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Alberta’s electricity demand surges to new record as extreme cold continues

Alberta set an all-time provincial record for power demand on Thursday evening as extreme cold weather blanketed the province. 

At 6 p.m., total demand hit an hourly peak of 12,384 megawatts of electricity, beating Alberta’s last hourly peak power demand record of 12,192 megawatts set on Dec. 21, 2022 — during a previous cold snap.

Leif Sollid, communications manager for the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO), says this surge in electricity demand doesn’t come as a shock.

“Furnaces are running nonstop in people’s homes … block heaters being plugged in, people using space heaters, all of those things that are above and beyond our normal daily power consumption,” said Sollid.

But while Thursday’s power usage might not come as a surprise, the cold weather’s insistence on sticking around through the weekend means the demand for power won’t be going anywhere.

Sollid says they’re watching things “very closely.”

Friday’s forecast shows little sunlight and minimal wind, which the AESO communications manager says impacts the system — natural gas generators will be needed to make up the difference.

“We are getting very small amounts of renewable energy coming out of the system.”

Watt’s up with the grid?

So when it comes to the power demand on the grid, conditions are going to be “tight,” Sollid told CBC News in an interview on Friday, adding that a couple of natural gas generators in the province are offline due to both planned and unplanned outages.

“Today, we are at risk of having to use our emergency reserves based on what we’re seeing with the forecast, with the grid, with demand being very high and very little renewable energy,” he said.

Because of the record-breaking demand for power — and the potential for that record to be smashed again — AESO’s communication manager says they have a message for Albertans.

“If you can, please conserve electricity between the peak demand period, which is from 4 to 7 p.m.,” he said, adding that it’s the “little things,” such as not running the dishwasher or doing laundry during peak hours.

a picture of buildings with fog at the top
It was as low as -36 C on Friday morning in Calgary, according to Environment Canada. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Nonetheless, Sollid says they’re well equipped for all the challenges that the extreme cold might bring. 

“I think it’s important that Albertans understand we have very highly trained system controllers who monitor and manage the grid in real time, they see the entire grid second to second,” he said.

“There’s a lot of technology and training at their disposal to keep the lights on in Alberta, and they’ve done a very successful job at that over the years. We’re counting on their work today.”

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