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Polar freeze provokes power squeeze

Posted on January 25, 2024 by Vauxhall Advance

By Cal Braid
Vauxhall Advance
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Earlier this month as a polar freeze settled upon the province, the heat got cranked and the lights burned bright. Unfortunately, by the afternoon of Jan. 13 the electrical grid was maxed out, prompting the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) and provincial government to issue an alert calling for immediate power reduction. The message rang clear on millions of phones, urging residents to dial back their power or face rolling blackouts. The alert arrived during the peak hours of 4-7 p.m. as furnaces, stoves and lights were bleeding the system beyond capacity.

On Jan. 11, a record 12,384 megawatts of power consumption was moving to meet peak demand. Leif Sollid, spokesperson for the AESO, told PostMedia that the wind was moving enough that day to add a boost to the system, but once the winds died down the province found itself in a precarious spot. He said aside from the extreme cold and still winds, two other factors–limited energy imports and the lack of mid-winter solar energy, contributed as well.

The Alberta Institute reported that two natural gas generators were offline, one for planned maintenance and another due to an unplanned outage caused by the weather. Edmonton’s Royal Alexandra Hospital ER lost heat for a short time during the cold weather, and a power outage stopped several of Calgary’s C-Trains. Sollid said that the AESO put out a request for emergency imports, and received some additional energy supply from the Saskatchewan and B.C. tie-lines. “So that did help us. And then we worked with the Alberta government to put out the emergency alert asking Albertans to conserve electricity, and that made a huge difference.”

The AESO reported that immediately after the alert was issued, they saw a 100 MW drop in electricity demand, which amounted to a 200 MW reduction within minutes. The grid alert was declared over at 8:40 p.m. “The province-wide response to the call for energy conservation was tremendous,” said Mike Law, President and CEO of the AESO. “On behalf of the AESO, I would like to extend my thanks to all Albertans who responded to the call for action, which ensured we didn’t have to progress to rotating outages, keeping our grid up and running for all Albertans.” Law said the AESO’s system operators, as well as generation, transmission and distribution facility operations teams across the province came together in “truly a collaborative effort.”

The event will likely trigger further criticism of the clean-energy measures that the federal government warms its hands around. For Albertans, a crisis was averted but the alert got their attention.

The AESO’s website advertises that it’s “taking steps to ensure we can maintain a reliable grid while integrating increasing penetrations of variable wind and solar power onto the system. (We have) implemented a centralized power forecast for use in daily grid operations, allowing for better utilization of power from wind and solar generation while also helping to improve dispatch efficiency and system reliability.”

According to the AESO, the benefits of a centralized power forecast can lead to a “more efficient dispatch of the system – with a centralized power forecast, system operators have access to detailed information about where, when, and approximately how much electricity will be produced by wind and solar plants in Alberta.” It can also lead to greater situational awareness. The AESO says that wind and solar forecasts “enhance the ability to prepare for wind-ramp events that can occur when chinooks, or other high-wind events, are predicted.”

The AESO forecasts are based on the currently installed wind and solar capacity listed on its Current Supply and Demand report. The 12-hour power forecast updates every 10 minutes. The seven-day-ahead power forecast updates every hour. It’s available on their website.

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