Run of River Power

Smaller than large hydroelectric dams and less environmentally damaging, Run of River Hydropower is in the midst of a building boom in B.C.

Run of River Power

By the Numbers


Potential sites for run of river plants identified in Canada

$150 million

Contribution of run of river industry to Canada's GDP in 2008

4 to 10 cents per kWh

Cost of run of river power in B.C., compared to 3 cents for large hydropower


Efficiency of run of river plants, less than 85-9% for large hydropower facilities

Last Updated: February 2017

Charlotte Helston and Andrew Farris

With the general success of large hydropower as the world's leading source of renewable energy, it is only reasonable that countries consider small hydro, that is run-of-river, development as well. This is particularly relevant for Canada, a country that has tapped its abundant hydropower resources for more than a century. All of Canada's major hydropower developments are large, and though they already contribute 60% of Canada's electricity (and about 90% of B.C.'s) there remains a growing need for more energy. Large hydro dams are costly to build, and new facilities require extensive timelines for consultation, planning, environmental assessments and construction. In addition, most of the more favourable hydropower sites in Canada have been developed. These factors have propelled small hydro into the energy scene. An old technology with many recent innovations, small hydro is appealing for its reduced environmental impacts, potentially cheaper development, and plentiful prospective sites.

Public discourse about small hydro often mistakes the reduction of environmental and social impacts for elimination of them. It is important to understand that small hydro inflicts a smaller impact on aquatic ecosystems and local communities, but like all forms of energy cannot completely prevent stresses on plant, animal, and human well-being. Additionally, the negative, cumulative effects of run of river systems operating along the same river network may present further problems, and research in this area is severely lacking.

Although not yet cost comparable to large hydro, small hydro is still capable of yielding lower costs per kWh than some other sources, such as diesel-electric. In Canada, small hydro has found a niche inreplacing polluting diesel generators in remote, often First Nations, communities. This development must be undertaken with care, however, as the risk of affecting river ecosystems directly connects to the stability of traditional lifestyles. The linkage between social and environmental concerns is closely bonded in these places.

Long and often confusing permitting processes have slowed the progress of small hydro in Canada, alongside hesitancy created by unaddressed social and environmental concerns. Small hydro is likely to gain a stronger presence in coming years if research and development (R&D) becomes more of a priority. Developments must be made in the technology's overall efficiency, as well as in its environmental status, in order for expansion to truly take hold.

How Run of River Works

  • Run of River power plants do not have large reservoirs to store water.
  • Because they can't store water they usually generate much less power than hydroelectric dams.

In run of river systems, running water is diverted from a flowing river and guided down a channel, or penstock, which leads to a generating house. There the force of the moving water spins a turbine and drives a generator. The water is fed back into the main river further downstream. The difference between run-of-river and large hydropower is that run of river systems do not dam the river to create a water reservoir. Most run of river facilities do use a small dam, or weir, to ensure enough water enters the penstock and have a small reservoir called pondage to store small amounts of water for same-day use. However they cannot store large amounts of water for future use.

The absence of a major reservoir has two main implications. The first is that if or when the river’s water levels are depleted because of drought or water extraction, the ‘fuel’ for the run of river system is reduced or becomes entirely unavailable. Without a dam for storing water, there is no stored power. This means the capacity factor of run of river projects varies between 40% and 80%. By comparison most of B.C.’s large hydroelectric dams with big reservoirs have capacity factors closer to 85-90%. The lack of a reservoir also puts an upper limit on the size of the run of river plant so that they are only really feasible on rivers with large year-round flow-rates.

The second implication is that the lack of a major reservoir reduces the environmental footprint of run of river plants. In large hydro projects the creation of a reservoir inundates once dry land, affecting local communities as well as plant and animal life. Fish, such as salmon, can be traumatized and have their migration routes blocked while the standing water in a reservoir can hurt overall water quality. With run of river systems these impacts are not wholly avoided, but they are minimized to what is often considered a tolerable degree.

In Canada, run of river plants are classified by their generating capacity. Micro hydro plants have a capacity of less than 100 kW, mini hydro between 100 kW and 1 MW, and small hydro between 2 and 50 MW. Those larger than 50 MW are simply called run-of-river hydroelectric. Most run of river projects are small, and the great bulk of British Columbia’s facilities are smaller than 20 MW. There are also some impressively large projects too, like the Forrest Kerr run-of-river on the Iskut River in northern B.C. Completed in 2014 it has a capacity of 195 MW. By comparison there are nine large hydropower dams in British Columbia with over 500 MW of capacity.

A diagram showing how many run-of-river generators function.
Charlotte Helston, EnergyBC
  1. Natural Resources Canada, 2008.
  2. Natural Resources Canada, 2008.
  3., "Forrest Kerr Hydroelectric Project."
  4. EnergyBC, "Electricity Generating Stations in B.C.

Geography of Run of River

  • The best sites for run of river projects are where there is strong year-round water flow and a large gravitational drop, or hydrostatic head.
  • The power output of every run of river station is unique.
A 1 MW run of river generator.
Renewables Now

For a run-of-river system to operate, two geographical features are required. One is a substantial flow of water, originating either from rainfall or snowpack melting. The other is sufficient hydrostatic head to enhance the water’s energy. A greater drop in elevation means more gravitational force acts upon the water, increasing its kinetic energy. It is important that the river have large and constant year-round flow as well.

Run of River systems can be installed at existing dams, as independent generating facilities, or in private systems that power small communities. Sometimes, plants are constructed in conjunction with river and lake water-level control and irrigation systems.

The unique set of geographical factors associated with run of river plants means that power output is never identical across sites and the suitability must be measured using this calculation from the BC Sustainable Energy Association (BCSEA):

P = Q • H x 7.83

Where P is the power produced (in kW)

Q is the water flow in cubic meters/second

H is the hydrostatic head of the water in meters

Thorough fieldwork is required to accurately all the values in the above equation for a given site. Daily and seasonal fluctuations in flow mean that observations must be carried out over time to determine river flow averages. When the plant is not hooked up to a grid but used to power a small remote community, than the minimum year-round flow-rate must exceed the power requirements of the community or else they will have to rely on a source of back-up power like diesel generators.

Nevertheless the necessary conditions of a constantly flowing river and an elevation drop exist in many places around the world.

The steep drop of the penstock at an Australian run of river plant.
Hydro Australia

Economics of Run of River

  • Generally run of river power is marginally more expensive than power from hydroelectric dams, but in remote areas it can be cheaper.

Like all renewable energy technologies the vast majority of the costs of a run-of-river plant come at the outset during the building phase. On average 35% of the total eventual price tag is from building the facility, and another third goes to building the transmission and distribution wires to hook the often remote plants up to the grid The size of that slice of the pie can be substantially reduced if the plant is near a remote community it is meant to power and the cables only need to travel a short distance.

A major factor in the cost is the turbine, which usually ranges from 20 to 50% of the total cost of the project. Turbines, as well as most the other equipment, have life spans of at least 25 years and can be refurbished..

Once the plant is built the water ‘fuel’ is free. The facility requires minimal maintenance, and major components often don’t need to be replaced for decades. Most of the maintenance costs go into trimming the trees along the power corridors. The intermittent nature of run of river does hurt the economic case as it means backup power sometimes needs to be kept available, especially in the late summer after snow packs have melted. This can be avoided by ensuring rivers always have a minimum flow that matches power needs, especially for off-grid remote communities.

When compared with large hydropower plants, with their dams and reservoirs, the cost of run of river plants is small. But because they generate so much less power run of river winds up being more expensive. The average cost in 2008 was $2,000 to $5,000 per installed kW, meaning the electricity costs $0.04 to $0.10 per kilowatt hour. Rural regions typically require greater investments of around $6000 per kWh of capacity, or $0.12 per kWh. Compare this with $0.02-$0.03 per kWh for electricity generated from British Columbia's huge hydroelectric dams. A report by Natural Resources Canada said electricity from run of river projects could be kept to $0.07 per kWh. This is still quite cheap when you consider most residents of Oregon pay $0.09 per kWh and those in California pay $0.15 per kWh and most of their electricity comes from fossil fuels.

Another economic consideration is the impact of climate change. Even though run of river plants contribute little to climate change they will not be immune from it. Climate change is leading to longer and more severe droughts in British Columbia, the most recent example being the extreme dry conditions of 2015. Thomas Pederson, director of the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions described 2015 as "the new normal". This means that run of river projects will increasingly be starved of their water fuel in the late summer and early autumn months. Increasingly drastic droughts may render minimum flow calculations irrelevant as rivers continue to dry up and run of river plants are only able to operate at a fraction their capacity. In extreme—yet conceivable—cases they may be left high and dry altogether. If for no other reason, economic logic dictates climate change must be factored into any run of river project proposals.

  1. Modal & others, 2014.
  2. Canmet & Natural Resources Canada, 2009.
  3. Natural Resources Canada, 2010.
  4. U.S. EIA, 2011.
  5. CBC News, 2015.

Environmental Issues

  • Because they don't have a reservoir, run of river plants cause much less ecosystem disruption than hydroelectric dams.
  • Studies tend to show that run of river generators do hurt fish populations in the rivers where they're situated.
Ambro Creek, a creek typical of the kind run-of-river faciltiies are built.
Carboni, 2006.

Run of River facilities are often touted as being environmentally friendly: unlike large hydroelectric dams they do not require dams that flood large areas of land and dramatically transform river ecosystems, and unlike fossil fuel plants they do not emit greenhouse gases. Yet a growing body of academic literature shows that run of river plants do indeed have a major negative impact on river ecosystems. They often cause drops in water flow and changes in water temperature which in turn drive declines in fish populations. Access roads and transmission lines cause habitat fragmentation and destruction, and increase sedimentation in the river. These all negatively impact the land and river ecosystem.

These are serious issues that must be addressed. A 2013 study by the Pacific Salmon Foundation found that practically all the run of river projects they looked at in British Columbia were on stretches of river where salmon were present. Almost all of them had the potential to negatively impact those salmon populations. British Columbia's salmon populations are already under incredible stress. The 2016 salmon run collapsed to its lowest level in recorded history leading to the emergency closure of the entire Fraser River salmon fishery. The chief culprit was increased Pacific Ocean temperatures, brought about by climate change. While not caused by run of river projects, the incredible urgency for protecting one of the Pacific Northwest's iconic species means run of river plants cannot be given a free pass.

It must be said that river ecosystems are incredibly fragile and dependent on a complex web of relationships connecting the species that live in and around the river. Even minor changes in water flow, turbidity, sedimentation and temperature can have an enormous impact upon life in the river. Unfortunately, it is challenging to develop run of river projects that don't fiddle with all these finely-tuned ecosystem knobs. Run of river schemes work by diverting some of the water from a river down a tunnel, or penstock. At a later point downriver the water is returned to the river. That stretch of river in between suffers from water depletion. A 2014 study in Water and Environment Journal examined 10 case studies of different run of river projects that spanned a range of sizes and types. It concluded that in every case there were declines in fish populations in the the water depleted areas that ranged in severity from minor to catastrophic. The small dams, or weirs, that run of river schemes rely on were frequently found to be a barrier to salmon and trout migration, who often could not reach their spawning grounds. The weirs were shown to affect the ecosystem up to several kilometres upstream and downstream. Furthermore many run of river plants do not have sufficient screening to prevent fish traveling downstream from entering the penstock and getting sucked into the turbines.

There are techniques that can mitigate some of these problems. There are many types of fish passes or ladders that can be built to help them get past the weirs and to their spawning grounds, though the authors of the 2014 study note there has been precious little research into their effectiveness. Better screens on the penstocks are proven to work well in preventing fish from swimming into the turbines. The main takeaway is that the effect of run of river facilities on fish has the potential to be enormous and much more research remains to be done before we can accurately gauge their full impact.

A fish ladder at a run of river plant.

The impacts of run of river projects on land can be significant too. Construction of roads and transmission corridors can lead to increased erosion into the river, increasing sedimentation and altering the river's fragile ecosystem. The roads themselves can fragment and split animal habitats. Bears in particular are known to avoid roads, so construction of a network of roads near a river may limit their access to the river and the fish within that constitute an important part of their diet. Many of these projects take place on logged land and instead of creating new roads, rehabilitate old logging roads, minimizing the additional damage. A UBC grad paper noted only 3% of the roads used for a large complex of run of river generators were new. The remainder were all rehabilitated logging roads.

While there are good reasons to argue the environmental impact of run of river plants is small compared to many alternatives, it is important to note that the impacts of these facilities stack up. In cases where a complex of run of river generators is built in a single area, the impact grows. Plutonic Power Corporation's rejected Bute Inlet proposal "included 17 river diversions, resulting in over 60 km of diverted water. This would require the construction of 476 km of transmission line, 250 km of permanent roads and over 150 bridges."

  1. Pynn, 2013.
  2. St. Denis, 2016.
  3. Anderson, 2014.
  4. Anderson, 2014.
  5. Modal & others, 2014.
  6. Shives, 2015.
  7. Modal & others, 2014.

Around the World

  • Run of river is increasingly popular in mountainous regions and in the developing world.

Typically countries that have many large hydroelectric power projects are also leaders in small run of river hydropower projects. China, Brazil and Canada, the top three in large hydropower generating capacity, are also leaders in run-of-river power: More than half of the world's run of river capacity is in China. Mountainous countries with enormous hydropower resources are investing in run-of-river power to top up their power generation portfolios too, Nepal, Norway, Switzerland and Austria being notable examples.

As run of river is an emerging source of electricity many countries are concentrating efforts on research and development to make the technology more cost-effective. The field offering the most promising avenues for improved efficiencies are the turbines, which are the most expensive components of the system. Different models are being developed for different types of sites, efficiencies are going up and costs reduced as the technology becomes more widespread. Environmental damage is being minimized too, a barrier to expansion in many developed countries. Since run of river is limited by a river’s minimum flow-rate by its very nature, it will never come to dominate any country’s power generation mix. But as these developments continue run of river is expected to become more common in Canada and the rest of the world.

  1. World Energy Council, 2013.

Run of River in Canada

  • There are some enormous run of river complexes in Manitoba and Quebec.
  • There are 5,500 potential sites for run of river generators in Canada.

Many parts of Canada are fortunate to possess ideal conditions for hydropower stations. The Pacific coast of Canada receives rainfall in excess of 2,000 mm per year, ranking alongside such soaked places as the Himalayas, Indonesia, and the upper Amazon. The glacier-topped Cascade and Rocky Mountains provide many excellent hydropower locations, both large and small.

While most people know of Canada’s century-long love affair with large reservoir hydropower, run of river power has been around just as long. Many of the huge generating stations built over the past century have actually been run of river. Hydro Quebec classifies a surprising 13,000 MW of its hydro generating capacity as run of river, while the largest power plant in Manitoba is the 1,340 MW Limestone Run-of-River Generating Station.

Yet the trend in recent years has been towards much smaller generating stations: small, mini or micro run-of-river systems. These have important advantages over their larger cousins while posing new challenges.

The driving force between this switch in emphasis is the reduced environmental footprint of small run of river plants, though they can be more expensive too. While British Columbia has led the charge with the smaller plants, over 5,500 potential locations for run of river stations have been identified across the country. There is enormous potential for growth in small hydropower in the years ahead. Most provincial utilities see these systems as the best option for provide clean power to small, isolated communities, replacing inefficient and dirty diesel-electric generators.

Construction of a British Columbia run of river plant.

Canada's Run of River Industry

The run of river industry contributes $150 million to Canada's GDP every year. Much of that comes from the export of equipment and expertise for building run of river plants around the world. With a century long background in hydropower, Canada has nurtured some of the world's leading companies in this industry and their services are in demand around the world.

However, Natural Resources Canada has raised concerns about the industry's aging work force. There looks to be a looming shortage of skilled engineers and technicians as the baby boomers who currently dominate the industry are beginning to retire. At the same time a lack of university or college programs on hydropower means the education system is failing to fill the gap. It is of some concern that as small hydro breaks into the mainstream, it may be hobbled by a shortage of trained people to meet the growing demand. The opportunity presented by the growing popularity of small hydro should not be wasted, and it is incumbent on governments and educational institutions to rise to the challenge.

  1. Hydro Quebec, "Hydroelectric Generating Stations."
  2. Government of Manitoba, "Limestone Generating Station."
  3. Natural Resources Canada, 2016.
  4. Natural Resources Canada, 2010.

Run of River for Remote Communities

Sockeye salmon in the Fraser River. In 2015 the sockeye run essentially collapsed, turning attention to how run of river facilities can accommodate the fish.
CBC News
  • Run of river power is a cost effective way to decarbonise electricity generation in remote communities.

While utility scale run of river complexes may not be the best bet for safeguarding our rivers and fish stocks, there is a niche that they are very well suited for: powering remote communities disconnected from the power grid.

British Columbia is a vast province and the great majority of the population is densely concentrated in a few regions, but scattered across the province in isolated mountain valleys and remote bays are small communities of hundreds or even dozens of individuals far from any major transmission lines. Building transmission lines to connect these communities to the power grid would be enormously expensive, and they tend to rely on diesel electric generators for electricity.

Run of River plants can be built near these communities, and since the power requirements are low enough to be usually measured in kilowatts, they can be built cheaply, costing tens of thousands of dollars instead of millions. Most of the social and environmental costs of large hydropower projects, which flood valuable land and displace people and disrupt the local ecosystem, are avoided. They also avoid the fuel costs and environmental footprint of diesel electric generators.

A diesel generator like the type many remote communities use for power. Run of river plants offer these communities a carbon-free way to generate electricity.
CBC News

The same advantages that make run of river power a great power source for remote Canadian communities often apply in developing countries as well. 90% of Kenyans don't have access to electricity. Cheap micro hydro plants offer some of those people the chance to read by a light at night, watch TV or charge their cell phone.

