Solar Energy’s Role in an Electricity Emergency

On the evening of January 13th, during a cold snap in which Edmonton saw temperatures sink as low as -45°, Alberta sent out an unprecedented alert through its emergency system asking residents to restrict energy use to essentials only: turn off unnecessary lights, avoid large appliances, and even restrict space heaters.

There’s nothing wrong with asking everyday citizens to pitch in during a crisis. But how many of them missed the evening’s Flames or Oilers games or read a book by flashlight that night while every floor of the massive office blocks of downtown Edmonton and Calgary remained brightly lit all night long? Is the message of energy conservation being heard by the larger commercial energy consumers?

This is not to say that commercial users should be powering down at day’s end—the cost of starting and stopping may be much higher than running constantly, not to mention practically impossible for many industries like refrigeration. On top of that, our power grid is not equipped—or designed—to handle the energy demand spike that would occur each morning if all processes were started and stopped daily. 

Alberta’s grid is unique in the high fraction of industrial load on the grid. Industrial load is difficult to turn on and off on short notice. The industrial sector’s role in energy crises can be both reduction and supplementation. It’s in less reliance on the grid and in steps toward energy independence. That’s where solar energy and battery storage enter the equation.

“The AESO has the responsibility to ensure that our system has sufficient generating resources available, but it can’t make them appear overnight. Perhaps, had they known that both Genesee and Cascade [electricity generation projects] would be delayed through this winter, they would have brought on batteries or other capacity on an emergency basis. As it played out, they were left thankful that the wind blew for a couple of days, and left asking Albertans to trim demand for four more. That was far from ideal.”

-Andrew Leach: The day Alberta almost went dark, The Line

The technology and the innovations of solar panels installation techniques are increasing their capability, even if, for example, an industrial building’s demand is higher than an array can fully provide for. At Inferno Solar, we install panels in the most optimized way, whether that’s on a building’s walls, on the roof, or using bifacial panels that collect energy from both sides instead of monofacial panels that only collect from the front. Solar arrays can handle a sizable percentage of a building’s needs and reduce its demand on the grid (not to mention that any excess can actually flow into the grid and appear as credit on your electricity bill).

Battery storage comes in to help out when the solar panels’ production is limited. The emergency alert went out at 6:44 PM, after the sun had gone down and solar arrays were mostly offline. If those panels also fill a battery during the day, the building can switch to stored energy and stay off the grid.

“By charging during times of low demand and discharging in times of high demand, storage can optimize how electricity from our generators makes it to customers, relieving strain on the system in the process. As demand on the grid ticked up and Alberta’s generators were unable to keep up, storage resources were called on to fill in the gap.”

-Robert Tremblay: Alberta needs to supercharge its energy storage, The Hub

With a solar array and battery storage system on every industrial building in Alberta, the traditional grid’s capacity increases to a level where the need to ask citizens at home to reduce their energy usage virtually evaporates.

Business owners are frustrated. When they get their energy bills, one third is the electricity they consumed and two thirds are transmission, distribution, and delivery tariffs that they can’t control. The solution is for business owners to give themselves more control over energy—more independence and more self-sufficiency. Solar panels and battery storage will get business owners off of the grid and keep emergency alerts off of our phones.

It’s time for your business to take a step toward energy independence. Call Inferno Solar today. 587-774-7275

The Line:
The Hub: