Cold snap drives record energy consumption in British Columbia

There are warnings that energy production in British Columbia cannot meet demand driven by climate change and the shift to electric vehicles.

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Energy use in British Columbia hit a new high on Friday night, as extreme cold across the province boosted demand to 11,363 megawatts, breaking a record set in December 2022.

Despite record demand, BC Hydro still had enough supply to sell some to Alberta and the US Pacific Northwest states.

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“Our teams carefully plan and prepare for cold weather events like this to ensure our generating facilities operate at full capacity so we can deliver clean electricity to our customers when they need it most,” Chris O’Riley, President and CEO of BC. Hydro said in a news release.

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In Alberta, where power demand hit a record 12,384 megawatts, the province used all of its reserves and was 200 megawatts away from a blackout, according to the Edmonton Journal.

Officials sent out a mobile phone alert, asking residents to preserve power to avoid continuous blackouts.

Energy use in BC peaks in the winter, typically between 4 and 8 p.m., BC Hydro spokesperson Kevin Aquino said in an email.

“This is when British Columbians come home, turn on the heat, turn on the lights, do the laundry and make dinner,” Aquino said.

He said electricity demand during heat waves is about three-quarters of winter peak loads.

Extreme temperatures have been responsible for breaking several records for electricity demand. The 2021 heat wave broke records for peak hourly demand for three days in a row.

The highest demand peak of the summer occurred on June 28, 2021, during the heat wave, when demand reached 8,568 megawatts, 600 megawatts higher than pre-heat wave records.

Peak energy demand days due to extreme weather events are expected to continue to increase in British Columbia, according to a recent report from the North American Electric Reliability Corporationa nonprofit organization focused on energy system reliability and security.

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The report states that as early as 2026, BC could be at risk of not generating enough power to meet demand, as increases in peak demand exceed provincial energy reserves.

Last year, after 18 months of drought, BC Hydro imported 10,000 gigawatt hours of electricity, a rarity for a Crown corporation that is typically a net exporter of energy.

“We currently do not have enough domestic power generation to meet current needs, even before additional electrification in the future,” Barry Penner, president of the BC Energy Futures Initiative, said in a news release following the release of the report.

“Reliance on imported power from jurisdictions facing their own challenges could put British Columbians at risk of power outages and higher customer costs.”

BC’s Site C dam is scheduled to come online this year. It will generate 5,100 gigawatt hours of electricity per year, enough to supply about 450,000 homes.

Electricity demand will be above average over the next few days, but is not expected to reach record levels, according to BC Hydro.

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