Extreme Weather Events Disrupting Canada’s Energy Industry

by | Jan 20, 2023 | Electrical Grids, Energy, Gas Infrastructure, Grid Modernization, Infrastructure, Utility of the Future

Although 2022 did not meet the unfortunate weather event benchmarks set by 2021, the year still included an outsized number of extreme weather events, including hurricanes in Atlantic Canada; a derecho in Ontario and Quebec; hail storms in Saskatchewan and Alberta; storms and tornados on the Prairies; flooding in Manitoba and Quebec; wildfires in Newfoundland-Labrador; and a heat dome in British Columbia.

For the majority of the year, Canada’s temperatures averaged approximately a degree warmer than average – the 18th consecutive period of above average temperatures since 2005.

The summer of 2022 was the third warmest in the past 75 years, falling behind only 2012 and 1998. In the eastern half of the country, summer-like weather continued well into November, while the western half saw century-old heat records broken in August, September and October, including hitting 39.6 degree. This extended warm weather meant a dry fall and five times as many wildfires as usual.

Yet, also during the same year, the West and Northwest parts of the country, saw record cold temperatures with wind chills dipping down to negative 55 Celsius and the snowiest January in history recorded in Charlottetown.

Winnipeg saw the wettest spring in more than 100 years, with more than three and a half times precipitation than the 30-year normal. Manitoba saw weeks of spring flood following several storms dropping record amounts of snow and rain.

Meanwhile, Storm Fiona and a derecho cost millions in storm damage, with Fiona’s winds blowing down hundreds of trees, knocking out power to more than 600,000 customers and the derecho leaving more than one million people without power for days. A week later, nearly 30,000 homes were still without power.

The 13 major weather events experienced by Canadians in the past year resulted in insured losses of at least $30 million and an aggregate loss of nearly $3 billion, according to the Catastrophe Indices and Quantification Inc.’s preliminary estimate.

It also has had an outsized impact on Canadian utilities. Extreme temperatures increase electricity demand and both droughts and floods affect water supply quality.

The energy industry isn’t overlooking these weather extremes, with operators reporting that they are designing their networks with extreme weather in mind. The extreme see-sawing temperatures – increasingly hot periods in late summer and early fall and cold periods mid-winter – are putting undue stress on the grid as demand increases in response.

Fortunately, Canadian energy producers are built to operate in the cold, so avoid catastrophes like the February 2021 cold snap that had Texas producers grind to a halt. The heat is another thing, with electrical demand reaching new highs – nearly reaching 12,000 megawatts in Alberta – during record-shattering heat waves. The number of homes with air conditioning in Canada is expected to increase from 60% to 90% because of the increasing heat. For example, it’s increased from 26% to 40% in British Columbia over the past 10 years.

Hydropower, however, provides more than half of Canada’s power, 60%, and the extremes in precipitation and drought can play havoc on hydropower. While drought has obvious problems for hydropower, with low water levels disrupting production, elevated run-off and flooding can pose an entirely different set of problems, especially for aging or smaller facilities, possibly forcing them to go offline. In these cases, operators might have to ask customers to curtail use to prevent outages.

To combat this, other countries are looking at more efficiently storing water during periods of high precipitation so that it can be used during droughts, although there are some indications that diverting water to hydropower plans can worsen drought downstream. In other places, including Argentina, which barely edges out Canada with 61% of its power from hydro, producers are looking at diversifying into solar and wind power.

The Winnipeg-based International Institute for Sustainable Development has found one-third of Canada’s infrastructure is in poor condition and not resilient to the impacts of climate change, estimating that the cost to bring this infrastructure up to par will cost between $150 billion and $1 trillion.

As utilities grapple with the knowledge that they can no longer depend on historical weather data and the need to update infrastructure to be more resilient, there is one place that no predictions or upgrades can touch – their customers’ homes.

Extreme weather events are putting similar pressure on home heating and cooling and electrical systems – they are having to work harder and longer than before, and exterior electrical connections are also vulnerable to storms and falling trees. Supplying a shield against the costs of an unexpected repair can improve engagement and satisfaction, while maintenance plans can improve energy efficiency. HomeServe supplies a turn-key program helps your customers keep their systems working at no cost to your utility.

For more information, contact us.