Today's discussion:

Our electrical grid can’t handle the coming demands

To solve the constraints on energy generation, and to meet net-zero 2050 targets, the federal government projects that grid demand will be twice that of today by 2050. To meet that demand, the capacity of the grid, which we have accumulated since we have had electricity—roughly the past 140 years—will have to double in the next 21 years.

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Michael B

Canada is apparently embarking on a program of installing SMRs – small modular reactors. They’ve been operating on military vessels and icebreakers since the 1960s. To my mind that’s the only feasible choice to provide for an energy transition and avoid messy power grids.

22nd March 2024 at 11:18 am
Norm Starr

In my never to be considered humble opinion Guilbeault is definitely as stupid as he looks

22nd March 2024 at 11:42 am
Rick Anderson

Articles like this often confuse “capacity” and “generation”, which is not surprising since that is also true of the broader political and public policy context especially in the rhetorical zones to be found around annual COP meetings and the like.

Roughly speaking, our electricity generating and transmission capacity is about twice the amount of generation we actually use.

Today we design grids – generation and transmission – which must be able to address the peak demands we anticipate for the coldest hour of the coldest day and the hottest hour of the hottest day, for the next few years, plus a safety margin. But our electricity demand is usually quite a bit lower than those peak times, and in fact if you look at most jurisdictions the capacity is about twice the actual consumption over the year.

That’s inefficient and expensive, and one of the reasons we are now looking to smarter grids, smarter appliances, storage and other ways of better distributing demand towards off-peak times.

Electric vehicles already come with this advantage. Most charging (over 70%) is fine at home, and most of that overnight, during times of low demand. So, as with time shifting, while consuming more power generation, the nighttime portion of that does not necessarily require more capacity.

Further, electric motors are roughly three-four times more efficient than internal combustion engines. Meaning the same amount of energy propels an electric vehicle about four times as far as does an ICE vehicle (due to the extensive energy wasted in an ICE vehicle in the form of engine heat). This efficiency gain helps reduce the economy’s overall energy demand.

It is easy to paint all of this transition as unachievable, or requiring That’s what was said about phasing out coal power, until jurisdictions like Ontario, the UK, now Canada as a whole, showed it can be done in about a dozen years when the political will to do so exists.

We have the technologies to accomplish this, and there are more and better versions of them steadily emerging. Governments should avoid the business of setting truly unattainable goals and timeframes, but likewise naysayers owe it to themselves and their readers to avoid simplistically jumping on the “can’t be done” bandwagon.

22nd March 2024 at 9:18 am
Michael B

Achievable, but at what cost ?
Electrifying Canada’s 26+ million registered vehicle fleet by 2050 in addition to the almost 300 million in the US, over 300 million in China and another 250 million in the EU will require far more crucial battery minerals and REEs than the world’s current reserves. EV batteries come with high, upfront, carbon footprints and environmental degradation due to the mining and processing of those minerals.
Of the approximately 1.5 billion vehicles operating on the world’s roads only some 26.5 million are EVs (BEVs & PHEVs) with about 50% of those in China. Fully recycling all of their battery cells would allow for the production of only an equal number of new cells.
Naturally, as supplies of crucial minerals become constrained, so will EV production with their prices escalating well beyond what the vast majority of households can afford.
As we live in a democracy in Canada what do you think will occur when voters lose their personal vehicles?
Is it achievable?

22nd March 2024 at 11:05 am
Michael F

Your comment does not address the fact that battery technology is already changing as the industry evolves. Solid State battery technology is not far off. Just like the ICE was continuously refined over decades of use, so will electric vehicle technology.

22nd March 2024 at 1:12 pm
Michael B

“Solid State battery technology is not far off.”
Ummm….the technology has been available for over 100 years. Their manufacturing costs and relatively poor durability keep them out of most commercial applications, such as EV batteries, cell phones etc.

24th March 2024 at 7:09 am
Greg Jackson

Rick, your post whether intentional or not, confirms my assertion that our generating capacity is far short of what will be required. What happens when the renewable sources are not available? That is why we have so much “excess” capacity. Demand is instantaneous. Generating capacity is not.

22nd March 2024 at 11:41 am
Paul Attics

Can someone that down-voted this model comment please explain why? …even if the answer is…
“I just can’t handle seemingly well-informed, cogent, and reasonable posts that don’t align with what I wish to believe”.

22nd March 2024 at 11:02 am
Michael F

Thank you for your thoughtful and well reasoned response.

