Electricity supply options

Wind turbines

We consider many options for meeting future electricity demand

Our current 20-year plan to meet future demand for electricity is the 2013 Integrated Resource Plan. A key input into our long-term plan is our inventory of available resources to meet future electricity demand. There's a variety of options in B.C. to consider – including generation options such as run-of-river, biomass, and wind – plus the option of curbing demand growth through conservation.

We continually monitor generation options potential, costs and the technical capabilities of different technologies in B.C., and periodically we update our inventory information for planning purposes.

The 2013 Integrated Resource Plan included the 2013 Resource Options Report Update – a comprehensive report of the resource options inventory.

In 2015, we updated cost and technical information for the following generation options:

  • municipal solid waste
  • wood-based biomass
  • run-of-river
  • solar
  • onshore wind
  • natural gas-fired generation
  • geothermal
  • tidal
  • wave

For the rest of the generation options we updated costs to account for inflation. Learn more about the recent update process.

A look at our options for meeting electricity demand

Demand-side management (DSM), also known as conservation includes:

  • Energy and capacity options, which focus on conserving energy, promoting energy efficiency and other measures to reduce customer demand
  • Capacity-focused options, designed to deliver additional capacity savings through voluntary programs that manage and control customers' electricity demand rather than energy consumption

BC Hydro's DSM tools include codes and standards, conservation rate structures, and conservation programs.

For more information, please see the 2013 Resource Options Report Update [PDF, 3.5 MB] Chapter 4 – Demand-Side Management Options.

Get an overview of DSM and the role of conservation.

Generation options: currently in commercial production here in B.C.

Landfill gas (primarily methane) is created when organic waste in a municipal solid waste landfill decomposes under anaerobic conditions. Landfill gas can be captured, converted, and used as an energy source to help prevent methane from migrating into the atmosphere and contributing to global climate change.

Technologies for producing electricity from landfill gas include internal combustion engines, gas turbines and microturbines.

Estimated unit energy cost ($2015): $63 to $166/MWh*

*Costs have been updated to account for inflation.

For information about the previous update, see the 2013 Resource Options Report Update [PDF, 3.5 MB] Chapter 5 – Supply-Side Resource Options, section 5.2.2.

Municipal solid waste can be converted into a usable form of energy, such as electricity. Conventional combustion and gasification are the most commonly used MSW technologies.

When estimating MSW potential, an attempt was made to incorporate the "zero waste" philosophy focused on minimizing the amount of waste going to landfills by employing waste avoidance and diversion strategies.

Estimated unit energy cost ($2015): $132 to $282/MWh*

*Costs and technical information were updated in 2015. Learn more about the recent update process.

For information about the previous update see the 2013 Resource Options Report Update [PDF, 3.5 MB] Chapter 5 – Supply-Side Resource Options, section 5.2.3.

Wood-based biomass electricity is generated from the combustion or gasification of organic materials as fuels.

Three categories of fuels were considered when estimating wood-based biomass potentials:

  • Standing timber (including pine beetle killed wood)
  • Roadside wood waste (wood already harvested, but left in the forest or on the road side, including some pine beetle killed wood)
  • Sawmill wood waste

Estimated unit energy cost ($2015): $121 to $306/MWh*

*Costs and technical information were updated in 2015. Learn more about the recent update process.

For information about the previous update, see the 2013 Resource Options Report Update [PDF, 3.5 MB] Chapter 5 – Supply-Side Resource Options, section 5.2.1.

A run-of-river hydro generation facility diverts a portion of natural stream flows and uses the natural drop in elevation of a river to generate electricity. Since facilities either have no storage, or a limited amount of storage (commonly referred to as pondage), run-of-river is subject to seasonal river flows.

Estimated unit energy cost ($2015): $92 to $1,000+/MWh*

*Costs and technical information were updated in 2015. Learn more about the recent update process.

For information about the previous update, see the 2013 Resource Options Report Update [PDF, 3.5 MB] Chapter 5 – Supply-Side Resource Options, section 5.2.7.

Solar power is generated from the energy within the sun's rays. There are two main categories: Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) and Photovoltaic (PV). Both technologies are commercially proven.

Although CSP has an advantage over PV in its ability to store power and deliver it out at night or on cloudy days, the price of PV panels has come down significantly over the past few years, making it more economical. In addition, the relative lack of direct sunlight in B.C. makes CSP less suitable.

Estimated unit energy cost ($2015): $171 to $253/MWh*

*Costs and technical information were updated in 2015. Learn more about the recent update process.

For information about previous updates, see the 2013 Resource Options Report Update [PDF, 3.5 MB] Chapter 5 – Supply-Side Resource Options, section 5.2.17.

Wind power refers to the conversion of kinetic energy from moving air into electricity. Modern utility scale wind turbines are horizontal axis machines with three rotor blades. The blades convert the linear motion of the wind into rotational energy that is then used to power a generator.

Estimated unit energy cost for onshore wind power ($2015): $81 to $301/MWh*

Estimated unit energy cost for offshore wind power ($2015): $180 to $635/MWh

*Costs and technical information were updated in 2015. Learn more about the recent update process.

