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Demand and Operations Past and Future

August 06, 2020  |  Podcast

Throughout the history of Ontario’s electricity system, different events have impacted grid demand and operations such as the SARS virus, the 2003 Northeast Blackout, and now the COVID-19 pandemic we are in today.

In this episode, host Terry Young has a discussion with current Chief Operating Officer and VP Planning, Acquisition and Operations Leonard Kula and former COO Kim Warren, on lessons they’ve learned from past events, and how operations have evolved today.

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Podcast Transcript

Terry Young (00:12):

In the last episode of the powering tomorrow podcast, we discussed how COVID-19 has impacted the electricity sector, how demand for electricity changed during the shutdown, and how generators, transmitters, and others connected to the grid have managed the operations during this time. On today's episode, we'll continue to look at the impacts of COVID-19, but we're also going to take a look at different historic events Ontario has faced, how electricity demand was affected, and how the IESO managed the grid during those times.

Now, if you visit the IESO control center, chances are, we'll take you up to our viewing gallery that overlooks the control room. We then ask the control room operators to open the curtain so the control room becomes visible and you get to see what our operators are dealing with, demand, generation, and transmission conditions, just to name a few of the things that they're dealing with at that time.

But since we aren't entertaining visitors right now, because of COVID-19, we're going to virtually open the curtain through our discussion with two of our guests, current IESO Chief Operating Officer, Leonard Kula, and former IESO Chief Operating Officer Kim Warren. I'm excited to talk to both of you today.

It's been, I've worked with both of you and you have a wealth of experience. In fact, together, these two folks have a combined experience of over 60 years in operating Ontario's electricity grid. Kim started at the former Ontario Hydro in the early 1980s. His expertise is in planning and assessments, regulatory affairs and system operations. Actually, Kim, if I recall you actually started in the late seventies, my apologies for that taking a few years away from your career. Leonard Kula,took over as Chief Operating Officer when Kim retired at the end of 2017 and, Len assumed those responsibilities having been with the organization again, starting with Ontario Hydro in the later 1980s, his experiences in system and market operation. His current role includes leading the IESO planning as well as the acquisition functions, including the work we're doing around Market Renewal.

So welcome Kim. Welcome Len. It's great to have the three of us back together again. Thanks for joining us.

Kim Warren (02:25):

Thank you.

Leonard Kula (02:25):

Thanks Terry. Happy to be here.

Terry Young (02:28):

So let me start with you, Leonard. It's been a, it's been a heck of a year, the pandemic all of us now working remotely, including you we've seen in the first few weeks of the pandemic or even the first month or so demand being down quite a bit, but now with Ontario reopening and we're seeing humidex topping 40 on some days we're seeing very high peak demands. Peaks that we haven't seen since 2013 when Kim was Chief Operating Officer. Leonard, tell us about some of the significant challenges you're seeing in terms of maintaining reliability during this time we're in right now.

Leonard Kula (03:07):

Thanks Terry. You're right. It's been a very interesting year. So, you know the major activities around the pandemic started in March of this year, and frankly, we had a sense in, in the middle of January that that what was coming from around the globe was a little bit different and that we needed to pay attention to this. And so because emergency preparedness and crisis response is always at the top of our mind, we were already turning our attention to it and starting to think about what we needed to do. And so it's been a while since we've had to deal with something like this you know, Kim was the control room manager n the last time we had to deal with this around 2004 with the SARS epidemic.

And, and to be honest, the, the things that were thought of back then taught us a lot. And, and I think the biggest thing that we got out of our SARS experience was the permission to freedom, the mindset, to think outside the box. And so you know, the, the mindset in 2004, when SARS was around, we had to protect the health of our operating staff. The SARS activities were concentrated in the GTA area. And so Kim and the other folks that were running the control rooms started thinking, what do we need to do to protect the crews? And one of the things that they were putting in place was, you know, actually sequestering two crews of operators in Western Canada, where SARS wasn't as, as prominent as it was in the GTA.

