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Heat is at Enmax to meet energy demand today, curb emissions in the future

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Heat is at Enmax to meet energy demand today, curb emissions in the future

Chris Varcoe: Alberta’s power system has evolved in recent years, with the phasing out of coal-fired generation and the increase in natural gas and renewable energy.

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As a battered summer heat wave has Alberta in a vice grip, the pressure is on power generators like Enmax Corp. to maintain power.

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That’s the immediate problem facing the Calgary business and industry.

However, at last week’s annual meeting of the city-owned utility company, Enmax also faced questions about the long-term: pressure to cut emissions and reach its new goal of net zero by 2050.

Chief Executive Wayne O’Connor is confident of meeting both challenges, although the long-term goal of reaching net zero emissions will test his ability to adapt as the province’s power sector changes.

“The electricity industry is transforming at a rapid pace and so are we. . . preparing for the critical role electrification will play in a sustainable future, “O’Connor said at the meeting.

In the short term, high temperatures have put Alberta’s entire electrical system under stress, working hard to keep fans and air conditioning units running.

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Weather records have been broken across the province, including in Calgary, where the mercury reached 36.1 degrees Celsius late Tuesday afternoon.

The province set a new summer record last week for peak electricity demand at 11,512 megawatts and broke it again on Tuesday.

In fact, while Enmax’s annual meeting was taking place, the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) sent out a notice asking Albertans to save energy and “reduce the possibility of power outages.”

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More generally, O’Connor said the situation would put the system to the test, including at power generation facilities.

“This hot climate is a challenge, of course, for that business. As temperatures rise, what it does is reduce the efficiency of the plants, ”he told reporters after the meeting.

“I think when we have this kind of heat throughout the province, it will be a challenge.”

Demand and prices have skyrocketed in the past week due to unprecedented weather.

Alberta Power Pool prices hit $ 979 per megawatt-hour (MWh) on Monday and were hitting the wholesale electricity price cap of $ 999 MWh on Tuesday night, according to AESO, which manages the power grid. provincial.

AESO’s vice president of network reliability Dennis Frehlich said the system operator expected demand to be higher on Tuesday than at the beginning of the week, approaching 11,800 megawatts for the day.

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Frehlich noted that electricity imports into the province were able to increase last week as more power was brought in from the Pacific Northwest region.

“We have enough supply right now in the forecast,” he said in an interview.

“We have not reached our reserves yet. . . and we have about 300 to 500 megawatts in reserve, if necessary, before we have to ditch customers across the province. “

Overcoming short-term demands would highlight how resilient Alberta’s electrical system is.

However, more electricity generation will be needed in the future.

A long-term outlook report issued by AESO on Tuesday said moderate cargo growth is expected over the next two decades. An increase in generation is also forecast, and the study notes that “natural gas is anticipated to be the main source of fuel to replace coal in the generation mix.”

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Alberta’s power system has evolved in recent years, with the phase-out of coal-fired generation and the rise of natural gas and renewable energy.

The power grid is seen as one of the key ways for Canada to achieve its net zero goal, such as enabling power supply to an increasing number of electric vehicles. (The federal government announced last week that it will require all new car and light truck sales to be zero-emission by 2035.)

Alberta power generating companies such as Capital Power and TransAlta have already announced plans to become carbon neutral within three decades.

Duane Reid-Carlson, chief executive of electricity consultancy EDC Associates, said Enmax is better positioned than some generators to reach net zero as it has no coal power plants to convert.

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However, it is heavily influenced by natural gas use and will need to adopt technologies such as Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage (CCUS) to meet its climate goals.

“The biggest challenge is reducing your carbon footprint,” he said. “That requires substantial capital.”

At the annual meeting, Enmax officials were asked several questions about their goal of net zero.

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The utility, which will pay a $ 58 million dividend to the city this year, included the goal of net zero in its new environmental, social and governance report issued last month.

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O’Connor said the company spoke to many groups while preparing its report, but noted that Enmax also focuses on achieving the goal “in a way that is affordable for everyone.”

“We are now working with various organizations on what other things we can do, like carbon sequestration, like sequestration. It is the first days for these initiatives, ”he said.

Calgary Climate Hub’s Dr. Joe Vipond said Enmax has committed to reducing or offsetting 70 percent of its emissions by 2030 from 2015 levels, but noted that most of the reductions have already occurred.

However, he applauded Enmax’s goal of electrifying its vehicle fleet by 2030.

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“There will be increasing pressure on all aspects of society to improve,” Vipond said.

“Enmax just has to take that into account to move forward. It will be important to stay ahead, rather than always react to it. “

While 2050 is almost three decades away, large investments will need to be made promptly and Enmax will have a lot of work to do, as will other power generating companies in the province.

But now the goal has been set.

“We will continue to look for long-term solutions so that we can get to zero,” O’Connor said.

“And we’ll have to pull all the levers to get there, frankly.”

Chris Varcoe is a columnist for the Calgary Herald.

cvarcoe@postmedia.com

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