Fri. Feb 23rd, 2024

After four network alerts Electricity, what lessons can Alberta learn?

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Alberta's power grid has had to draw on its reserves to cope with a spike in demand over the past four days.

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The Alberta Electricity System Operator (AESO) had to send out four alerts in four days, urging Albertans to reduce their electricity consumption in the midst of extreme cold spell to avoid power outages. Is this a sign that the electrical system should be improved?

For associate professor of economics Blake Shaffer of the University of Calgary, there was nothing the AESO could have done to quickly prepare for the peak demand, apart from communicating a little further upstream about the risks of system breakdown.

Certainly, several of the elements that contributed to the high demand were anticipated, such as the cold and the absence of wind for the wind turbines, but unforeseen events were added, he explains.

Montana and British Columbia, which can export electricity to the Alberta grid, have faced high demand. Washington State has also encountered problems with its electricity grid that have led it to offer electricity prices two to three times higher than those offered in Alberta.

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The little electricity that British Columbia could sell, it could sell two to three times more [dearly] in the United States, he explains.

Alberta Public Services Minister Nathan Neudorf quipped that it was impossible to build a new power plant in a few days to prepare for all these events.

We are currently reviewing the system to ensure this does not not happen again.

A quote from Nathan Neudorf, Alberta Minister of Public Services

Blake Shaffer adds that in the short term, the risk of a repeat of such pressure on the system is low. Three new thermal power plants will begin producing electricity this year, adding more than 2,000 megawatts of capacity to the system.

But when we look at the Over the next 5 to 10 years, we need more flexibility, he emphasizes, in particular to improve the reliability of a network which increasingly integrates renewable energies.

For this, Blake Shaffer believes that the first measure to take is to encourage the construction of reserve power plants, that is to say power plants which only operate for a few hours or days a year.

Former Utilities Consumer Advocate Bureau Director David Gray notes that the maximum price offered for this power generation hasn't increased since the late 1990s, so we no longer have anyone willing to build these small power plants. peaks that make the grid more reliable, he says.

Pembina Institute electrical program analyst Jason Wang also thinks that Alberta should incentivize more electricity storage. A few projects saw the light of day in the fall and also helped relieve the electricity network last Saturday.

A bill encouraging the establishment of these technologies, however, was never proclaimed after its adoption in the Legislative Assembly in 2022. According to Jason Wang, of the American states and other countries are implementing this type of storage at the neighborhood scale and enacting the law would encourage electricity providers to explore such options in Alberta.

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British Columbia exported electricity to Alberta to help it cope with a spike in demand, but these exchanges are limited.

Another measure he would like to see come to fruition is the establishment of more connections with neighboring provinces. Although British Columbia and Saskatchewan helped Alberta during grid alerts, the opportunities for power sharing are really small because of the low number of transmission lines, Wang said.

Between Alberta and Saskatchewan, the exchange is limited to 153 megawatts, approximately 0.1% of the peak consumption of recent days. We must seriously look at whether it is possible to expand this capacity, promised Minister Nathan Neudorf.

This proposal is on the table for years, but it creates a lot of concern, however, underlines Professor Joseph Doucet, of the faculty of administration at the University of Alberta.

There are fears that this could allow British Columbia producers to take advantage of their storage capacity in hydroelectric reservoirs to sell us [electricity] at a higher price when demand is high, he explains. .

Beyond system reliability, measures could also be taken on the demand side. Joseph Doucet thus underlines that financial incentives could be offered to companies to reduce their consumption when the network draws on its reserves.

This could allow the manager of the network to call on these resources rather than considering the potential for general load shedding as we saw on Saturday evening, he underlines.

Jason Wang agrees and cites the possibilities of better distributing demand over time thanks to smart meters. For example, water heaters do not need to heat up just before use. […] If the manager sees that there is going to be a problem with electricity production, he can send a signal to the devices so that these hot water tanks heat up sooner, he explains.

Pilot projects of such demand control mechanisms have been established for electric vehicles. Alberta is lagging behind in this area, however, according to Jason Wang.

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