And even though we didn't have to take, pulled the trigger on that action in, at that time, just knowing that that Kim and the crews had thought of that really helped us out a lot. And so right away, it put our whole operating mindset in January and February and March this year to say, this is going to be an extraordinary, and it might call, might require us to take extraordinary actions. And so we started doing that and so very quickly we have a functionally duplicate to control room you know, in addition to our main control room and we split our crews. And so the day crew works out of our Clarkson site. The night crew works out of our backup center. We took a number of other actions to go ahead and, and make sure that the health of our operating crews and the staff that support them.

And this was expanded to all of the IESO was handled appropriately you know, having worked for Kim and others for a number of years the certain key principles of crisis management stuck with us. And that is consistency of action. Consistency of message. And it was those two principles that really drove a lot of our thinking and our responses in the early days when we needed to take a number of rapid actions to make sure that our operating crews were safe, IESO staff, that support them were safe. And also by extension that the Ontario power system was safe. And so we drew upon a lot of lessons learned from the past. So we got through our initial crisis response, and then there's been a lot of work with the sector from there to make sure that we understand the challenges, the capabilities of various sector participants.

And you've already talked about it, generators, transmitters and our interconnected partners, because Ontario is connected to neighboring jurisdictions. So it has been a very interesting time working our way through this every week is different. And so we constantly monitor where we are at and anticipate things for the future, so that we can go ahead and position ourselves appropriately to take the right actions.

Terry Young (07:14):

So I want to get to the high demands we're seeing over the summer in a second Leonard, but Kim this must be a, I know you've retired, but to continue to watch the sector and, and you know, advise on what's going on as well. This must be bringing back some memories for you.

Kim Warren (07:37):

Oh for sure. It's nice to see a little bit of heat, frankly come into the picture again and see the system get a chance to stretch its legs. You know, it's been muted conditions through the, through weather and such the last few summers. They're never easy. But it does bring back some memories of summers, like 2002 or 2005, or like 2013, that type of timeframe. They seem to be handling it much better I'd say, you know, the asset base is more reliable, I think it seems to be fresher, newer. The gas fleet seems to be doing quite well. You know, it looks like the nuclear fleet is really hung in there through this heatwave, which is fantastic. Back in the day, we were a little short maybe in the range of four to five thousand megawatts from what we might've liked, and we were more reliant on the interties and we're at a better position of strength now. Voltage doesn't seem to be the issue that it was back in the day. We weren't expected to be summer peaking when we turned into summer peakers. It wasn't forecasted. It came out, came upon us really quickly, and it wasn't just the shortage of supply that was of concern and the resulting transmission constraints, but we really had a hard time adjusting to the types of loads, the inductiveness of the loads and what it meant to the voltage on the system and, and Hydro One, and others had to do a lot. There was an awful lot of investments to try to alleviate those concerns.

Terry Young (09:24):

Leonard, when you hear all this, and I know you were working with Kim at the time. Fast forward to 2020 and the high demands you are seeing, how have you been, what's been key in terms of managing some of the challenges this year?

Leonard Kula (09:40):

So we've gone ahead and spent a lot of time enhancing our capability to forecast demand. So you know, Kim often told me, as the world evolves, as more generation is connected to the distribution system, as more consumers exercise choice in what they're going to consume, and how much they're going to consume, and when they're going to consume it, there would be greater challenges to forecast electricity demand. And that's the foundation of the operating that we do. So we've put a lot of care and attention into establishing a center of excellence for demand forecasting, and they support all of our demand forecast from the next five minutes to 20 years out. And they've developed quite an amount of expertise. We've also been tremendously aided by insights that we are able to gather from the various sectors of the Ontario electricity sector, commercial, wholesale, residential, and so that expertise and that capability has been really pressed into service because as I said the world is, is changing on us really, really quickly. Looking at the last month as an example we have three factors that are, are all impacting electricity demand in different ways, and significantly. Weather is of course, one of them we've been into various hot spells, probably about five or six now since the latter part of May. And so weather plays an important part, and we certainly had a hot weather. The first part of July was an extended heat wave.

