Would you buy a washer that, at times, could only handle one sock at a time? Because that’s what our solar and wind power generation facilities are effectively capable of. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

CORRECTION: This story initially reported that Alberta has 736 megawatts of wind power installed. The Travers facility is listed by the Alberta Electric System Operator, but Travers in fact is not actually operational yet as it is under construction. So the total of Alberta’s installed solar capacity is 336 megawatts, meaning the total of wind and solar’s installed base is 2,605 megawatts, not 3,005 megawatts, as initially reported. Calculations in this story have been updated on Feb. 2, 2022, to reflect that.

Why hello, good sir! Welcome to Brian’s Green-Powered Appliance Store. What’s that? You need a washer and dryer? No problem!

Come take a look at this model. It’s solar-powered, the latest in save-the-world technology. Now, it’s 10:15 a.m, so at this time of day you can wash one sock.

What do I mean, one sock? Why can’t you wash four pairs of jeans, five shirts, four underwear and four pairs of socks at a time? It’s because, as I told you, this is a solar-powered washer. It’s January, you know, and you can only wash one sock at 10:15 in the morning. Now, if you wait until 11:15, you can wash TWO socks. And at noon, you might be able to wash some unmentionables, too. But you better get that all done by 3 p.m., because by then we might be back to one sock again. And by supper, you can’t use it at all until the next morning. Then, around 10 a.m., you can wash another sock. But just one.

That’s not for you? Okay, please come over to this aisle, where we have the wind-powered dryer units. You will surely like this dryer, for instance. It truly sucks when it doesn’t blow.

Now, it’ll work most days, but not all. And especially not all in winter. If you work during the day and like to dry your clothes at night, in winter, you’ll have to be very judicious about it. That’s because this wind-powered dryer will, at times, only put out 0.13 per cent of its rated output. So that means you can wash one G-string. Not full-bottomed briefs, mind you. One G-string. That’s all this baby can handle. Forget about your jeans, shirts, or even socks.

You should expect this, you know. That’s what you get when you buy your appliances from Brian’s Green-Powered Appliance Store.

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But you absolutely need your clothes washed and dried, you say? Well, the angle of the sun and the length of days will improve by around March 21, so you should be patient until then. Your solar-powered washer should work just fine, during the day, at least, after that. That’s assuming it’s not cloudy. But come Sept. 21, you better plan on doing your clothes one sock at a time until the following March.

And that wind, well, who knows? It will blow when it wants to, but not so much at night, and we have to shut it right off when the temperature outside is -30 C. We wouldn’t want the wind turbines to shatter, you know.

Not interested? Why don’t you come on over to Brian’s EV Sales’s, because boy, do we have a deal for you. We’ve got some second-hand Teslas whose heating systems don’t work in -30 C due to a software update. And we have a Model 3 that can’t make it 200 kilometres, the distance from Estevan to Regina, on a full charge in that temperature.


Still not interested? That’s okay, by 2035, you’ll have no choice, anyhow. The only new vehicles sold will be electric. We’re like the funeral home. We’ll see you eventually.

Now, if you think that little humour bit was full of hot air, each and every bit of it was based on facts that have occurred in recent days and months.

I don’t have Saskatchewan electrical grid figures, because they don’t put out granular information on which generating station is putting our how much power at any particular time. But the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) does, and in this past week of consistent -30 C temperatures in both Saskatchewan and Alberta, it’s been enlightening to say the least. Since the weather has been essentially uniform, you can likely extrapolate most of what’s happening in Alberta to Saskatchewan.

I thought things were bad on Dec. 31 in Alberta, but they got worse the night of Jan. 5-6.

At 10:45 p.m. MST, temperatures from -28 C to -40 C blanketed nearly ever square inch of Alberta and Saskatchewan, from Estevan to Zama, with most of that territory, including where the wind farms are located, running around -31 or colder. That’s significant because at -30 C, they shut down the wind turbines so that cold brittle behaviour doesn’t cause them to shatter.