In British Columbia these remote communities are often First Nations bands, and since the mid 2000's many of them have replaced their diesel electric generators with small hydro plants, taking ownership stakes in them as well. Recent examples include the Hupacaseth who operate the China Creek project near Port Alberni, and the Taku River Tlingit First Nation owned Pine Creek project near Atlin. For these communities, small hydro can provide economic independence.

Chief Daryl Peters said of the small hydro project in his community, "[The Douglas First Nation's] intention is to harness the untapped energy of the water in a way that preserves its natural flow and also supports the generation of renewable energy, [allowing] us to preserve the biodiversity of our lands and waters and create new economic opportunities for our people."

Small hydro is not without its own flaws, however. First nation's communities have expressed concern about impacts on streams and fish life. For many communities, livelihoods hinge on the health and resilience of surrounding resource sites, including rivers. Fish, such as salmon, are a staple food in many First Nation's diets. As we have seen, run of river plants affect fish populations to varying degrees. These concerns have to be balanced with the economic benefits, foremost amongst them the skilled jobs created in the construction and operation phases of these plants.

Run of River Generating Stations in British Columbia (2016)
  1. Western Economic Diversification Canada, 2004.
  2. BC Hydro, 2011.
  3. BC Hydro, 2011.


To ensure continuity of material, all of the external web pages referenced here were cached over the course of research.

Readers are recommended to search the current links for any changes.

Anderson, David & others. "The impacts of ‘run-of-river’ hydropower on the physical and ecological condition of rivers." Water and Environment Journal. October 22, 2014. Cached October 22, 2016.

BC Hydro. "BC Hydro integrated resource plan: First Nations Consultation." 2011. Cached May 30, 2012.

Canmet Energy and Natural Resources Canada. "Emerging hydro power technologies R&D in Canada: A strategy for 2007-2011." Ontario, Canada. 2011. Cached May 30, 2012.

Canmet and Natural Resources Canada. "Small Hydro Power. Renewables." 2009. Cached May 30, 2012.

CanREN. "Small-scale hydro. Technologies & Applications." 2002. Cached May 30, 2012.

CBC News. "Climate change is a growing concern in B.C., says scientist." August 3, 2015. Cached May 22, 2016.

Centre for Energy. "Maps: Canada." British Columbia. 2011. Cached May 30, 2012.

Chen, Y., & Hardman, R. "The run of river energy sector." Cleantech. 2011. Cached May 30, 2012.

Environment Canada. "Environmental Impacts of Hydro Power." Electricity generation-hydro power. 2010. Cached May 30, 2012.

European Small Hydropower Association. "Environmental Barometer on Small Hydro Power." Brussels, Belgium. 2009. Cached May 30, 2012.

Government of British Columbia. "BC Energy Plan." 2011. Cached May 30, 2012.

Government of Canada. "Energy in the Chinese-Canadian bilateral relationship." 2011. Cached May 30, 2012.

Government of Manitoba. "Limestone Generating Station." Cached October 22, 2016.

Gunter, G. "Hydropower - A green energy?" Clean Journal. 2009. Vol 37:9. p726-734. Cached May 30, 2012.

Hydro Quebec. "Hydroelectric Generating Stations." Cached October 22, 2016.

Modal, C., Solomon, M., Tew, B., Gehrman, C. & Lehner, C. "Analysis of Reservoir-Based Hydroelectric versus Run of River Hydroelectric Energy Production." University of Montana, December 9, 2014. Accessed Feburary 22, 2017.

Natural Resources Canada. "Low head hydro market assessment. Hatch Energy." 2008. Vol:1. Ontario, Canada. Cached May 30, 2012.

Natural Resources Canada."Small scale hydro - Public policy & experience: Country report for Canada." 2010. Cached May 30, 2012.

Natural Resources Canada. "Small Hydropower." April 8, 2016. Cached October 22, 2016., "Forrest Kerr Hydroelectric Project." Accessed January 2, 2017.

Pynn, Larry. "Most run-of-river B.C. hydro projects can harm fish." Vancouver Sun. November 5, 2013. Cached May 22, 2016.

Salvador, A. "Energy: A historical perspective and 21st century forecast." The American Association of Petroleum Geologists. 2005, pp 109-111.

Shives, Paul. "The environmental impacts of run-of-river hydroelectric projects in British Columbia." UFRST 497 Grad Essay. UBC. April 8, 2015. Cached October 22, 2016.

St. Denis, Jen. "Disastrous Fraser River salmon run eclipses 2009 collapse." Metro News. August 22, 2016. Cached October 15, 2016.

U.S. Energy Information Administration. "U.S. Monthly Electricity Usage." 2011. Cached May 30, 2012.

Western Economic Diversification Canada. "Rural and First Nation communities focus on community alternative energy development to stimulate local economies." News Releases. 2004.

World Energy Council. "World Energy Resources: Hydro." 2013. Cached October 22, 2016.

