Niagra Falls Springs Hydropower

Having arrived in Toronto on a rainy Saturday afternoon, slightly dazzled by the five hour jetlag, I woke up today to find an even rainier – and colder – day.

It seems to suit the motive of the trip which is the Ontario Global Water Leadership Summit taking place on Tuesday and Wednesday and bringing together some of the leading talent in water technology.

Ontario has a plan to become a major renewable energy hub and it also harbors water technology companies, which makes the region a cutting-edge center of cleantech innovation. In February the government of Ontario entered an R&D partnership with PUB, Singapore’s national water agency, to leverage both region’s resources.

Water is the very essence of the region. The area is blessed with tens of lakes, the most famous being the homonymous lake Ontario. Lake Ontario is fed by Niagara River, home to the world-famous Niagara Falls. And it was there we headed today, in order to get a sense of the grandeur of Niagara and its symbolic and practical place in the region’s water wealth.

It’s impossible not to be humbled by the sheer power of Niagara Falls. Its massive flow of water and electrifying beauty is a vivid reminder of the force of nature. They look like a spectacle carefully orchestrated to strike us with a sense of awe and utter wonder.

Many of the tourists wandering there today under their plastic capes to get protection from the intense spray and the cold drizzle probably were not aware of a massive hydropower project currently being undertaken to increase the generation of electricity.

For the last five years a team of engineers has been working in a tunnel below Niagara Falls, said to be the biggest hard-rock tunnel boring machine, which on Friday finally broke through the other side.

The tunnel is called Big Becky, a 6.5 mile passageway built by the Ontario Power Generation company. The project will provide hydropower to 160,000 homes in the region, generating 1.6bn kWh through the power of 500 cubic meters of water per second that will be diverted from the Niagara River to the Sir Adam Beck generating station. It is estimated that it will be in operation for 100 years from the year 2013, when it will be inaugurated after concrete lining has been laid down and careful testing carried out.

Initiatives like this are part of Ontario’s plan to phase out coal completely from its energy mix. Ontario has been attracting solar technology companies to the region as well and it’s home to the world’s largest solar farm. In fact, my first impression of the region is that the size of Ontario’s ambition for renewable energy matches the size of one its biggest natural icons.

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