Leonard Kula (11:28):

And so that really had an impact on, on electricity use. You've got the economy reopening. So as we go through stage one, stage two, stage three, through various parts of the province, that means that more and more people are going into different spaces and that is changing electricity demand. And then we've also got the new normal of a significant portion of the population still working from home. And so as we reopen malls, and office buildings and things like that, there's still a good chunk of people at home and they're using air conditioning. And so this picture is evolving on a week by week basis, and we're in the fortunate position of having a really good group of people that, and the tools to go ahead and anticipate and or interpret the evolution of the Ontario electricity demand pattern since the middle of March.

Terry Young (12:26):

So you mentioned the tools that you now have in place. Kim, when you look at the tools that are there and how the systems involved, I'll take you back 15 years, 2005, 2006, when we had those record demands for electricity, I bet you would have liked to have some of those at your disposal.

Kim Warren (12:46):

Oh, yes. You know, but you continued to learn and evolve and I give Leonard in his staff, a lot of, a lot of credit and that just the IESO in general, for continuing to revise what needs to be changed and not being, you know, not resting on your laurels. But when I think back, you know, since that time there's been tremendous investments. An entire gas fleet, the wind and the solar, the new interconnections with Quebec, the Beck tunnels, the QFW corridor transmission that was always our Achilles heel. It never showed up until it was too late. You know, Bruce-Milton transmission, all the voltage control devices and Leonard was speaking to some of it, the forecasting that the IESO has been doing, I think is just exceptional.

It's not an easy task and they continue to evolve and being able to differentiate the different types of loads that commercial, residential, get a good grip on just what is what's occurring and what that might mean in the future as different actions are taken or not taken and what they've done to enable loads to help out the system in time of need. It's really been quite substantial. I think it helps to have lived and, gone through a lot of it. And I think a lot of the staff have seen and done that. You know, the IESO is a pretty mature organization now post-merger and such, and how it's been able to blend in the different work practices from those, the old historical companies into one new company and break down some of those barriers. The investments they've made in and your stakeholdering and just the market participant interface, the types of coordination that's out there with those folks and the gas industry in general, and the protocols that are in place, the confidence that's place.

I mean, it's really nice to see, and it puts Ontario in a good position. I guess neighboring jurisdictions, that's who we're, you know, that's who our economy is going to compete against. And in that vein, we're in a good spot. So handling these situations is never easy, as I said before, but I think that you know, Ontario on the energy front has weathered this storm pretty good and it's nice to see, and I got a lot of confidence that that's going to continue.

Terry Young (15:27):

So I want to, you talk a little bit about the evolution of the tools and, and certainly a lot of those tools have evolved since 2003. And we're coming up to that anniversary of August 14th and the blackout. And just wanted to maybe, end if we can, with a moment or experience, both of you have around that blackout. I will tell you the things I remember is Kim talking to you, and the crew at six o'clock almost every morning about what the heck we were going to see, and how the heck you were going to deal with it. So, interested in both of you in terms of your thoughts as we approach that anniversary, starting with you, Kim.

Kim Warren (16:23):

Gosh, I could go on for awhile on this one, but I remember I was actually in the control room as the thing was falling down, and it was, there's just a moment of disbelief, but then you realize that based on the information and the conversations that were initially happening, that it was real and it came right out of nowhere. And I remember we were very fortunate. It happened just before a lot of necessary support staff left the building. So we were able to keep them and continue on and bring in additional staff as necessary.

I remember a lot of people asking questions - what happened, whose fault, how long is this going to take. We're being blamed for causing the disturbance in the first place by our southern friends, at a time where we knew it, it was both 30 minutes into it. And I think we told Paul Murphy, who was then COO and on the CMSC or the crisis management support team that this happened on a Thursday. It was Friday was going to be very ugly day, forget about Thursday. And it was about 45 minutes in the entire event. We knew the problem originated electrically west of Ontario. We didn't know who or where, but we knew enough to stay away from the west end of the province outside our borders.

