So, Electricity Peaked, eh?

After one of those very cold days during the last couple of weeks, the media reported that Alberta was very close to its ‘Peak Load’. I thought, well, of course it did, but then wondered, what was the limitation that we were close to? In an electrical generation and transmission system there are many parts that need to be considered when talking about peak demand limits, including:

  • Generation plants,

  • Substations, especially the transformers,

  • Main Distribution (consider cable sizes),

  • Local Distribution (in cities and towns), and

  • Tie line capacity and availability

It may help to see a picture of an electrical power system. Here is a simplified overview that I made. The one thing not addressed in this diagram are the tie-lines between BC, Saskatchewan, and Montana. These tie lines attach to the grid at several points in the Alberta Grid. Power can flow either way over these tie lines. When it flows out of Alberta, we make money on that, when it flows into the province, we pay.


Any one of the elements of this system that is marked with a red dot can be a point of limitation. Thinking of the size of Alberta, understand that this chain of supply is repeated many times. However, for what I want to write about, just take note that somewhere in the system the limitation exists when the demand of electrical power is extremely high, like it was in the recent extreme (for us) cold weather.


What sprung to mind was the future electrical loads that will occur when we reach the goal of ‘zero carbon emissions’.


Presently, I estimate that most homes and buildings in Alberta are heated by natural gas. A small amount of rural building heating is by propane, locally stored in pressurised tanks. I also estimate that there is a relatively low percentage of people presently driving electric cars. I’m not including hybrid cars as they do use a percentage of gasoline energy, depending on driving conditions.


Considering the goals for timing of ‘zero carbon’, which is being projected to be anytime between 20 and 50 years in the future, depending what you read, I believe we’re facing some significant changes.


As of today, the main replacement energy to displace the carbon fuel that we use for heating and car fuel now will be electrical energy. Consider all the carbon fuel BTUs of energy we burn today to provide heat and transportation. Now change that into KWH electrical energy. The consequence of that change means our electrical infrastructure and generation has to change—dramatically.


The money to accomplish this will be significant and the main source of that money will be from our exports to other countries and our taxes at many different levels. Regardless of our exports, the financial load on citizens will be noticeable. How the provincial and federal governments handle this will be interesting to witness.


I do wish, while the forecast dates for reaching the desired goals for carbon emissions are being provided, that some groups with the technical and financial talents required, could provide us with a range of costs that we all face to reach these outcomes.


As of November, 2021, petroleum products made up around 43% of Canada’s total export income of $58,572.1 million. These products are named by Trading Economics as Energy Products and Crude Oil and Bitumen Products. Can we, as a country, devise a new export, or increase our other exports, to make up the inevitable lost revenue from the export of our petroleum products?


Maybe the costs to us and an export replacement is not being reported widely because it is just too scary, but then again, it may not be known.




Footnotes:

  • In defence of Toyota’s position to not build any fully electric cars just yet, their head of energy and environmental research, Robert Wimmer, testified before the US Senate in March 2021 and said:

“If we are to make dramatic progress in electrification (of cars), it will require overcoming tremendous challenges, including refuelling infrastructure, battery availability, consumer acceptance, and affordability.”
This inferred that once Toyota sees this achieved in the USA, they’ll have the electric cars available.
  • Alberta is moving towards converting the large electrical generating stations from coal to gas firing. The energy companies are ahead of schedule now and are forecasting completion, province wide, by the end of 2022. This is an excellent contribution to the reduction of carbon emissions, but the electrical energy produced by the converted units is much the same.


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