Report: Natural Gas Is Essential for Electrification in Québec
According to a new report by the Montreal Economic Institute (MEI), natural gas will drive Québec’s transition to electrification. Electrification is defined in many ways, but at its base electrification describes the adoption of electric end-use technologies. In the United States, many believe that electrification should be driven only by renewable energy such as solar and wind power. Québec has a contrary view.
Meeting Québec’s Energy Demand
Hydro-Québec, Québec’s public renewable energy company, faces several challenges in meeting the province’s energy demand. When it comes to transportation, MEI’s report found that if all vehicles currently being driven in the province became electric, the existing hydroelectric output would not meet demand.
“Quebec would need nearly 14 additional TWh per year to recharge personal vehicles if they were all electric, plus almost the same amount to electrify all trucks—supposing that this is technically feasible—for a total of 28 additional TWh.”
Seasonal changes also create an influx of demand throughout the year. During peak winter months, electric vehicle batteries require more charging time due to low temperatures and energy consumption nearly triples in order to heat buildings and homes, making Québec an exception.
“We know that the maximum peak demand is around three times the minimum demand; in 2018, the former, reached on January 6, was 36,144 MWh, versus a trough of 12,447 MWh on June 24.”
The influx of Québec’s energy demand from summer to winter does not translate to other regions in North America. A majority of North Americans heat their homes with natural gas, but in Québec, 85 percent of people heat their homes with electricity. This creates a drastic influx of demand between the province and other areas of the continent which usually experience peak energy demand during the summer months due to air conditioning.
Hydro-Québec’s unmet energy demand during peak winter months provides a unique opportunity for traditional energy sources like natural gas to fulfill the province’s high demand.
Québec Has Natural Gas Reserves That Could Last Decades
According to the report, Québec has billions of proved natural gas reserves in the St. Lawrence Valley region. Currently, Quebec’s recoverable reserves of natural gas are estimated to be between 250 billion m3 and 1,150 billion m3. This volume is enough to supply the province with enough electricity for roughly 40 years.
Nonetheless, Québec already boasts a strong infrastructure that can support transporting domestic natural gas. Southern Québec has a network of seven different pipelines, requiring little-to-no new pipeline construction.
Natural Gas is the Best Solution for Electrification Challenges
Already, Hydro-Québec has the capacity to utilize natural gas to produce electricity during peak winter months:
“The most realistic way to achieve the goal of reducing electricity demand in winter would be to promote gas heating for homes and other buildings, at least through the use of dual energy heating. In Quebec, the ideal would be to use an electric heat pump above a critical temperature threshold, and gas heating below that threshold.”
If Québec developed local sources of natural gas, the province would continue reducing GHG emissions. Currently Québec imports around $13.8 billion of fossil fuels per year, according to data from 2018. More than $1 billion of imported fossil fuels came from natural gas – at approximately six billion cubic meters (m3).
Canada has some of the strongest regulations on GHG emissions in North America, especially when it comes to fugitive methane emissions. With that said, increasing natural gas development in Canada would help drive down net global GHG emissions and reduce emissions from transporting fuel internationally.
The report also challenges the notion that Québec must achieve GHG reductions by abandoning the use and development of natural gas—pointing out that addressing issues of climate change are global, not local.
“Quebec’s stubbornness in refusing to develop its own natural gas resources is hypocritical: By importing its natural gas—from the United States and Western Canada—Quebec “hides” the emissions that result from its consumption, for which it is ultimately responsible.”
For Québec to successfully transition into a fully electric economy, the province must consider alternative sources of reliable energy to fill in the gaps between Hydro-Québec’s hydro-electric energy production and consumer demand.
Considering Québec’s current energy profile, the growing demand for electricity due to widespread electrification, the vast reserves of natural gas, and the overall goal of reducing global GHG emissions – domestic natural gas production is the best solution to aid the province in a decades-long journey of electrification.