For information about the previous update see the 2013 Resource Options Report Update [PDF, 3.5 MB] Chapter 5 – Supply-Side Resource Options; sections 5.2.4 and 5.2.5 for onshore and offshore wind, respectively, and the Wind Data Study Reports

Natural gas-fired units generate electricity using the heat released by the combustion of natural gas. There are two types of generation processes:

  • Combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT), which uses the combination of combustion and steam turbines to generate electricity with a relatively high conversion efficiencies of about 55% to 60%
  • Simple cycle gas turbine (SCGT), which uses combustion gases to propel a turbine with conversion efficiencies of about 35% to 40%

CCGTs are characterized using three representative units – 67 MW, 119 MW, and 279 MW – located in the Kelly Lake / Nicola area, with unit energy costs estimated to be $97/MWh, $89/MWh, and $77/MWh ($2015) respectively.*  

SCGTs are characterized using three representative units – 48 MW, 100 MW, and 194 MW – located in the Kelly Lake / Nicola area, with unit capacity costs estimated to be $159/kW-year, $142/kW-year, and $79/kW-year ($2015) respectively.*

*Costs and technical information were updated in 2015. Learn more about the recent update process.

For information about the previous update, see the 2013 Resource Options Report Update [PDF, 3.5 MB] Chapter 5 – Supply-Side Resource Options, section 5.2.11.

The Resource Smart program refers to opportunities that modestly increase the energy and/or capacity of BC Hydro's existing 30 hydroelectric generation facilities, also known as BC Hydro's heritage assets.

These gains can be realized two ways:

  • Stand-alone investments planned specifically to satisfy an energy and/or capacity need identified through the long-term planning process
  • Reliability refurbishment or replacement investments for major generating components

The unit capacity costs for the two largest remaining capacity Resource Smart projects as identified in the 2013 Integrated Resource Plan have been updated ($2015) to $51/kW-year* for Revelstoke Unit 6 to account for inflation and $75/kW-year for GMS Units 1-5 to reflect the revised much lower dependable capacity assessment.

*For those readers who are familiar with a $57/kW-year unit capacity cost for Revelstoke Unit 6 quoted in our Fiscal 2017 to Fiscal 2019 Revenue Requirements Application, this higher number reflects the additional cost for delivery to the Lower Mainland.

For information about the previous update, see the 2013 Resource Options Report Update [PDF, 3.5 MB] Chapter 5 – Supply-Side Resource Options, section 5.2.10.

Other generation options: not yet in commercial production here in B.C.

Geothermal energy systems draw on natural heat from within the earth's crust to drive conventional power generation technologies.

Conventional resources are in the form of steam or hot water in geothermal reservoirs typically less than 3 km deep, while unconventional resources (commonly called hot dry rock resources) are found in deeper rock structures that are hot, but essentially dry.

Estimated unit energy cost ($2015): $71 to $398/MWh*

*Costs and technical information were updated in 2015. View our technical supplement for information about the approach used to characterize the range of unit energy costs for geothermal. Learn more about the recent update process.

For information about the previous update, see the 2013 Resource Options Report Update [PDF, 3.5 MB] Chapter 5 – Supply-Side Resource Options, section 5.2.6.

Pumped storage units use power from the electricity grid, typically during light load hours, to pump water from a lower elevation reservoir to an upper elevation reservoir. The water is then released during peak demand hours to generate electricity.

Reversible turbine/generator assemblies or separate pumps and turbines are used in pumped storage facilities. Pumped storage units are a net consumer of electricity due to inherent inefficiencies in the pumping generating cycle. This results in the recovery of approximately 70% of the energy used.

Estimated unit capacity cost ($2015): $130 to $688/kW-year*

*Costs have been updated to account for inflation.  

For information about the previous update, see the 2013 Resource Options Report Update [PDF, 3.5 MB] Chapter 5 – Supply-Side Resource Options, section 5.2.8.

Tidal energy refers to the kinetic energy available in the flow of water driven by the rotation of the earth in the gravitational fields of the sun and the moon. Tidal energy is variable from one hour to the next, but can be accurately predicted several years into the future.

There are two ways to capture the tidal energy resource:

  • Tidal barrage is not considered a viable prospect in B.C. as it involves the construction of a dam in estuaries with a large tidal range to impound water during high tide and exploit the potential energy in the height difference between high and low tides.
  • Tidal current is in the early stages of commercial development.

Estimated unit energy cost ($2015): $427 to $922/MWh*

*Costs and technical information were updated in 2015. Learn more about the recent update process.

For information about the previous update, see the 2013 Resource Options Report Update [PDF, 3.5 MB] Chapter 5 – Supply-Side Resource Options, section 5.2.14.

Wave energy is generated by winds blowing over the surface of the ocean. Because ocean waves are a product of the complex interactions among variable local winds, occasional storms or the effects of distant sea conditions, wave energy is a complex and variable phenomenon.

Currently, there are five approaches (all at the early stages of commercial development) to capturing the wave energy resource: attenuator, point absorber, oscillating wave surge converter, oscillating water column, and overtopping device.

Estimated unit energy cost ($2015): $558 to $708/MWh*

*Costs and technical information were updated in 2015. Learn more about the recent update process.

For information about the previous update, see the 2013 Resource Options Report Update [PDF, 3.5 MB] Chapter 5 – Supply-Side Resource Options, section 5.2.13.

The 2007 BC Energy Plan stipulates that coal-fired generation in B.C. must meet a zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emission standard "through a combination of 'clean coal' fired generation technology, carbon sequestration and offset for any residual GHG emission".

The technology that allows plant generated carbon dioxide to be captured and stored through sequestration is estimated to not be commercially available until after 2020. Although there are some geological sites in B.C. that may prove suitable for carbon dioxide sequestration, there is limited information available to assess the suitability for geological storage at this time.

Other factors such as geological suitability or legal/regulatory and public acceptance issues, may impact CCS technology application in B.C.

Estimated unit energy cost ($2015): $95/MWh* (based on one Peace River site)

*Cost has been updated to account for inflation.

For information about the previous update, see the 2013 Resource Options Report Update [PDF, 3.5 MB] Chapter 5 – Supply-Side Resource Options, section 5.2.12.