Canada has a rich history of exporting natural resources like timber, aluminum, and oil to the United States and overseas. But did you know we also export electricity?
Canada’s electrical power came to the rescue in February when Texas suffered a cold snap that overwhelmed its power grid. Saskatchewan’s primary electricity provider, SaskPower, exported energy to the southern state to help bring lights and heaters back online for the four million people who were without electricity.
In fact, Canada sends thousands of kilowatts of power to the US annually. Which raises the questions: How do we transport electricity, and does selling electricity mean we won’t have enough for ourselves?
How SaskPower Sent Lightning-fast Help to the US
During the Texas deep freeze, SaskPower pumped 175 megawatts across the border for over a week. This was made possible through specialized electrical systems, which connect two or more power grids and allow for easy transmission of energy from one grid to the other.
To send help where it was needed, SaskPower directed the megawatts to the Southwest Power Pool (SPP). The SPP is a company that manages the power supply for the central United States, including Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and Texas. That’s over 3,000 kilometers away from Saskatchewan.
From there, SPP engineers funneled the extra power into the Texas Interconnection. Unlike most of North America, Texas maintains a privatized electrical system. They do not usually get power from anyone, let alone Canada. However, February’s cold temperatures created a demand for heat their generators simply couldn’t handle, requiring outside assistance.
More Than Enough Electricity to Go Around
The news about SaskPower got us thinking: How much electricity does Canada export anyway? Turns out, Canada sends 8% of its electricity to the US annually. This works out to around 60.4 TWh at the price of around $2.5 billion dollars. This may seem like a lot, but Toronto alone can soak up nearly 5,000 megawatts of electricity on a hot summer day.
What’s more, Saskatchewan’s power requirements peak at around 3,500 megawatts. Looking at the 175 megawatts we sent during the Texas storm, it’s clear that this was only a small fraction of the province’s power output.
It’s important to note that SaskPower managed to send the excess electricity while also dealing with a polar vortex of their own. While sending aid, Saskatchewan experienced subzero temperatures far worse than those experienced in Texas. That means that Canada’s power grid can withstand the worst of winter and still lend a helping hand.
In short, exporting electricity is a smart way to aid our closest allies and support the national economy. Power experts across the country know how much electricity we can send south, and how much we must keep for ourselves. When it comes to Canadian electricity, there’s enough to go around.
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