This weekend was an interesting one as an EV advocate in Alberta.
Alberta’s power grid dominated the headlines – ‘we are out of power, everyone panic, will there be blackouts during the coldest period in quite some time?’
I’ve seen a lot of speculation and, frankly, misinformation about what caused the situation, and specifically to me, what role EVs played (and will play) in the future regarding the stability of our grid.
This weekend’s situation had zero to do with EVs. At last count, there was only ~10k EVs in the province, 0.26% of the provincial fleet of vehicles. They simply do not exist in numbers that would impact the grid.
It is unfortunate that the true cause of the Grid Alert was not well communicated initially – 2 natural gas generation stations were offline. One for planned maintenance (very unfortunate timing), and the other for undisclosed reasons, likely related to failure due to the weather (but that is just speculation).
These are the two assets that were offline:
While our leader, Danielle Smith, pointed out the challenges with renewables during this crisis, it’s important to recognize that all energy sources have their strengths and limitations. For instance, natural gas, which is typically reliable, also faced challenges due to the extreme weather. This situation highlights the need for a diversified energy mix to ensure stability. If you look back to past grid alerts in the summer, at least on a few occasions, it was the same story, a natural gas asset went offline, causing us issues.
Smith was correct in saying renewables were not helping, she just neglected to mention the rest of the story.
And solar and wind won’t be able to carry the load in our winters. Solar is impacted by snow, and obviously by the shortened daylight hours. Wind shuts down in extreme cold, to prevent damage to the equipment.
Another element that went underreported is that we are ‘weeks’ away from this not being an issue again (at least… for a good while, or baring failure of even more assets simultaneously) – two new generating stations were supposed to come online in late 2023, but are slightly behind schedule, and are expected to start contributing to our grid over the next few months. https://www.dispatcho.app/live/CAS1 and https://www.dispatcho.app/live/CAS2
Saturday’s Alert ended when usage dropped 200MW. The above two systems will add 900MW. They will give the province a substantial buffer.
Renewables can play an important part of adding even more capacity to our grid, and they can be augmented by energy storage (battery backup). Many are surprised to hear that Alberta already has such systems in place today – https://www.dispatcho.app/assets/energy-storage, including systems powered by Tesla’s Megapack technology: https://driveteslacanada.ca/news/tesla-megapack-transalta-windcharger-online/
Energy storage is not just related to renewables – it can proactively store excess electricity, whether generated by renewables, or by our natural gas plants, when the demand is lower, and then put that electricity back into the grid at periods of peak demand (or supply shortfall) such as Saturday night. Australia is currently building a 1200MW energy storage system. I know, what is a MW right?! To put that into perspective, Alberta’s single largest power plant is EGC1, 868MW https://www.dispatcho.app/live/EGC1, which doesn’t seem so large in comparison to what this battery system is capable of! I mention this so as to highlight that battery systems can absolutely provide a significant contribution to Alberta’s grid.
In addition to CAS1/2 coming online later this year, there is a plethora of renewables being built (started before Smith put a moratorium in place). Oh, and that EGC1 I mentioned, it was commissioned in 2015, relatively recently, as were a number of other power plants. Our grid continues to grow in capacity.
To that end, the grid has decades to prepare for the transition to EVs. 2035 is often mentioned as a key year – and it is, but not quite as many people understand. In 2035, Canada is mandating that all new vehicles must have a small battery and electric motor. But that can still be paired with an internal combustion engine (which I suspect many Albertans will buy, and fuel with nothing but gasoline, never plugging into the grid). Plus, is it critical to realize that the existing ICE vehicles on the road will not magically be converted to electric. It will take decades for the fleet to age out and be replaced by BEVs (full battery electric) and PHEVs (plugin hybrids – which as I mentioned, never actually need to be plugged in).
Looking ahead, as the number of EVs on our roads increases, it’s natural to wonder about their impact on the grid. With current projections, even a substantial increase in EVs won’t strain our grid immediately. This is because the growth of EVs is gradual, giving us time to enhance our grid capacity accordingly. Additionally, smart charging technologies allow EVs to charge during off-peak hours, helping to balance the load. In the long term, the transition to electric vehicles offers an opportunity to further modernize and strengthen our grid, making it more resilient and efficient.
Some people keenly pointed out how, while they would do their part to lower demand Saturday, there were empty office buildings with lights on, and various other ‘wastes’ of electricity. Fortis in collaboration with Optiwatt, are currently conducting a pilot with EV owners, and for the owners that provided their consent to have charging managed, those EVs were apparently automatically pulled off the grid when the alert came down (I have heard this, but have not been able to verify it). This is to say, EVs allow some intriguing ways to manage load on the grid. There is also the potential that EVs, utilizing their large batteries, could offer some electricity back to the grid when there are shortfalls. This is similar in concept to what Tesla is already doing in some parts of the US through its Virtual Power Plant program, although that is focused on energy storage in the home, not EVs, at least not yet.
I put this out there to bring some perspective and accurate information at a time when many people are jumping to conclusions, and parroting what they see online – biased and inaccurate assertions about how EVs have already started to ruin our grid, and how there is simply no way we can transition to electric transportation.
If you have any questions, or if you spot any mistakes, please let me know.