Is a Texas-Like Blackout a Possibility in Alberta?

The recent winter storm in Texas left thousands of households without electric power in extremely cold temperatures. About 2.5 million Texans had to survive without power, and 1.3 million were in the Houston area only. The statewide number rose to 3.5 million, and power and water outages impacted daily lives. Read more here.

As Alberta has similar power grids to Texas, people wonder if a Texas-like blackout is a possibility in Alberta. Here we try to find the answer.

Are Renewable Energy Sources a Culprit?

Some people are blaming wind and solar power for the outage. Others think that the key issues were languishing of sufficient pipeline capacity and backup power generation maintenance.

It is a fact that wind and solar power are quite unreliable and need backup power sources. So, Alberta's policymakers would be smart to realize that the entire world needs power that can be produced safely, reliably, and affordably. Too much dependence on renewable sources of power might be a bad idea as we have massive oil, gas, and even coal reserves.

The Similarities

There are many similarities between Texas and Alberta's power grids. Both are historically based around fossil fuel generation, and both are focusing more on wind and solar power. Both also have limited electrical connections to their neighborhoods and, hence, have to manage their reliability individually. Both also operate in an energy-only market, according to which they pay competitive generators solely for the energy they produce.

Though most of the North American continent adds a layer of capacity payments to ensure there are ample power generating capabilities to keep the lights or depend on a traditional, regulated system of utilities, both Alberta and Texas have a lot of faith in the market and are allowing wholesale power prices rise to astronomical levels.

The idea is that if they let the price rise, the demand will fall in the short term, and new investment on generation might be attracted to the market in the long run by producers who want to cash in on rare and highly profitable scarcity events. It has worked well in the last few years, and both Alberta's and Texas's power markets tend to result in lower prices.

Now, questions are being raised regarding whether the market design is offering reliability expected by the customers or not.

Lessons Alberta Can Learn from the Texas Blackout

Alberta and its policymakers can learn the following lessons from the Texas blackout:

1.       There is a need for bigger interconnections with its neighbors so that it can lean on other regions in times of need and vice versa.

2.       There is also a need to elicit more flexibility from the demand side.

3.       The grids built to meet seasonal peaks should be prepared for extreme weather during the entire year, not just for a while.

Alberta Should Fear Blackouts During Heat

Some experts also opine that heat is more likely to cause blackouts in Alberta than a blizzard. Many power plants shut down for maintenance in summer, and hot weather can also reduce output on natural gas facilities.

To know more about electricity in Alberta, click here.



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