Renewable capacity meaningless statistic

When the Alberta Electrical System Operator (AESO) published its most recent forecast on where the province is headed, it noted that the targets set by the previous NDP government were not going to be met.

That, of course, was met by a chorus of lamentations by the NDP and fevered hand wringing by proponents of renewable energy.

Under Premier Rachel Notley, the province had set a target of 30 per cent renewable energy by 2030 – the so-called 30-30 plan.

The plan was actually enshrined in legislation and was to be supported by auctions and 1.3 gigawatts of renewable capacity was secured by including a guarantee that of prices should drop below the contracted price, the government would make up the difference.

Now, the plan earned the Notley government praise, but it never really made a lot of sense.

After all, the Notley plan was talking about capacity and not actual electrical generation.

Currently, Alberta has the capacity to produce about 16.5 gigawatts of electricity, of which 3.1 gigawatts is from a combination of hydro, biomass, wind and solar.

In other words, renewables already account for a little more than 18 per cent of capacity.

When it comes to actual production, however, it’s a different story.

Electrical generation by type

no wind

Hydro is always dependable. The same cannot be said for wind and solar.

The province has 1.7 gigawatts of wind capacity installed, but it never actually produces 1.7 gigawatts. It’s all over the map. Some days it is producing 1.1 gigawatts and on other days it’s producing 1 megawatt.

None of this should come as a surprise. The wind doesn’t always blow. Turbines operate in a very narrow range of wind. Too much wind and they must shut down. Too little and they produce next to nothing.

Solar has been a huge disappointment as well. In Medicine Hat, the city-owned utility shut down its solar farm after five years because it was simply too expensive. The Brooks operation barely produces anything at all.

There is talk of two new large scale solar farms being built in southern Alberta with private funds, but it’s hard how these will get off the ground without government support.

Again, the problem is the variability of sunshine. Quite simply the sun doesn’t always shine during the day because of clouds and, of course, is completely absent at night.

So the fact that the province won’t hit 30 per cent renewable electrical capacity by 2030 is nothing to lament. It is a meaningless statistic if renewables cannot generate 30 per cent of our electrical needs.

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