So I looked at my favourite website this week, AESO’s Current Supply Demand, found at http://ets.aeso.ca/ets_web/ip/Market/Reports/CSDReportServlet. It’s updated continuously, with minute-by-minute power output of each and every power plant and generating unit attached to the Alberta grid. You can see how much a particular coal unit is putting out, for instance Genesee #3 is putting out 464 of its rated capacity of 466 megawatts at this very moment. That’s almost precisely equal to the 462 megawatts of wind being fed to the grid now, at 11:38 MST on Jan. 6. But solar is only contributing 35 megawatts, when the sun is highest in the sky.

So let’s get back to Wednesday night. It’s cold, and there’s zeros across the board for 23 of Alberta’s 26 wind generating facilities. Only three are contributing any power at all – one megawatt each. So at that point, Alberta’s entire wind power generation, with a supposed capacity of 2,269 megawatts, was putting out three megawatts – or 0.13 per cent of its rated capacity. That’s analogous a dryer that can only dry a G-string at a time. Not full-bottomed briefs, but a G-string.

Of course, solar was producing precisely zero because, shocker, the sun went down that night. As it will every night, until the end of time.

Everyone knows that solar doesn’t work at night. But did you know it doesn’t work during the daytime, in the dead of winter, either?

The next day it was still cold across Alberta, and solar was still pathetic in its output. Out of an installed base of 336 megawatts, at 10:15 a.m. MST, it was only contributing 15 megawatts to the grid. By 12:15, when the sun was close to its highest point in the sky, that grew to only 45 megawatts, or 13.4 per cent of its rated capacity. So that’s analogous to a washer that can only do one sock at a time, but only for a few hours around noon. It’s useless the rest of the day, during the winter.

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I don’t know specifically why Alberta’s solar generation was so low during the day. Yes, the sun is near its lowest angle at this time of year. But solar proponents, in promoting these sites, often talk about being at one of the sunniest locations in Canada. (We have a lot of those, apparently). Could it be snow covering the panels? Maybe – but at all 13 facilities at the same time? Do photovoltaic panels not put out as much due to temperature? I have no idea.

But none of that really matters. They’re all excuses. The only number that matters is net power to the grid, and for much of the first week of January, that number has been laughably low, to the point of not even counting. Again, it’s the ability to wash one sock at a time.

Oh, and at noon on Jan. 6, Alberta was using 11,545 megawatts, just 184 megawatts shy of its all-time record of February, 2021.

Don’t forget, on Oct. 26, 2021, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the world at COP26, “We must find the right solutions for our citizens in their everyday lives. And that is why Canada has set the goal of selling only zero-emissions vehicles and establishing the electrical distribution network for zero net emissions by 2035.”

This is the “energy transition” narrative governments and media are shoving down our throats: For the sake of climate change, in 13 years all we will be able to buy are electric vehicles. We’ll plug them in at night, and they’ll be charged by clean, net-zero emissions wind power (since the sun goes down at night, so don’t count on solar).

But on Jan. 5, when you combined Alberta’s wind and solar together, they were generating 1/10 of 1% of their rated capacity. That’s 1/1000 of what they are supposedly capable of, on one of the coldest nights of the year. Oh, and five days earlier, Alberta shut down two more coal generators.

What happens on such nights 13 years from now when everyone is plugging in their electric Chevrolet Silverados and Ford F-150 Lightnings, each with an 80 amp charger running all night? Will a “smart grid” shut down their charging, so that the grid doesn’t go down? What if you need that vehicle the next day for work, or to go to the hospital, or get your kids to school? What it it’s an ambulance that needs to charge?

Someone needs to be pointing these things out. Someone needs to ask the hard questions, and providing the reality checks. Are we throwing out reliable energy sources only to literally freeze in the dark? Are we going to be like Europe, shutting down industries due to energy poverty?

I will be the one asking those questions, and making those arguments. You will want to know the answers, because these things will, very soon, affect your daily lives.

So would you buy a solar-powered washer or wind-powered dryer from Brian’s Green-Powered Appliance Store? Me neither. But that’s what we are being forced to do.

 

Brian Zinchuk is editor and owner of Pipeline Online. He can be reached at brian.zinchuk@pipelineonline.ca.

 

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Alberta’s wind and solar produced 1/10 of 1% of their total rated capacity on Wednesday night

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