All the Wind in the World…

University of Alberta Professor says “all the solar farms and wind farms in the world located in Alberta” would not meet the province’s energy needs…

By Cody Ciona for Energy Now

The crucial need for Canada to have a flexible and diverse energy grid was given a practical demonstration this past weekend as frigid winter temperatures in Alberta prompted a grid emergency.

With temperatures in some places dropping to almost –50C with the wind chill, provincial officials issued an emergency alert asking Albertans to immediately reduce electricity usage, with the grid approaching maximum capacity during peak hours.

With wind and solar assets unable to contribute power and the unexpected shutdown of two natural gas plants, Albertans faced the possibility of rolling blackouts in dangerously cold conditions.

A day after the emergency, the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) thanked Albertans who responded quickly to reduce the demand load.

“This is an example of why we need to ensure that we have sufficient dispatchable, dependable generation available to us as a province to meet what is always our most challenging time, which is those cold, dark winter nights,” Michael Law, CEO of AESO, told the Calgary Herald.

The prospect of failure in the worst possible circumstances prompted energy analysts to highlight the critical need for a diverse and flexible energy grid.

“You could have had 50,000 megawatts, all the solar farms and wind farms in the world located in Alberta, and it still wouldn’t have come anywhere close to closing that gap,” University of Alberta economics professor Andrew Leach told CBC News.

Wind and solar can be major contributors to the grid when conditions allow, but when the sun goes down and the wind stops, base load power sources like natural gas reliably protect the system.

Leach said system operators need to plan for supply to manage adverse weather conditions to ensure the reliability of the grid.

“Whether it’s natural gas, nuclear, import capacity, battery storage, etc., geothermal, there’s nobody that’s arguing against that.”

With policymakers pushing for more electrification, University of Alberta industrial engineering professor Tim Weis said Alberta isn’t alone in the need for resilient and stable power supply.

“I think we need to wrestle with that and realize that we are moving into a world where there’s going to be more electrical demands on the system,” he told Global News.

“We are moving into a new world. We’re not the only ones facing some of these challenges. I think we’re a little bit behind responding in terms of dispatchable demand and allowing consumers the opportunity to automatically respond to some of these things.”

As the federal government aims to decarbonize Canada’s electricity generation by 2035 with sweeping regulations, flexibility for some jurisdictions is a key factor that needs to be addressed, said University of Calgary associate professor of economics Blake Shaffer.

“I do think that this shows us that no amount of renewables would push us to have solved that winter peak on Saturday,” he told CTV Calgary.

Read the full story here.

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