

In Canada, much of our hydroelectricity is produced when water is stored in a reservoir behind a dam. The “potential energy” of this water is converted to kinetic energy when it flows upon release from the reservoir into the penstock. “Pumped storage” is another type of hydropower which also stores water in a reservoir. At pumped storage facilities, water is pumped up to an elevated reservoir for storage. When electricity generation is required, the water is released into the penstock.

“Run-of-river” hydropower is also common where water from a river simply flows directly into the penstock. “Hydrokinetic” is a less common approach in which a turbine is placed in a river bed or tidal area to directly capture the energy in the water flow.

WhyWhy waterpower?

As the only clean, renewable and abundant source of baseload dispatchable electricity, waterpower truly is Canada’s natural advantage

Waterpower has been around in Canada for almost as long as Canada itself

One of the oldest hydroelectric generating stations was commissioned in Canada in 1891. Chaudière Falls located in the heart of Ottawa, ON, still provides clean and renewable electricity to the nation’s capital today!

As some hydropower facilities in Canada have been around for more than 100 years, and as their lifetime can be extended indefinitely, waterpower will be as much a part of Canada’s future as it has been of its past.

© Photo Hydro-Québec

Waterpower is Canada’s most abundant source of clean electricity

While fossil fuels were the energy source that dominated the 20th Century, clean electricity will be the energy source that powers the 21st century. Waterpower is Canada’s most abundant source of clean and renewable electricity. It provides more than 60% of Canada’s total electricity today, with an installed capacity soon exceeding 85,000 MW. This makes Canada the fourth largest generator of hydroelectricity in the world. Refurbishment of existing facilities in the years ahead will deliver a significant increase in generating capacity. Canada is also blessed with abundant untapped waterpower resources across the country representing a further doubling of existing production.

Waterpower is Canada’s natural asset in reaching our decarbonisation objectives

To reduce Canada’s emissions of greenhouse gases that cause climate change, we must gradually reduce the amount of fossil fuels that we use, while gradually increasing the amount of electricity from non-emitting and renewable energy resources that we consume. Displacing fossil fuels with electricity in this way is called “clean electrification”. Hydroelectricity produces no air pollutants and has ultra-low greenhouse gas emissions. From a full life cycle assessment basis, Canada’s hydropower is amongst the lowest emitting resources available.

Canada, already a leader in hydropower generation, has the potential to more than double its current capacity to help meet growing North American energy demand while supporting clean energy objectives. If only half of Canada’s total undeveloped potential was built and dedicated to powering plug-in electric vehicles, Canada could power its entire current light-duty vehicle fleet plus a full quarter of the current U.S. fleet with clean, renewable, secure hydropower.

© Brookfield Renewable, Lois Lake Generating Station, BC

© Photo Hydro-Québec

Waterpower is the backbone of Canada’s reliable, flexible & resilient non-emitting electricity system

As the only renewable form of baseload electricity, hydropower is essential to leading the transition away from fossil fuels while maximizing environmental benefits. Building on its cornerstone role in the electricity system, hydropower can provide abundant low carbon energy, an array of critical grid services, and storage from reservoirs and pumped storage. No other resource can offer this range of contributions.

Grid operators need to match demand and supply every second of the day, balancing endless variability in generation and consumption patterns shaped by the behaviours of millions of people, weather conditions, economic activity, generation and transmission unavailability and other factors. These critical services are needed over various time frames: voltage control at all times, frequency response in very small intervals from seconds to minutes, and various flexibility resources to respond at varying speeds, from minutes to hours. In addition to the above services, a modern electricity grid must also factor in three other fundamental services or capabilities: fuel assurance, storage and low carbon energy.

Waterpower is a remarkable source of electricity as it meets all of those grid requirements and more. The resilience and flexibility it brings to the system, enables variable renewables such as wind and solar onto the grid. A real virtuous circle.

Waterpower is a large contributor to the Canadian economy

Investment in our industry means a greener economy, one that already contributes more than $35 billion to our GDP (2013) and supports upwards of 130,000 jobs across the country, directly and indirectly. Canadian hydropower is cost-competitive, which helps keep rates low for customers. Provinces with the highest hydropower installed capacity tend to observe the lowest electricity cost. Drawing on hydro storage capacity, operators can increase or decrease production more rapidly from hydropower than from any other electricity source. This flexibility can help facilitate additional wind and solar power projects, creating new, green, jobs. The large majority of hydropower projects are - and have been - completed on time and on budget. Waterpower projects can be large infrastructure undertakings. As such, their up-front capital cost tends to be high. That being said, once built, hydropower assets last 100+ years and more. They span many generations and are therefore one of the most cost-effective solutions.

In addition to supplying our needs in Canada, our country is a net exporter of electricity to the U.S. About 80% of those exports are made of clean and renewable hydropower. Canadian waterpower is a vital source of electricity in regions such as New York, New England, the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest. Communities serviced and supported by hydropower can attract industries precisely because of its unique operational and environmental attributes.

Canadian waterpower truly is North America’s big blue battery.

Did you knowFacts & Figures

Learn more about our technology thanks to a few simple facts and infographics!


  1. 0 air pollutants in operation, ultra low life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions.
  2. The ONLY abundant form of renewable, flexible baseload electricity generation with long-duration energy storage.
  3. 100+ years of facility life.
  4. Converts over 90% of available renewable energy from water into electricity. Hydropower is the most efficient source of electrical energy. By comparison, the best fossil fuel power plants operate at approximately 60% efficiency.


Nearly 16 million Canadians live in provinces where 90 per cent or more of supply comes from hydropower.

The cost advantage

Canadians who have the greatest access to hydropower also tend to pay the least for their electricity.

60% Of Canada’s Electricity Generation

Canada’s #1 electricity source producing 385 TWh/year, 60+% of Canada’s total electricity generation.

Fourth Largest
Waterpower Producer

Canada is the fourth largest hydro producer in the world

Canada’s Green Battery

155,000 MW of technical undeveloped waterpower potential in Canada

No Air Pollutants

Canada’s waterpower-dominant electricity grid is the cleanest of all G20 nations

82,307 Megawatts of Installed Capacity

550+ facilities representing 82,000+ MW of installed capacity

48,790 Jobs

48,000+ jobs supported by the sector