As the province faced another day with extremely cold temperatures, the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) issued two grid alerts on the same day, asking Albertans to conserve energy.
AESO issues a grid alert when the power system is under stress and is preparing to use emergency reserves to meet demand. AESO also named an unplanned outage as one cause for Wednesday’s grid alert.
Consumers are asked to reduce their use of electricity to mitigate the risk of having to take more serious emergency measures like rotating power outages.
“If we can knock off a few hundred megawatts, whatever the number is, that can make a big difference in reducing the strain on the grid and helping us get over that hump,” said Leif Sollid, communications manager at AESO.
The first grid alert was issued at 8:42 a.m. on Wednesday. It ended at 12:38 p.m. after returning to “normal grid conditions.”
A second grid alert was issued on the same day at 4:24 p.m. and ended at 6:29 p.m.
“What that means is we’ve used all available resources to meet demand and we’re having to use emergency reserves to balance the system,” Sollid said. “We’re also having some of the generating units experiencing operational difficulties because of the cold.”
Sollid advised Albertans to avoid running large appliances between 4 and 7 p.m.
“We’re not asking people not to turn on their Christmas trees or plug in their lights – that alone is not going to make the difference,” he told Global News. “It’s all the other things as well.
“If people want to hold off plugging their lights in, that’s fine. That can make a very, very small difference.
“It’s the bigger appliances that really draw more power that we’re asking people to, if they can, do that outside of that 4 to 7 p.m. peak.”
Grid alerts are almost always issued in the evening between 4 and 7 p.m.
Sollid said Wednesday’s grid alerts came after an all-time high mark in demand for electricity on Monday afternoon.
Blake Shaffer, a University of Calgary assistant professor in economics who closely watches Alberta energy, said high winds generated enough power to meet the record 12,187-megawatt demand and export to neighbouring jurisdictions.
But the province “just skirted by” on Tuesday following low winds, and Wednesday morning the Keephills 3 power plant went offline.
Shaffer said the standard procedure in cases like this is for AESO to call on reserves in the system, shore up imports and call on voluntary curtailing of electricity use from industrial users. Rolling blackouts of around 20 to 30 minutes would be a next step.
“We’re in a really tight spot here where the amount of supply we have going into today’s peak is going to be pretty close to being able to meet the needs of all of the demand we’re going to have tonight,” Shaffer said, noting residential customers represent about 15 per cent of the overall load in the province.
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Monday’s record demand was surpassed Wednesday. When AESO announced the grid alert ended on social media, it also announced a new all-time record of 12,193 megawatts was set.
There a number of things Albertans can do to conserve energy during a grid alert, which include:
- Turn off unnecessary lights and electrical appliances
- Minimize the use of air conditioning/space heaters
- Delay the use of major power-consuming appliances such as washers, dryers and dishwashers until after peak hours
- Use cold water for washing clothes — most of the energy used goes to heating the water (only running full loads helps too)
- Delay charging electric vehicles and/or plugging in block heaters
- Cook with your microwave, crockpot or toaster oven instead of the stove
- Limit the use of kitchen or bathroom ventilation fans
- Use motion-detector lights in storage areas, garages, and outdoors when possible
- Work on a laptop instead of a desktop computer (laptops are more energy-efficient than desktop units)
- Put vehicle block heaters or electric vehicle charging on a timer set to outside the afternoon peak hours
“In aggregate, it helps,” Shaffer said.
This morning’s grid alert comes just over 14 hours after the last one ended on Tuesday around 6 p.m.