And then the restoration began and it seemed like if we didn't have any bad luck for awhile, we weren't gonna have any luck at all. And it took us a number of hours to get things really rolling, but then the restoration went really quite well. Unfortunately it takes a while to get some of the supply back. And that's what extenuated the Emergency Order for the province for about nine days. It was a trying time for sure, but I was really proud of how everyone responded across the company and across the province.

And I also remember something along the lines of about $9 billion loss to the province as economic hit and certainly a lot of hardships across the province because of the blackout, so that wasn't lost on us either.

Terry Young (18:41):

Leonard, how about you, your thoughts as we approach the anniversary?

Leonard Kula (18:44):

So interestingly enough on that day, I was at our Clarkson control center, but I had left Operations for a different job. I was working in market, our market renewal team, or the predecessor the market evolution team at that time. So I left operations a few months before that. And so I didn't have a direct operational role anymore. So I wasn't called upon to do that on that day. So in order to help out, I actually joined the customer relations team. And I answered phones for the week, from customers who were seeking guidance from us as we are trying to balance supply and demand. As Kim said in, in a world with less supply.

A few years later I rejoined operations and I've moved around to a couple of different roles. And it's really an interesting mindset that we have because we've got our daily operational responsibilities, but crisis management and crisis response is always there lurking as a responsibility that we have to be ready to enact at any point in time. We don't know what the event is going to be, what the challenge is going to be when it's going to occur. But we're always cognizant of the fact that we may be called upon to do it. So whenever anything happens, whether it's 2013 July - five inches of rain fell in the 427 corridor and we lost a transmission. And we weren't able to supply electricity to parts of the Etobicoke and Mississauga and parts of Oakville and, and Kim, you were there, and Terry, you were there, you know, we're always ready to go ahead and respond in those crises.

So it's a role that we take very seriously whether it's the July, 2013 rain event, whether it's August 14th, 2003, or any of the smaller ones that have impacted us, we're always ready to go, and respond. And as I said consistency of action. Consistency of message. We drill our control room crews regularly. All the crisis response staff that that support them, we drill that regularly as well to make sure that we are all prepared. And so we never put it out of our minds that that is part of our role.

And then this year we got the curve ball of a very different kind of event that that impacts the power system, and that was the pandemic. And so, as opposed to, you know, the juxtaposition is August 14th, 2003, a very acute event that that brought down the power system in Ontario and outside of Ontario you know, within a matter of hours. The transmission system was put back together and then we recovered supply over the next period of time.

Whereas the pandemic has been a very long and drawn out emergency event, Ontario still in a state of emergency. And it has required us to think in different ways and respond differently, but it's all under the same premise of making sure that we can manage a crisis effectively. So the lessons of August 2003 still resonate are still top of mind with us, drive us to make sure that we are always prepared. But you know different things get thrown at you and we have to, and we do respond based on the curve ball that gets thrown at us.

Terry Young (22:18):

So I'm going to leave with a different recollection of the blackout. And at the time the IESO had a Chief Operating Officer by the name of Paul Murphy and Paul wasn't getting home anytime soon. And Kim, I remember him borrowing one of your shirts and you two had very different body types. And I'm not sure that the shirt fit all that well, and I'm not sure you ever got it back. So if anyone sees Paul now, could you ask him to return this shirt to Kim? Thanks. Thanks. Both of you for joining me today. Terrific to hear your perspectives, not just on what we're going through right now, but what some of the situations you both dealt with in your career. So thanks again for joining us.

Kim Warren (23:09):

Thank you. Take care everyone

Leonard Kula (23:11):

Thanks Terry. Thanks Kim. Thanks.

Terry Young (23:13):

Thanks again, both of you stay well.

Terry Young (23:18):

We hope you enjoyed this episode of the podcast. To stay up to date on the latest initiatives taking place across Ontario’s electricity industry, we invite you to follow us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, or by visiting us at Thanks for listening.