Alberta’s electrical power grid has been stretched to the maximum during the latest cold spell. With temperatures in the minus 40s for the better part of a week and breaking temperature records so too has electrical consumption been breaking records.  

Leif Sollid manager of communications for Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) says, “The extreme cold has put a huge strain on our grid. We're experiencing record demand on Monday evening we set a new all-time record of 12,187 megawatts of electricity.” 

There have also been three Energy Emergency Alerts in the past two days which means the operator has to use emergency reserves to meet demand. Demand can still be met during an alert but it means the operator has to dip into the reserves to ensure everyone is receiving the power they need.  

There are other factors along with the cold temperatures that are putting a strain on the electrical grid. Sollid says, “In addition to the extreme cold which drives up demand, we've also had very little wind and solar coming into the system and they are important contributors to our power supply. But with the weather as it is, they have not been able to help us out much.” To add to the strain, a major generating unit went off line on Wednesday, which has since been rectified. 

The alerts are a warning to Albertans that if the consumption is overly high, it can lead to what they call “brownouts” which means some areas could experience a power outage for as much as thirty minutes. Consequently, if the situation is not relieved with a drop in consumption that could lead to more widespread and longer outages.  

Fortunately, there is a foreseeable end to the frigid temperatures and that should see the electrical consumption drop. However, there are still a couple of frigid nights ahead and Albertans can collectively make a difference in the province’s electrical consumption. Sollid says, “Albertans can help us out by reducing their electricity demand during the daily peak and that peak period is from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.” That is when people are coming home from work and run the dishwasher, prepare dinner, and do all the things that they do at that time of the day. The stress on the grid can be relieved if people are not running large appliances like washers and dryers and dishwashers until after the peak period. Sollid says even small things like not leaving your car plugged in and putting it on a timer help. “If we could all do a little bit, it all helps make a difference, so it is kind of a team effort.”