Does the proliferation of hydroelectric dams encourage the rampant consumption of electricity?

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As for roads, science teaches that the multiplication of roads encourages the use of the automobile. Does the proliferation of hydroelectric dams also encourage rampant electricity consumption?

Camille Péloquin wonders if, in 2023, Quebec shouldn’t focus on reducing demand instead of increasing supply. “If we can burn energy or drive a car without restrictions”, he emphasizes, “are we thinking less about our consumption? »

The question it raises is current, since Hydro-Québec announced, last week, an action plan that foresees major investments to increase its production and build, among other things, new dams.

For Pierre-Olivier Pineau, holder of the Energy Sector Management Chair at HEC Montreal, the premise deserves more nuance. Motorways do not encourage car use: it is rather their freedom that makes them popular.

“For users,” he wrote duty, toll freeways appear to be free, and this encourages their use. If they were to be charged, this would slow the growth of usage. »

The same goes for hydroelectric plants and electricity consumption. This depends more on a “combination of favorable prices and regulation of buildings and equipment that does not always drive maximum energy efficiency”, emphasizes Pierre-Olivier Pineau.

Discounted electricity, sold at a price lower than its production cost, prevents consumers from seeing the actual bill for their consumption. A kilowatt hour that costs 8 cents when the price of building the dam should set its price at 10¢/kWh or more, the professor explains, feeds the “tendency to consume more.”

To reduce electricity consumption or car use, it is better to “reflect the cost of infrastructure in tariffs” to “send a clearer signal to consumers”, rather than reducing, or stalling, power cuts capacity or traffic routes.

Especially since the new dams will be necessary to serve the decarbonization of Quebec, adds Normand Mousseau, scientific director of the Trottier Energy Institute of Polytechnique Montréal.

“We are building these dams based on the expected demand, so as not to allow greater consumption now,” he underlines. This electricity will help reduce our dependence on oil and gas, which account for half of the energy consumed in Quebec. »

In a Quebec climate, reducing consumption is also often quite expensive. “If I install a heat pump in my house, I use electricity better. If I insulate the house better, I consume less, but it is not a panacea, he concludes, as it is very expensive. »

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