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What is hydroelectricity?

Hydro comes from the Greek word for water. Hydroelectricity means making electricity from the moving water of rivers and streams. Hydroelectricity is a form of renewable energy because it is constantly being renewed by a river’s water flow.

Did you know?

  • hydro is the world’s largest source of renewable electricity generation
  • hydro produces nearly one-fifth of the world’s electricity
  • hydropower is used in more than 150 countries
  • worldwide hydro plants have a combined generating capacity of about 740 gigawatts

Where is hydroelectricity generated?

Typically, hydroelectric energy requires the right combination of water resources and land features. The best sites for hydroelectric plants are fast-moving rivers or streams, mountainous regions, and areas with consistent rainfall.

Hydropower resources are widely spread around the world and are used in more than 150 countries. Leading the United States, Brazil, China and Russia, Canada produces more than 13 per cent of the world’s hydropower.


The flow of water accounts for most of the electric power Canadians use: 61 per cent. This reliance on hydroelectricity is unique in the world. (In contrast, most countries produce electricity through coal or other fossil fuels.)

Canada’s land features are well suited for hydropower. A good example is the Canadian Shield, an area of rugged terrain and large river systems that stretches from Hudson Bay to Labrador and from the Great Lakes to the Arctic. More than one-third of our hydroelectric capacity is located on rivers that are situated in or flow into this region.

Most regions in Canada produce hydropower

Hydroelectricity provides most of the power used in Quebec, British Columbia, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Yukon. The province of Quebec is the country’s largest producer of hydroelectricity, with 93 per cent of its electricity produced by hydroelectric facilities. Almost half of our country’s hydroelectric capacity is found in this province.

Every province and territory, except prince Edward Island, produces some hydroelectricity.

Most of Canada’s electricity comes from large-scale projects developed by electric utilities. The La Grande complex on James Bay is one of the world’s largest hydroelectric plants with an installed capacity of over 15,000 megawatts. Some of Canada’s other large hydro facilities include:

  • Churchill Falls plant on the Churchill River in Labrador (5,429 megawatts)
  • Gordon Shrum generating station on the peace River in northern British Columbia (2,730 megawatts)
  • Revelstoke project on the Columbia River in southern British Columbia (1,980 megawatts)

Electric utilities produce nearly 90 per cent of our hydroelectricity. However, there are other hydropower producers such as investor-owned utilities, independent power producers, and industrial companies (for example, aluminum, and pulp and paper) that operate hydro facilities and generate electricity for their own use.

Did you know?

  • Canada produces more than 13 per cent of the world’s hydropower
  • there are 450 hydropower stations in Canada, with a total installed capacity of nearly 70,000 megawatts
  • in 2001, Canada generated an estimated 325,000 gigawatt-hours of hydropower
  • Canada’s electricity industry is a $27-billion per year business
  • the electricity industry directly employs more than 70,000 Canadians and contributes about 2.5 per cent to our gross domestic product (the total value of goods and services produced by the country)

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