22nd March 2024 at 10:52 am
Greg Jackson

Our current generating capacity is far below what will be needed to supply future demands that Trudeau’s policies will create. Wind and solar are not the solution, as electricity is a demand commodity. As such, for every megawatt of energy produced by renewables, there must be a conventional generating station, (natural gas, nuclear or hydro-power) running in parallel, for when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun shining. That is a FACT. Power plants cannot be started up on a dime, when renewables are not available. They are running all the time, so that when you need to charge your vehicle or turn on your kitchen range, the power is there. Power generating stations take years to build and commission, and that’s after all the hurdles like environmental assessments, engineering and procurement are completed. How do they plan to accomplish this when they can’t even build houses to meet the demands of their failed immigration policies?

22nd March 2024 at 11:34 am
Xiaoming Guo

Yes, the article is right. We should have an interprovincial grid. We export huge amounts of electricity to the South, and cheaply. Some provinces have extra electricity and others have a shortage of electricity. Our infrastructure should connect our economy, not divide our economy. We need grids that cross provinces from east to west, from ocean to ocean, as the motto of the Coat of arms of Canada manifests.

22nd March 2024 at 10:27 am
Crispin Colvin

There are, no doubt, many challenges to the desire to be Net Zero and fully electric. Agriculture faces many challenges that seem to go unnoticed. Our buildings have no alternate source of efficient and cost effective heating and cooling. For poultry and hogs, the need for constant temperature to achieve the best gains, and for the farmer to continue to achieve the best farm management practices, we need natural gas or propane. In many cases, these are the only choices. Technology, and costs, have not kept up to agriculture as yet. Despite this, farmers are willing to adopt new technologies. EV’s on the road are good, but as yet, impractical in the field. Combines run all night and are fuelled in the field. Similarly with tractors. I am not saying we should not adopt the new EV’s, be they industrial, agricultural or for your driveway. We have a long way to go to meet the Net Zero target and research in agriculture appears to be limited. One last question, with the cost of replacement of car EV batteries, what will become of the used car market? What I have read, it seems as though it is cheaper to scrap the car and buy new than to replace the battery. Any thoughts?

22nd March 2024 at 10:41 am
Kim Morton

I find it rather amusing that governments are finally finding out that their promises are not consistent with reality. Virtually everyone connected with electricity in a professional capacity has known that our distribution system is not capable of meeting political promises. In BC, it takes the output of one generating station just to make up for distribution line loss. Now we look at the local distribution system in cities that were designed for single family homes that are now being downgraded to skyscrapers, the same block suddenly has several orders of magnitude extra demand on the same lines. This is over and above the lack of peak generating capacity. The push by the nuclear plant industry to abandon inexpensive coal and natural gas generating plants in exchange for poison spewing nuke plants is not helping. Hydro especially, and coal and NG to a lesser extent can ramp output up and down quickly to meet demand while nuclear have to run at a more constant speed.

22nd March 2024 at 10:08 am

Instead of pipelines, it is time to build the grid. More countries and more companies are moving away from fossil fuels. The demand will decline and Canada will be left behind. If a country like Norway can build an infrastructure to support EV, there is no reason way Canada cannot. Canada built a railroad and seaway so there is no reason it cannot build an infrastructure to support EV.

22nd March 2024 at 8:29 am

According to a study commissioned by the Fraser Institute, Canada will require 10 hydro electric dams with the same capacity as the “C” dam in British Columbia. It took 10 years to plan and build that dam. Given the present legislative, environmental and regulatory requirements there is no way Canada can accomplish what Norway did in such a short period of time.

22nd March 2024 at 8:46 am

I think we’re looking at a nuclear future

22nd March 2024 at 11:16 am

Actually, Site C took 10 years to plan and another 10 years to build. Rather a dismal outlook for our energy security.

22nd March 2024 at 1:04 pm

Thank you for the clarification

22nd March 2024 at 1:19 pm
Michael B

Norway is not representative of Canada. Small geographically, it has a highly urbanised population of some 5.5 million who are near the top wealthiest of the planet in GDP per capita, thanks to oil & NG.

22nd March 2024 at 10:36 am
Walter Benstead

The plain factual truth. Should be obvious to any coherent concerned person

22nd March 2024 at 1:27 pm

Grids still need fortification. The entire country collapses with the failure of the grid. That is why we should be supporting small energy producers at community levels, ideally solar panels on every roof.

22nd March 2024 at 12:28 pm
Elizabeth Thorne

The solution is to use less power. Walk, ride your bike, stay home. Live a conservative life style.

22nd March 2024 at 10:54 am
Greg Jackson

How do you feed your family if you can’t get to work?

22nd March 2024 at 11:43 am
Michael F

It’s simply amazing that in other countries around the world farmers and tradesmen somehow get by without giant quad cab pickups with big gas guzzling engines.

22nd March 2024 at 1:16 pm