When no treaty was signed between the government, and no war was fought over the land, first nations groups in Canada are entitled to the land on which they have historically lived and still inhabit.
In solar thermal energy collectors, the Absorber Area refers to the area absorbing the radiation
A technique where acidic solutions are pumped into a well, melting away debris about the bottom of the well and allowing the gas to flow more freely.
An electrical current that reverses its direction at regularly recurring intervals. Abbreviated to AC.
A series of processes in which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen. Used for industrial and/or domestic purposes to manage waste and/or release energy.
A device used for measuring wind speed.
The average speed (and direction) of the wind over the course of a year.
Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC): A 21-nation group of Pacific-Rim nations that seeks to promote free trade, raise living standards, education levels and sustainable economic policies. Canada is a member.
The artificially increased discharge of water during the operation of hydroelectric turbines during periods of peak demand.
Small particles released into the atmosphere as part of the flue gases from a coal plant. Fly ash is dangerous for human health but most power plants use electrostatic precipitators to capture it before release.
The waters off the Atlantic provinces that has been producing oil and gas since the 1990s, and continues to have considerable untapped oil and gas potential. The region has similar geology to the oil-rich North Sea.
'The ionizing radiation which we are all inescapably exposed to every day. It comes from radon gas in the ground, the sun, distant supernovas, and even elements inside our own bodies. The average exposure is around 361 mrem per year for a person in Washington state (it varies by region).
Base-load power is that provided continuously, virtually year-round to satisfy a regions minimum electricity needs. Hydro and nuclear power are well-suited for base-load grid needs.
A renewable fuel in which soy or canola oil is refined through a special process and blended with standard diesel oil. Biodiesel does not contain ethanol, but research is underway to develop diesel blends with ethanol.
Renewable energy made available from materials derived from biological sources.
Natural gas, or methane, that is created by microbes consuming organic matter. Usually found near the Earths surface and is usually immediately released into the atmosphere.
Biological material from living, or recently living organisms such as trees, grasses, and agricultural crops. As an energy source, biomass can either be used directly, or converted into other energy products such as biofuel.
A facility that integrates biomass conversion processes and equipment to produce fuels, power, and chemicals from biomass. The biorefinery concept is analogous to petroleum refineries, which produce multiple fuels and products from petroleum.
Bitumen is "petroleum that exists in the semi-solid or solid phase in natural deposits. Bitumen is a thick, sticky form of crude oil, so heavy and viscous (thick) that it will not flow unless heated or diluted with lighter hydrocarbons. At room temperature, it is much like cold molasses."
Bottom Ash: Bottom ash are small particles that result from coal combustion, but unlike fly ash they are too heavy to be released into the atmosphere and must be stored.
Canadian Environmental Protection Act: Passed in 1999, CEPA is "An Act respecting pollution prevention and the protection of the environment and human health in order to contribute to sustainable development."
Cap and Trade: A system where the government sets a limit on how much of a pollutant may be emitted. It then sells the rights to emit that pollutant to companies, known as carbon credits, and allows them to trade the credits with other companies. The EU has implemented a cap and trade program for carbon dioxide.
Carbon Footprint: A calculation based on the set of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by an organization, event, product, or person.
Carbon Sink: A carbon sink is a natural or artificial reservoir that accumulates and stores carbon-containing chemical compounds for an indefinite period.
Carbon Monoxide: A deadly gas produced from the tailpipe of cars that burn gasoline.
Capacity Factor: The ratio of the actual output of a power plant over a period of time and its potential to output if it had operated at full nameplate capacity the entire time.
Cellulose: An organic compound consisting of several hundred to over ten thousand linked glucose units. Cellulose comprises the structural component of the cell wall in plants, many green algae. It is the most common organic compound on Earth comprising about 33% of plant matter.
Cellulosic Biomass: Fuel produced from wood, grasses, or the non-edible parts of plants that is mainly comprised of cellulose.
Cellulosic Feedstock: The inedible cellulose which comprises most plants and trees. Yields are much higher as any part of the plant can be used and because they do not compete with food, therefore, cellulosic feedstock is an ideal candidate for large scale sustainable biofuel production.
Cetane Rating: Also known as cetane number (CN), this is a measurement of the combustion quality of diesel fuel during compression ignition. It is a significant expression of diesel fuel quality.
Clean Power Call: A request sent out by B.C. Hydro to private power utilities for new electricity-generating projects totalling 5,000 GWh/year. B.C. Hydro will help fund the successful projects and then buy power from them once completed.
How efficiently a turbine converts the energy in wind into electricity. Just divide the electrical power output by the wind energy input.
Using the energy left over from one primary energy conversion to fuel another. The most prominent example of this are natural gas co-generation plants which first feed fuel into a gas turbine. The residual heat from that reaction then heats water to spin a steam turbine.
Collector Area: In solar thermal energy collectors, the Collector Area refers to the area that intercepts the solar radiation.
A mixture of hydrocarbons present in natural gas. When gas is lowered below the hydrocarbon dew point, a condensate, that is, a liquid, forms. These can be used for combustion just like oil and gas. These are also known as natural gas liquids.
Generation of electricity using fossil fuels.
Gas reserves that form beneath porous layers of sandstone. Until recently this has been the only kind of gas commercially extracted.
When bituminous coal is baked at high temperatures it fuses together ash and carbon, creating coke. Coke can then be used to reduce the oxygen content of iron, strengthening it and creating steel.
A force generated by to the earths rotation which deflects a body of fluid or gas moving relative to the earths surface to the right in the northern hemisphere and to the left in the southern hemisphere. It is at its maximum at the poles and zero at the equator.
Decentralized Electricity Generation: Decentralizated electricity generation is a concept used to describe a large number of dispersed energy generators, often closely integrated with the people that use the electricity. Wind turbines and solar panels are good examples: they can be put within communities, be owned by members of the community and generate electricity for it. Alternatively centralized energy generation, far more common in North America, is where a small number of large plants owned by utility companies (hydro-electric, nuclear or fossil fuel) generate large quantities of electricity.
The portion of the oil business that involves refining the crude oil, bringing it to market and selling it. Gasoline service stations are the most lucrative part of downstream operations.
Effluents: Gases or liquids released by a human-made structure, in this case flue gases from a coal-fired power plant.
Electrolyte: Usually a solution of acids, bases, or salts, electrolytes are substances with free ions which make them effective electrical conductors.
Electrolysis: A simple technique for splitting water atoms to obtain hydrogen, driven by an electrical current.
Requirements that set specific limits to the amount of pollutants that can be released into the environment by automobiles and other powered vehicles, as well as emissions generated by industry, power plants, and small equipment.
Transforming one form of energy into another. Most energy conversions that run our economy are conversions from a primary source to electricity (wind or nuclear) or movement (oil).
Energy Currency: Energy that is usable for practical purposes. These include electricity and petroleum which power appliances and vehicles.
A measurement of the amount of energy stored in a given volume.
Energy Return On Investment (EROI): This is the ratio of usable energy obtained over the amount of energy required to get it. The oil sands has a low EROI because instead of being sucked out of the ground in liquid form the oil must be painstakingly mined and heavily refined, a process that requires large quantities of energy itself.
An energy source is the means by which energy is generated. The energy profiles each deal with a different source of energy, and most are simply means to attain the energy currency we all use: electricity.
Enhanced Geothermal System: A new technology, EGS does not require natural convective geothermal resources, but instead can draw power from the ground through extremely dry and impermeable rock.
The provincial Environmental Assessment Office is a politically neutral agency tasked with reviewing major construction projects in B.C. Their purview includes assessing the environmental, economic, social, heritage and health effects over the lifecycle of projects.
A blend of ethanol and diesel fuel. plus other additives, designed to reduce air pollution from heavy equipment, city buses and other vehicles that operate on diesel engines.
A policy device that encourages investment in renewable energies, usually by guaranteeing power producers that their energy will be bought.
In food processing, fermentation is the conversion of carbohydrates to alcohols and carbon dioxide or organic acids using yeasts, bacteria or a combination thereof, under anaerobic conditions. In simple terms, fermentation is the chemical conversion of sugars to ethanol.
A finite, or non-renewable resource, is one where a limited amount exists. Once the existing stocks of that resource are exhausted there will be no more, at least in any reasonable human time scale. Only so much fossil fuels and uranium exist on earth, making these finite, non-renewableresources. The wind, sun and tides are renewable resources since it is impossible to run out of them.
First Generation Renewable: Well established renewable technologies that emerged early on in the Industrial Revolution. These include hydropower, biomass combustion and early geothermal power.
Fission is a nuclear reaction where a heavy atom is hit by a neutron, causing it to split into lighter atoms, release more neutrons, and huge amounts of energy.
Flat-plate collectors are a type of non-concentrating solar energy collector, typically used when temperatures are below 200 degrees F. They are often used for heating buildings.
Flex-Fuel Vehicle: Also known as a dual-fuel vehicle, this is an alternative fuel vehicle with an internal combustion engine designed to run on more than one fuel, usually gasoline blended with either ethanol or methanol fuel.
Flue gases are the gases that are released into the atmosphere by a flue, or pipe, from the steam boiler.
Many biofuel feedstocks such as corn, sugarcane, and soybeans are also key sources of food for millions of people. Production of crops for bioenergy may displace other food-related crops, increasing the cost and decreasing the availability of food. The central question is one of ethics: Should we use our limited land resources to grow biofuels when the same land could be producing food for people?
Fracking: Hydraulic fracturing is the process of injecting high pressure fluids into deep, geologic formations, in order to fracture the rock and render it more permeable.
Fuel Crops: Crops grown specifically for their value as fuel to make biofuels or for their energy content.
Fumaroles: Openings in the Earths crust that emit steam and gases.
Gasohol: Otherwise known as fuel ethanol, gasohol has been distilled and dehydrated to create a high-octane, water free alcohol. All water must be removed because a water-alcohol mixture cannot dissolve in gasoline. Fuel ethanol is made unfit for drinking by adding a small amount of a noxious substance such as gasoline.
Geothermal Gradient: The rate at which temperature increases deeper into the earth, towards the earth's molten core.
Geothermal Task Force Team is a government program that aims to: develop policies, in collaboration with affected agencies, related to tenure issuance, examine the regulation of the use of geothermal resources not currently covered by legislation, build a royalty and resource rent model for geothermal resources, and develop a science based review of the known geothermal resources in the province.
Geyser: Springs characterized by intermittent discharge of water ejected turbulently and accompanied by steam.
Giromill Turbine: Uses lift forces generated by vertical aerofoils to convert wind energy into rotational mechanical energy. They are powered by two or three vertical aerofoils attached to a central mast by horizontal supports.
Glut: A situation where the market has been flooded with goods and there is more supply than there is demand causing the price of goods to drop.
Gravity Survey: A technique of measuring minute changes in the Earths gravity field. This allows geologists to map lighter and denser rocks underground.
Green Energy and Green Economy Act of 2009: Legislation by the province of B.C. to boost the investment in renewable energy projects and increase conservation, create green jobs and economic growth in Ontario. Part of Ontario's plan to become a leading green economy in North America.
Head: The term head refers to the change in elevation of the water.
Head Differential: The difference in pressure due to the difference in height of water level.
Heat Exchangers: These are used in High-Temperature and Low-Temperature applications to transfer heat from one medium to another. In Low-Temperature Geoexchange systems they are built into the heat pump.
Horizontal Axis Wind Turbine (HAWT): Horizontal Axis Wind Turbine. These are the most common types of wind turbines and look like aircraft propellers mounted atop towers.
Hydrocarbons: A compound of almost entirely hydrogen and carbon. This covers oil and natural gas. Coal, the third fossil fuel, contains so many impurities it is usually disqualified from this title.
Hydrostatic Head: The distance a volume of water has to fall in order to generate power.
Intermittent Energy Source: Any source of energy that is not continuously available due to a factor that is outside of direct control (ex. Wind speed or sunshine).
An internal combustion engine operates by burning its fuel inside the engine, rather than outside of it, as an external, or steam engine does. The most common internal combustion engine type is gasoline powered, followed by diesel, hydrogen, methane, and propane. Engines typically require adaptations (like adjusting the air/fuel ratio) to run on a different kind of fuel than they were designed for. Four-stroke internal combustion engines (each stroke marks a step in the combustion cycle) dominate the automotive and industrial realm today.
