Hydro-Québec is venturing into solar energy on a massive scale and testing the benefits of the new technology.
The province’s electric authority began building solar generating stations at La Prairie and Varennes in the spring.
The massive project will allow Hydro-Québec to test whether solar energy is well adapted to the Québec climate and see how it will integrate into the grid already in place.
“We already have enough energy to supply the needs of the public,” said Jonathan Côté, Hydro-Québec spokesperson.
“This could be an alternative in the future.”
The project was started to gain an early foothold in the developing market.
Using the sun’s rays to generate electricity is gaining traction worldwide for small cities and getting more and more competitive in terms of price, Côté said.
“If we ever see the need to find ways for new energy in five to 15 years, maybe the solution is going to be solar,” Côté said.
The two generating stations are still in their early stages.
Once complete, the combined stations will be able to generate close to 10 megawatts (MW) of energy, enough to supply about 1,000 homes, according to Côté.
The La Prairie station, the larger of the two, spans 28 football fields. It will have some 26,000 solar panels in place.
The total price tag of the project is estimated to be $40 million, according to project manager, Josée Pilon.
Part of the testing will include different technologies, such as panels that follow the sun compared to stationary models.
The tests will also examine how the technology holds up in Quebec’s harsh climate.
Pilon says the footprint and size of the project will also be something Hydro will look closely at when it comes to efficiency.
“In the future, we’ll have to decide if we are going to go with bigger or smaller installations. That is what we are hoping to find out with this project,” Pilon said.
Quebec companies will be playing a key role in the project.
The contractor selected to build the generating stations is Borea Construction, a subsidiary of Pomerleau.
In addition, the Quebec company Stace, of Trois-Rivières, will supply close to 4,000 solar panels for the generating station in La Prairie.
The project had a delayed start in late spring, yet Hydro-Québec hopes to have the project completed and running by the end of the year.
Officials say the solar project is expected to operate for the next 30 years.