Wind turbines in southern Alberta. Photo by Clive Schaupmeyer

The problem is not when you have four tires filled with air on your vehicle, it’s when you have a flat tire. And that was Alberta’s power grid at 6:51 p.m. on Friday, as wind power generation fell to 7 megawatts out of a possible 3,618 megawatts.

That’s 0.19 per cent of nameplate capacity, or 19 ten-thousandths of capacity. And it had been hovering around that level for at least an hour, the supper hour.

Alberta power generation at 6:51 p.m., Friday, April 21. Wind power generation was producing 7 megawatts, out of a possible 3,618 installed capacity. MC is maximum capacity, in megawatts. TNG is total net to grid, in megawatts, and DCR is dispatched, and accepted, contingency reserve, in megawatts. Alberta Electric System Operator

And if you’re counting flats, out of the 36 wind farms in Alberta, at that moment, 32 were producing precisely zero power.

Alberta wind power generation at 6:51 p.m., Friday, April 21. Wind power generation was producing 7 megawatts, out of a possible 3,618 installed capacity. MC is maximum capacity, in megawatts. TNG is total net to grid, in megawatts, and DCR is dispatched, and accepted, contingency reserve, in megawatts. Alberta Electric System Operator

One singular coal unit, Genesee Unit 2, was producing 414 megawatts, or 59x the entire wind fleet of 36 wind farms, hundreds of turbines which cost billions of dollars.

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The common perception is that wind and solar are cheap power. And when they are producing at high levels, Alberta often sees its pool price around the $50-$75 per megawatt hour, or less. But as cheap, consistent coal power has been taken off the Alberta grid (there’s only one coal plant left), when wind and solar drop off, pool prices shoot through the roof.

According to the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO), the Alberta grid saw four spikes in power pool prices throughout the previous 24 hours, as wind power production remained low during that entire time. It neared the theoretical maximum of $1000 per megawatt hour, hitting $912.38 per megawatt-hour at 10 p.m. on April 20, $806.76 per megawatt-hour at 8 a.m., and $540.04 per megawatt-hour at 2 p.m. At 6 p.m. it was $620.95.

Alberta pool price per megawatt-hour. Alberta Electric System Operator 

 

This is common occurrence whenever wind power generation drops to next to nothing and/or solar drops to nothing at the same time. This has been occurring despite the province’s internal load being about 1,000 megawatts below consumption during the recent winter months.

Another common perception is that grid-scale batteries will be used when renewable power generation fails to deliver. But again, despite low wind conditions at Friday’s supper hour and the sun setting, Alberta’s five grid-scale batteries were not called into service. Four of them had, however, seen service the previous evening just before 8 p.m on April 20. One was used for 12 minutes, a second for five minutes, the third for 17 minutes and a fourth for eight minutes. The fifth was not used at that time.

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It was not a particularly sunny day, either, in Alberta’s solar belt. This can be identified by looking at the graph of power production, as displayed by Dispatcho.app. That website logs the minute-by-minute data provided by the Alberta Electric System Operator.

The orange graphs are the solar power output of Alberta’s 31 solar facilities on Friday, April 21. Dispatcho.app

When a solar facility has a sunny day, the power will rise in a linear fashion, produce a flat line throughout the day, then taper off in a linear fashion. The graphs of all of Alberta’s now 31 solar facilities showed that not one facility demonstrated that idealized power profile on April 21. While that does happen, and on a frequent basis, that was not the case on this day. And seven of those facilities were offline the entire day.

On this day, Alberta’s (and Canada’s) largest solar facility, Travers, produced a maximum of 431 megawatts out of its 465 megawatt capacity. It spent most of the day around 300 megawatts.

Output graph of Travers, Canada’s largest solar facility, near Lomond, Alberta., on April 15, 2023. This is an ideal graph from a sunny day. Power production was consistently 466 megawatts. Dispatcho.app

Output graph of Travers solar on April 21, 2023. This is not an ideal graph, indicating dips in production from cloud cover. Power production stayed mostly around 300 megawatts, peaking briefly at 431 megawatts. Dispatcho.app

Alberta’s grid was seeing an internal load of 9,487 megawatts during the supper hour, about 1,000 megawatts less than a colder day in the previous months. It was importing 510 megawatts from British Columbia (305 megawatts), Montana (116 megawatts) and Saskatchewan (89 megawatts)

SaskPower is intent on adding an additional 3,000 megawatts of wind and solar power capacity to its grid by 2035. SaskPower is currently building its first 20 megawatt grid-scale battery at Regina, for a cost of $26 million.

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