Renewable energy: A force of nature… and engineering!

Whether we are referring to biomass, biogas, liquid biofuels or solar, wind, geothermal or hydroelectric energy, renewable energy sources are being developed and are increasing in popularity … and that’s great!

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimates that worldwide renewable power generation capacity was 2.3 million MW in 2018, with 99,035 MW in Canada.

17% of the primary energy supply in Canada comes from renewable sources, which is significantly higher than the OECD average of 10%.[1] China leads the way thanks to its huge wind farms and hydroelectric dams, but it is also one of the worst polluters!

At the heart of change

According to Mathieu Lemay, Associate Partner for Hydroelectricity and Dams at CIMA+: “Against the background of climate change, it is obvious that the focus must be on green energy sources”. Internationally, green energy sources account for more than 18% of the energy portfolio and more than 10 million jobs.

Climate change is also forcing engineers to reconsider their approach to planning and designing energy projects. “We have to think about making our structures more resilient. In the case of river structures, will flooding be more or less severe? Will drought be a factor? The answers to all of these questions now play a greater role in developing our solutions. It becomes a matter of managing the risks arising from various probabilities, including those related to climate”, the engineer adds.

While major hydroelectric projects involve a certain degree of financial and social acceptance risk, Mathieu Lemay maintains that small- and medium-scale projects remain competitive with other energy projects. “It is not an intermittent energy source – no sun, no energy, no wind, no energy. On the other hand, hydroelectric power is stored in reservoirs and remains available at all times.”

CIMA + is among the leaders when it comes to renewable energy sources

In recent years, CIMA+ has had the opportunity to demonstrate its expertise in the implementation and development of renewable energy sources through its involvement in numerous large-scale projects.

In particular, the company contributed to the design of one of the largest solar farms in Canada. Located in Kingston, Ontario, it can generate 100 MW of renewable energy, which is enough to supply the electrical power needs of 17,000 households. CIMA+ also handled the project management for the construction of the wind farms containing 32 wind turbines in Témiscouata, which provide power to more than 13,800 Quebec homes. In 2017, CIMA+ formulated recommendations for improving the efficiency of the Colville Lake solar farm and its battery-based energy storage system, with a view to reducing GHG emissions from the diesel electric stations on which remote communities in the Northwest Territories depend.

In 2018, CIMA+ even received a Quebec Consulting Engineering Award in the “Energy” category for its engineering work in the construction of the dam and tunnel for the Hydro-Canyon Saint-Joachim power station.

Attention to the smallest detail

Producing renewable energy is all very well, but using it efficiently is even better. “Thinking in terms of energy efficiency has now become the standard “, maintains Patrick Bachand, an Associate Partner at CIMA+.

This building mechanicals specialist has been with CIMA+ for 12 years, and spends a good deal of his time conducting energy simulations in order to find the simplest and most cost-effective solutions for his clients. “For example, if the same energy consumption benefits can be obtained by changing windows or installing a new heating system, we will opt for the former solution, because it is low-maintenance.”

There have been significant advances in energy recovery technologies in recent years, and they have become increasingly affordable. This means that, for many industrial companies, the initial investment can be recovered within just a few years. 

Taking a long-range view

Patrick Bachand notes that, in today’s North America, geothermal energy is always taken into consideration when planning new buildings, and is implemented in 15% to 20% of cases.

Aside from geothermal energy and hydroelectric power, wind energy has registered the strongest growth among renewable energy sources. In 2017, Canada generated 30.5 TWh, and its capacity rose to 12.24 MW, with Ontario and Quebec leading the way.

It is also interesting to note that many smaller countries have moved to the forefront by improving their environmental footprints. For example, Costa Rica is on the verge of becoming carbon-neutral (target date 2021). Denmark is aiming for 100% independence from fossil fuels by 2050, thanks primarily to its wind turbines. Iceland has the highest production of green electricity per capita, thanks to hydroelectric power and geothermal energy. The island nation even uses geothermal energy to grow vegetables in greenhouses, keep sidewalks clear in winter and make outdoor soccer fields accessible year-round. There is no question that these kinds of initiatives are bound to spread as countries establish carbon-reduction targets.


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