and water intakes were frozen, for example, and unable to feed the power plants.
However, Grubert said, there have been many questions about whether the plants
should have been designed to handle this type of weather.
In fact, what happened this week in Texas was “unfortunate, but not unforeseen,” said Francis Bradley, president and CEO of the Canadian Electricity Association, which represents electricity utilities and companies across Canada.
He said a review following a previous extreme freeze in 2005 identified the problems that devastated the state this week and recommended steps such as winterizing generating plants. But upgrades take time.
The problem was not just lack of time, but the fact Texas is a fully deregulated electricity market that does not necessarily have the same central long-term planning authorities that exist in Canada, Bradley said.
“The market signals do not necessarily move in the right direction to facilitate these kinds of long-term investments that are required.”
Tom Seng, director of the School of Energy Economics, Policy and Commerce at the University of Tulsa, summed up the utilities ‘perspective in that context: “Up until now, it’s been an issue of,’ Well, we do not think that’s worth it to ratepayers for what might be a very infrequent weather event. ‘”
Millions of Texans are struggling to stay warm as power outages continue across the state, while politicians are looking to place blame for the systemic failure. 3:
In Canada, Bradley said, most systems are regulated. Ontario and Alberta have partially deregulated electricity systems, he said, but still have strong regional long-term planning and regulation to ensure the provinces are prepared for extreme events that could impact the electricity system.
Prof. Jatin Nathwani, executive director of the Waterloo Institute for Sustainable Energy at the University of Waterloo, said he thinks the organization that oversees Texas’s grid, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), is capable of central co-ordination and planning, but other factors, such as local politics, can hamper upgrades.
“It is a political climate, I think, which is a little less receptive to the kinds of investments I’m talking about that would make the system a lot more resilient and stronger,” he said.
A lack of connections to backup power supplies Electricity systems in Canada – and most systems across North America – have a backup source if their local power generation can not meet demand for whatever reason. They’re connected to supplies in neighboring provinces and states, often as part of larger regional grids, and can import power if needed.
“Every province is connected either east-west or north-south, and in many cases both,” Bradley said.
That’s not the case for Texas.
“The problem they’re having is they don’t have a lot of interconnection with other grids.”
Of course, there can be a downside to that connectivity. In 2003, an issue in Ohio triggered a huge blackout throughout much of the northeastern US and Ontario.
WATCH | The great blackout of 2005:
More than 19 million people go without electricity as a massive power outage reduces Ontario and the eastern US to a crawl. 8:
However, Bradley said that type of event has only happened twice since the 391 s, and each time resulted in upgrades to standards and equipment that made the chance of it happening again less likely.
Some provinces, such as Ontario, benefit from power imports and exports every single day. Mostly, that benefit is economic, said Leonard Kula, vice president of planning, acquisition and operations and chief operating officer of the Independent Electricity System Operator, the Crown corporation responsible for managing Ontario’s power system and planning for its future. But the imports can also cover shortages in the province when needed, such as during a Summer summer wave, without the public even noticing.
“The risk and the potential impact to Ontario of that interconnectedness is a fraction of the benefits that we get from being well connected with our neighbors,” Kula said.
Bradley has a similar view: “The more bulk power interconnections we have between states, between provinces, between regions, the greater resilience that we’re able to have.”
There are five regional grids or ‘interconnections’ in North America. Even though Quebec has its own independent grid, it has connections to other grids. (CBC)
In Canada, the extent of interconnection and exchange of power varies from province to province.
Ontario can import up to 17 per cent of its peak demand, according to the province’s Independent Electricity System Operator.
import less than 10 per cent
, prompting University of Calgary economics Professor Blake Shaffer and Joshua Rhodes at the University of Texas at Austin to
suggest that greater interconnections are needed with neighboring provinces and states to avoid a situation similar to the one in Texas (and Texas could use some more interconnections, too).
Quebec runs an independent grid like Texas, but does have connections to import power if needed – although Hydro-Québec spokesperson Louis-Olivier Batty said that’s quite unusual and a last resort for the province.
Did the mix of fossil fuel and renewable energy play a role?
While some politicians such as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott blamed the state’s power problems on the storm shutting down wind and solar plants, Grubert called that “frankly offensive” considering they make up just 02 per cent of the power mix in Texas.
“The thermal plants – the natural gas plants, in particular – failed very unexpectedly and in a very spectacular way,” she said.
Typically, utilities and power authorities forecast supply and demand to be able to match them as closely as possible. They recognize that some types of generation may not produce as much power in winter. For example, Batty said Hydro-Québec prepares to meet peak winter demand without counting on wind.
Energy experts tend to agree that having a mix of power generation is beneficial.
“Diversity is really, really helpful,” Kula said. “If you are having problems with one fuel type, well, then you do not have all your eggs in one basket.”
In fact, Texas did have a diverse mix of gas, nuclear, wind and coal generation, but in this case, many different kinds of plants proved to be vulnerable to cold.
Is Canada’s system better prepared for extreme weather?
The experts who spoke with CBC News say yes. While the definition of extreme weather may differ between Texas and Canada, this country has faced some widespread and prolonged blackouts caused by the elements. One example would be the 1998 ice storm in Ontario and Quebec.
“Extreme weather is a fact of life in Canada,” Bradley said. “Canadians know that, and the electricity companies know that as well. And so every time there is a major event, there are lessons learned and those lessons are implemented We’re. We’re constantly adapting the system as we see new and more extreme weather events taking place. “
WATCH | The ice storm of 1998: