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HomeNewsCanadian NewsEscalating Risks for Canada's Electricity Grid: Rising Concerns Admist Extreme Weather

Escalating Risks for Canada’s Electricity Grid: Rising Concerns Admist Extreme Weather

Concerns for Canada’s Electricity Grid

CALGARY – The recent alerts on Alberta’s electricity grid during the intense cold spell made headlines nationwide, shining a spotlight on the broader vulnerability of power systems across North America to extreme weather events.

Francis Bradley, CEO of Electricity Canada, emphasized that the electricity grid’s exposure to the escalating severity and duration of climate change-related weather extremes is a widespread concern.

Bradley noted that over the past couple of years, there has been a surge in electricity demand during extreme weather events, not only in Alberta but also in Ontario and Quebec.

This trend indicates growing challenges faced by power systems throughout the country.

Similar challenges have been witnessed south of the border, where Texas grappled with blackouts during winter storms in 2021, and California declared emergency grid alerts due to scorching heat waves.

In Canada, Alberta recently issued an emergency alert, urging residents to curtail power usage to prevent potential blackouts as temperatures plummeted to -40°C.

While Alberta’s response to the alert led to a significant drop in electricity consumption, data from the Alberta Electric System Operator reveals an uptick in grid alerts during both heatwaves and cold snaps.

Between 2017 and 2020, only four provincial grid alerts were issued, compared to 17 since 2021.

The reliability of electricity grids has become a political concern in Alberta, where debates about the rapid transition to green energy are fueled by the phaseout of coal-fired power plants and the surge in intermittent wind and solar capacity.

Bradley emphasized that such challenges are not unique to Alberta, as all jurisdictions grapple with rising electricity demand, driven in part by the growing popularity of electric vehicles and clean energy innovations.

A November report from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) warned of an elevated risk of “insufficient energy supplies” to meet demand in extreme conditions across North America.

While U.S. jurisdictions are generally more vulnerable to winter grid interruptions, parts of Canada, including Saskatchewan, Quebec, and the Maritimes, were also identified as being at risk.

Rising Concerns Amidst Extreme Weather Challenges in Canada

Mark Olson, NERC’s manager of reliability assessments, highlighted the difficulty in forecasting electricity demand amidst intensifying extreme weather.

Even Alberta, not flagged as a potential risk area in the report, experienced demand levels higher than a normal winter peak event during the recent cold snap.

Rob Thornton, president and CEO of the International District Energy Association, acknowledged public concern over grid alerts but emphasized the overall reliability of the North American grid.

He stressed the importance of developing policies for a resilient and reliable electricity system beyond 2050, including a balance between dispatchable and intermittent energy sources, increased capacity investment, and improved inter-jurisdictional connections.

Thornton concluded that events like grid alerts serve as a reminder to focus on building a resilient electricity system in the face of nature’s occasional challenges.

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