“As climate change accelerates, many electric grids will face extreme weather events that go far beyond the historical conditions those systems were designed for, putting them at risk of catastrophic failure.”
That’s a quote from a New York Times article by Brad Plumer published on June 15, 2021. The headline: A Glimpse of America’s Future: Climate Change Means Trouble for Power Grids.
And Canada’s power grids as well. I can vouch for that.
One hour and 16 minutes after I published a post here on Saturday, May 21 with the title What good is an EV when extreme weather events knock out power grids?, a fierce, fast-moving storm swept through this region, bringing down power lines and poles along with so many trees.
It was over as suddenly as it arrived.
The storm had already swept across southern Ontario, leaving a path of destruction and multiple deaths, before lashing Quebec. After it was all said and done, hundreds of thousands of people were left without electricity and were warned it could take several days to get it back.
No. I can’t predict lottery numbers, I told a colleague who asked after learning about the blog post.
But scientists and other experts have been warning about an increase in extreme weather events for several years now. The future is now. In my neck of the woods. Literally.
Many people in the United States and Europe would agree. They’ve experienced it, to greater and lesser degrees in their corners of the world, too.
I thought a lot about the power grid in Quebec during our seven days without electricity. There was no quick fix. In my region alone, there were at least 1,500 different outages. Downed trees had to be cleared, snapped hydro poles removed and replaced, power lines connected, and more. And across the province, there were thousands more similar outages.
The wireless network was affected as well. I had no wireless internet access and only intermittent cellphone service after the storm. But that service was restored within a couple of days.
So, why doesn’t Hydro-Quebec go ‘wireless,’ I thought. Why don’t they bury their lines underground everywhere, as they do in the downtown core of Montreal?
I have asked this question before. One Hydro-Quebec worker who was restoring power in my area several years ago rubbed his index finger and thumb together and replied, with a grin: “Money.”
OK. It would cost a lot. But the cleanup in the aftermath of the Saturday storm will cost the power company tens of millions of dollars, it said in a news report.
And they can expect many more extreme weather events, some as soon as this summer, one weather analyst was saying in a news clip.
Hydro-Quebec, for its part, has addressed the issue of burying its lines: It makes it harder to find problems with the grid, it said in one report, and to fix them.
Yes, but wouldn’t there be fewer problems if trees and wind weren’t downing the lines in the first place?
Let’s hope the Saturday storm has Hydro-Quebec re-examining its options in the face of extreme weather events and climate change. Its decision may very well determine the future of electric vehicles in Quebec.
As for me, well, my old Jeep got me out of storm central to pick up some food and such. I didn’t even mind paying $2.05 a litre for gas. Thank god it was available, I thought. If I had been driving an EV, I would have been out of luck: the gas station doesn’t have any EV chargers. Ditto for most of the other stations in the region.
So, I’m sure it comes as no surprise to anyone reading this post, along with the earlier one, that I will not be buying an EV any time soon. The storm drove home the very message I wrote about that Saturday afternoon. Above-ground electric grids around the world are no match for extreme weather events.
The EV industry may very well stall unless power companies adapt, and I just don’t see that happening quickly.
Out here, overloaded grids blow out and start catastrophic fires. With things getting warmer, there’s more demand for air conditioning and EVs are also adding huge amounts of demand. At the same time utilities have historically neglected fixing and upgrading the grid because they are just cheap and the state that supposedly regulates them is in their pocket.
At the same time, electric utilities are trying to convince the state to levy taxes on residential solar to compensate for lost revenue. Their argument is that only “rich” people have residential solar and they need to subsidize most people who do not. (We are FAR from rich.) They also want to force all the solar into large facilities in the desert where they can keep control over it.
I would love to go the solar route, but it is quite expensive to do the conversion. I have read about some of the California fires and how they were started by the electrical grid. It’s mind-boggling.
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Ours didn’t cost anything. The solar company puts them on our roof and they keep ownership and responsibility. We pay them for the energy we use at a very low rate while they sell the excess to the power company.
That is a nice deal!
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I agree that EV’s are an idea who’s time is coming, but not yet here. Those who have adequate disposable income to have one and a backup vehicle will drive that change. For right now, I think a wiser choice is a hybrid vehicle. They give you options in situations such as power outages and other catastrophic events that may come to pass.
Yes, EVs are very expensive, and there is a waiting list for them here. It could take a year and half to actually take delivery once you make an order.
Underground utilities sound like a great idea, but they too have quite a downside. The last time I lived in a local with all underground utilities, we had more power outages than in any other location in which I’ve resided. They probably wouldn’t be a good idea in geologically active areas, either. I think that you are probably experiencing the net result of a lack of proper maintenance of the utility right-of-way areas. Our utility companies (Great Lakes region, USA) have stepped up tree trimming efforts & we have seen a noticeable reduction in weather event power outages. The durations have shortened also. However, I still feel that having an adequate sized gen-set to maintain power to essential home items is an important part of one’s disaster preparedness plan.
I have ordered a small inverter generator to keep the fridge running so we don’t lose our food.
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Great choice! They are lightweight and economical to run. My needs required a larger investment because I have a well. Can’t live without clean water!
I actually have a well, too, so if there is no electricity, the pump doesn’t work. But I do live by a lake, so there is water to flush toilets etc. However, I am considering buying a more powerful non-inverter generator that can be hooked up to the house’s electrical system.
Yes, overhead powerlines are a brilliant idea. First of all it absolutely looks great, and 2nd it’s very reliable in all weather conditions…
O, wait, no, neither…..
Yes, in most cases the grid is way behind in capacity than there is demand. Here it is the same thanks to government rules that disallowed the operators as well as the main interconnecting grid to anticipate growth and invest in that, but only allowed upgrades if there was a demand for a connection, either user, or supply with either wind or solar parks.
But yes, an underground power distribution net initially is more expensive;
The cables are more complex (4-wire 230/400Vac here), and these need to be digged in with also the user extensions that need to be properly encased.
But, if properly done there is no more storm damages, unless there would be a land slide involving a cable. Yes, there will be damages due to works damaging underground structure.
But, no poles that need to be erected with all the wires individually put up on isolators and no cost for repairing storm damages with every mayor storm. And the latter are clearly on the rise in numbers.
Obviously less power outages for the customers.
But yes, more initial cost, and I guess storm damages can be insured. So, probably the companies, the accounbtants, decided that at least is short to medium term there is more profit in not putting the distribution underground.
I think the power companies will have little choice, though, if extreme weather events increase — as they are predicted to do.