Wind turbines in southern Alberta The Castle River Wind Farm has 60 turbines, and it was producing zero megawatts. Photo by Clive Schaupmeyer

Three days after the Alberta government put the brakes on wind and solar development, wind power generation in that province fell, yet again, to less than 1 per cent capacity. And it remained below 5 per from mid-morning until at least late afternoon.

At 10:47 a.m. on Sunday, Aug 6, wind power fell to 31 megawatts out of a possible 3,853 megawatts, or 0.8 per cent. That’s eight ten-thousandths of overall nameplate capacity.

Alberta power generation at 10:47 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 6. MC is maximum capacity in megawatts, TNC is total net to grid, in megawatts, and DCR is dispatched and accepted contingency reserve. Alberta Electric System Operator

It stayed at this level for several hours. And it’s the second time in two days that wind power bottomed out in Alberta.

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That’s all according to the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO), which publishes minute-by-minute data on the Alberta electrical grid and all its generation sources.

Out of the 38 wind farms built across Alberta, only 11 were producing power at 10:47 a.m., and all of those were in the single digits. Whitla 1, which has a capacity of 202 megawatts and is one of the largest facilities in Alberta, was producing the most, at 8 megawatts, or 4 per cent of its nameplate rating.

Alberta wind generation at 10:47 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 6. MC is maximum capacity in megawatts, TNC is total net to grid, in megawatts, and DCR is dispatched and accepted contingency reserve. Alberta Electric System Operator

Alberta’s last remaining coal plant, Genessee, was producing 786 megawatts (95.8 per cent capacity) to the grid. And combined, those two coal-fired units were producing 25.4x the amount of power all the wind turbines in the province were producing, combined.

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Despite its own generation issues, with one of its three coal plants down for months due to flooding, SaskPower was sending 87 megawatts to Alberta, while Montana was sending 75. And yet Alberta was still exporting 54 megawatts to British Columbia.

A grid-scale battery in southern Alberta. Photo by Clive Schaupmeyer

Batteries not to the rescue

A common perception is that grid scale batteries will fill in when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine. Alberta has already built five grid-scale batteries totalling 90 megawatts, and between them were contributing zero power to the grid the morning of Aug. 6, despite low wind conditions. According to Dispatcho.app, using data from the AESO, of those batteries, over the last 30 days:

  • eReserve1 Rycroft contributed
    • 20 megawatts for 29 minutes on July 25
    • 20 megawatts for 2 minutes and later 38 minutes on Aug. 2
  • eReserve2 Buffalo Creek
    • 20 megawatts for 30 minutes on July 25
    • 10 megawatts for 10 minutes, 20 megawatts for 4 minutes, 8 megawatts for 4 minutes and 20 megawatts for 2 minutes on July 28
    • 8 megawatts for 2 minutes and 20 megawatts for 34 minutes on Aug. 3
  • eReserve3 Mercer Hill contributed:
    • 15 megawatts for 3 minutes and later 11 megawatts for 38 minutes on Aug. 3.
  • eReserve 5 Hughenden contributed:
    • 10 megawatts for 5 minutes, 8 megawatts for 4 minutes and 20 megawatts for 4 minutes on July 28
    • 20 megawatts for 20 minutes on July 29
  • Summerview contributed:
    • 10 megawatts for 20 minutes on July 24
    • 10 megawatts for 36 minutes on July 26

Thus, the five grid-scale batteries in Alberta contributed power to the grid a total 255 minutes in aggregate, out of the 216,000 minutes collectively over the last 30 days. That means those five batteries, collectively, contributed power 0.2 per cent of the time available, or two ten-thousandths of the time.

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That public perception of grid-scale batteries being used to backfill when wind fails reaches right up to the Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Jonathan Wilkinson. On June 29, at Kipling, Saskatchewan, Pipeline Online had the following exchange with Wilkinson:

Pipeline Online: Minister, you talked about doubling the grid, as you did last night, and SaskPower is talking about adding 3000 megawatts of wind and solar, in addition to this over 600 they already have. But, as you also referenced in response to the question yesterday, we still need backup for it. Where are we going to be building the natural gas to back it up, for nighttime when wind doesn’t blow?

Jonathan Wilkinson: Well? And that’s the question you may actually want to pose to the CEO of SaskPower, who is doing the systems planning. But as I said yesterday, and the conversation that we had there is it is important to have a stable, not just backup, but a stable source ongoing when the sun doesn’t shine and, and in the wind doesn’t blow. Part of that can be battery storage, but part of it will have to be something different than that. And in some provinces, obviously hydro is the answer. In other provinces, it could be gas with carbon capture. And that’s certainly something I think Saskatchewan is looking at now. And in the long run. It could be small modular reactors.

Pipeline Online: Alberta’s built five grid-scale batteries already. And they are used, on average, nine to 23 minutes, three times a month. Is that the type of batteries you’re talking about, or are you talking about something else?

Jonathan Wilkinson: Well, I mean, in different systems, they will operate in different ways. I think what you will see, if you look at Ontario, for example, they see battery storage as a significant component of their plan, going forward, to ensure that they actually have a stable grid. But batteries are actually used to stabilize, right, by and large, and it will be different in different grids.

I think it is important that we actually think about how far can we go, with respect to some of the renewables. And Saskatchewan obviously has huge resources in terms of available land and wind. But it’s also important that you actually have other sources of supply that can enable you to have a reliable grid. And that could be nuclear, that can be gas with capture, that can be hydro, that can be a range of things, including geothermal.

 

Editor’s Note: SaskPower provides much lower resolution data on its power generation. Instead of individual generating sources minute-by-minute, as the Alberta energy market provides, SaskPower only provides aggregate data per type of generation, averaged over 24 hours, and delayed by two days. That information can be found at SaskPower’s Where Does Your Power Come From webpage

Additional analysis of Saskatchewan’s electrical grid can be found on the Twitter account @SKElectricity, found here and at skelectricity.info

 

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