Kinetic Energy: The ability of water falling from a dam to do work, that is, to generate electricity. Water stored above a dam has potential energy which turns to kinetic energy once it begins to fall.
Levelized Cost of Electricity: The cost of generating electricity (capital, operation and maintenance costs). Measured in units of currency per unit of electricity (ex. kWh).
Magnetic Survey: A technique for measuring the intensity of magnetic fields from several stations.
Manhattan Project: The massive Anglo-American-Canadian scientific undertaking which produced the atomic bombs that helped end the Second World War. It marked the birth of the nuclear age and scientists were immediately aware of the potential to use use nuclear power for civilian use.
Market Penetration: The share of the total energy market a specific energy source has in relation to its competitors. So the market penetration of wind power would be measured by its share of the electricity market, while ethanol would be compared to other vehicle fuels, not to total primary energy use.
Matrix: In geology, this is the finer mass of tiny sediments in which larger sediments are embedded.
Methanol: Methanol is produced naturally in the anaerobic metabolism of many types of bacteria, and is ubiquitous in the environment. Methanol is toxic in humans if ingested or contacted on the skin. For its toxic properties and close boiling point with ethanol, that it is used as a denaturant for ethanol.
Miscanthus: A low maintenance perennial grass which is thought to be twice as productive as switch grass as it has a longer growing season, greater leaf area, and higher carbon storage per unit of leaf area.
MMBtu: A unit of measurement which means a million Btus (British thermal units). A Btu is roughly the amount of energy it takes to heat a half kilogram of water from 3.8 to 4.4 °C. MBtu is used for a thousand Btus.
Moderator: A moderator is used to slow down neutrons, which enables them to react with the atoms in the nuclear fuel. If enough atoms react then the reactor can sustain a nuclear chain reaction.
M Mount St. Helens is an active volcano located in Washington state. It is most famous for its catastrophic eruption on May 18, 1980 where fifty-seven people were killed, 250 homes, 47 bridges, 24 km of railways, and 298 km of highway were destroyed.
Mud-Pools: Pools of bubbling mud. Also known as "paint-pots" when the slurry of usually grey mud is streaked with red or pink spots from iron compounds.
Nacelle: The housing atop a wind turbine that holds the gearbox, generator, drive train and brakes, as well as the rotors.
Name-Plate Capacity: The intended full-load sustained output of a power plant. For example an average wind turbine's name-plate capacity is 2 Megawatts. The capacity factor is the actual output, so for that 2 MW wind turbine with an efficiency of around 30-35% (average) then it has a more realistic capacity of around 0.7 MW. Most power stations are listed in terms of their nameplate capacity.
National Energy Board: A regulatory agency established by the federal government in 1959 that is primarily tasked with regulating oil and gas pipelines that cross provincial and national borders.
National Energy Program: A set of policies enacted in 1980 that sought to make Canada energy independent. Petro-Canada was created and oil prices were kept artificially low to protect consumers. Shares of oil revenue were diverted to the federal government who used them mostly in the eastern provinces to offset a decline in manufacturing. The program was extremely unpopular in western Canada and was discontinued shortly thereafter.
Nuclear Renaissance: A term used by politicians and the media for the renewed interest in nuclear energy in the past decade. Many countries are now expanding their civilian nuclear programs.
Octane: The octane rating of a fuel is indicated on the pump – using numbers such as 87, 90, 91 etc. The higher the number, the greater the octane rating of the gasoline.
Oil in Place: The total hydrocarbon (oil and gas) content of a reservoir. Sometimes called STOOIP or Stock Tank Original Oil In Place.
Oil Patch: A term for the Canadian oil industry. This specifically means the upstream operations that find and extract oil and gas, mostly in Alberta but also B.C., the other prairie provinces, Newfoundland and Labrador.
Oil Window: The range of temperature at which oil forms. Below a certain temperature and kerogen will never progress to the form of oil. Too high and natural gas is formed instead.
OECD: The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development is a 34 country organization dedicated to advocating democracy and the market economy. Membership is largely limited to Western Europe, North America, Australia and Japan, what are often considered the world's developed nations. Sometimes referred to in the media as the "rich countries' club".
Passive Seismic Survey: A way to detect oil and gas by measuring the Earths natural low frequency movements.
Peak Power Demand: Power demand varies over minutes, hours, days and months. Peak power demand are the times when the most people are using the most power. To meet this demand extra sources of power must be switched on. Some forms of electricity generation, such as natural gas turbines, can be turned on quickly to meet peak power demand and are better suited for this purpose than others, such as nuclear, which are better as sources of baseload power.
Permeability: A measure of the ability of a porous rock to allow fluids to pass through it. High permeability in the surrounding rocks is needed for the formation of gas reserves.
Photovoltaic Cell: A non-mechanical device typically fabricated from silicon alloys that generates electricity from direct sunlight.
Pickens Plan: Investment of $1 trillion into wind power in the U.S.A., named for an American oil tycoon. The plan aims to reduce the amount of foreign oil imported to the U.S.A. while providing economic and environmental benefits.
Pondage: The main difference between small and large hydro projects is the existence of stored power in the form of water which is held back by dams at large hydro stations. Some small hydro projects have pondage, however, which are small ponds behind the weir of a dam which can store water for up to a week.
Potential Energy: The energy stored in a body or a system.
Porosity: Closely related to permeability, this is a measure of the amount of "voids," or empty space in a rock where gas or oil can pass through to collect in a reservoir.
Possible Reserves: Possible reserves are a class of unproven reserves that geologists use for oil that they are only 10% sure is present in the ground.
Purchasing Power Agreement: A contract between two parties, one who generates power for sale, and another who is looking to purchase it. B.C. Hydro buys power from companies that build their own power generating stations.
Primary Battery: A primary battery is one that is non-rechargable because the electrochemical reaction goes only one way. It gives out energy and cannot be reversed.
Primary Gas: The degeneration of decayed organic matter directly into gas through a process called "thermal cracking." This is opposed to secondary gas which is formed from decayed oil that has already formed.
Probable Reserves: Probable reserves are a class of unproven reserves that geologists use for oil or gas that they are at least 50% sure is actually present.
Proven Reserves: An amount of a resource any resource to be dug out of the ground (oil, coal, natural gas or uranium in energy terms) that geologists have a 90% or higher certainty can be extracted for a commercial gain with the technology available at the time."
Recompleted: The process, by which an old oil well is redrilled, fractured, or has some other technology applied to improve the amount of oil recovered.
Reforming: In oil refining, reforming is using heat to break down, or crack, hydrocarbon atoms and increase their octane level. This technique creates some left-over hydrogen which can be collected and used.
Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS): Law that requires electric utilities to produce some portion of their power from renewable sources like wind, solar, geothermal or biomass. RPSs are necessary to keep renewables competitive in an era of cheap natural gas electricity.
Rent-Seeking: The practice of using resources to compete for existing wealth rather than to create new wealth, often to the detriment of those who seek to reform societies or institutions. Economies that fail to diversify away from oil are often pre-dominated by a rent-seeking mind-set where people become more pre-occupied with securing the windfall resouce profits for themselves, usually oil, rather than seeking to develop new industries.
Reserves: The fraction of the oil in place that can be considered extractable. This depends not only on the geology, but the economics (is oil expensive enough to make extracting it profitable?) and technology.
Reserve Growth: When an oil or gas field is first discovered, reserve estimates tend to be low. The estimates of the size of the field are expected to grow over time and this is called reserves growth.
Ring of Fire: The Pacific Ring of Fire is a region of high volcanic and seismic activity that surrounds the majority of the Pacific Ocean. This region is essentially a horseshoe of geologic activity, characterized by volcanoes, earthquakes, deep sea trenches, and major fault zones.
Riparian: The term riparian refers to the wetland area surrounding rivers or streams. A riparian ecosystem refers to the biological community supported by an area around a river.
Savonius Turbine: Uses drag generated by the wind hitting the cup, like aerofoils, to create rotation.
Second Generation Wind Turbine: Technology that is only now beginning to enter the market as a result of research, development and demonstration. These are: solar, wind, tidal, advanced geothermal and modern bioenergy. Much hope has been placed upon these technologies but they still provide only a fraction of our energy.
Secondary Battery: Rechargable batteries are sometimes known as secondary batteries because their electro-chemical reactions can be reversed.
Secondary Gas: When oil is subjected to so much heat and pressure it degenerates into gas. The process through which this happens called "thermal cracking."
Secondary Recovery Schemes: When so much oil has been sucked out of an oil reservoir it will lose pressure and the oil will no longer flow out of the reservoir from natural pressure. When this happens secondary recovery schemes can be employed. This means that fluids or gases are pumped into the well to increase pressure and push the remaining oil up out of the well.
Shale: A type of sedimentary rock with low permeability, which was once thought to prevent any commercial extraction of the gas inside. Fracking allows gas developers to access it.
Sound Navigation and Ranging (SONAR): Initially devised as a technique for detecting submarines. An emitter sends off pulses of sound. The pulses bounce off objects and return to a receiver which interprets their size and distance.
Spot Market: A market where commodities are traded for immediate delivery. A future market on the other hand is one where delivery is expected later on. Because of the dependence of gas users on those who are at the other end of the gas pipeline, the natural gas market is mostly a futures market.
Steam Coal: Steam coal is coal used for power generation in thermal power plants. This is typically coal that ranges in quality from sub-bituminous to bituminous.
Straight Vegetable Oil (SVO): Vegetable oil fuel. Most diesel engine vehicles can run on it so long as the viscosity of the oil is lowered enough for complete combustion. Failure to do this can damage the engine. SVO is also known as pure plant oil or PPO.
Strategic Petroleum Reserve: An emergency store of oil maintained by some governments and corporations. The U.S. Department of Energy holds 727 million barrels of oil.
Subcritical Power Plant: A coal-fired power plant that operates at less than 550ËšC. Because the temperatures and pressures are than other plants, these plants operate at a low efficiency, around 33-35%. These plants are still the most common in the world and many are under construction
Supercritical Power Plant: Supercritical plants are coal powered power plants that can sustain temperatures of 550ËšC to 590ËšC and transfer up to 40% of the coals energy into power. This technology has only come into use in recent years. Most new coal-fired power plants built in the West are supercritical.
Switchgrass: One of the dominant native species of the North American prairies, tallgrass is being researched as a renewable bioenergy crop. It is a a native perennial warm season grass with the ability to produce moderate to high yields on marginal farmlands.
Thermal Power Plant: A thermal power plant is any that is powered by a steam turbine. The steam is created by heating water which in turn spins the turbine. Most coal and gas power stations operate in this way, as do all nuclear plants. Coal powered and gas plants are often just called thermal plants.
Total Carbon Cost: The amount of carbon dioxide emitted during an action or a process. One exmaple is building a natural gas plant. The total carbon cost would include everything from the carbon emitted to get the materials to build the plant, to the carbon emitted in the building of the plant, and the carbon emitted during the operation of the plant.
Unconventional Gas: Unconventional gas reserves come in many different geological formations, and include tight gas, shale gas, coalbed methane and methane hydrates. Extraction of these sources has only just begun and has hugely extended the lives of many gas fields and unlocking many new ones. The unlocking of unconventional gas reserves in the last five years has revolutionized the global energy system.
Ultracritical Power Plant: These are coal thermal power plants that operate above 590ËšC and can attain efficiencies above 40%. These plants are just coming into service.
Undiscovered Reserves: The amount of oil and gas estimated to exist in unexplored areas. Much of B.C. has not been thoroughly explored for fossil fuel potential and many of the estimates of B.C. fossil fuel resources rely on the concept of undiscovered resources
United States Geological Survey (USGS): The United States Geological Survey. The department responsible for estimating American fossil fuel reserves. They also conduct many studies that span the globe.
Unproven Reserves: Oil reserves in the ground that petroleum geologists are less certain are there, but have strong reason to believe is present. Unproven reserves can be broken down into probable reserves and possible reserves. These numbers are used within oil companies but not usually published.
The portion of the oil business that involves finding oil and extracting it.
Uranium is a heavy metal that is naturally radioactive. An isotope, U-235 can be enriched to support a nuclear chain reaction. Uranium is used in many nuclear power plants.
A 2,730 MW dam built in north-eastern British Columbia along the Peace River during the 1960s.
Any activity where humans bore down into the Earth to access reserves of oil or gas trapped in underground geological formations.
These are produced from wood residue (like sawdust) collected from sawmills and wood product manufacturers. Heat and pressure are used to transform wood residue into pellets without chemical additives, binders or glue. The pellets can be used in stoves and boilers.
A remote mountain in Western Nevada where the U.S. Department of Energy has planned on storing all of the country's spent nuclear fuel underground since the 1990s. The proposal met stiff opposition from local residents and in 2009 the project was cancelled.