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Electricity 101

Preparing Ontario's power system for the summer

June 29, 2020  |  Article
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With spring officially behind us, Ontario residents and business owners are turning their attention to summertime, with COVID-19 restrictions beginning to lift and life returning to some semblance of normal.  Although the situation remains fluid, demand for electricity is starting to ramp up as businesses resume their operations and residents are finally able to be more socially active after several months at home.

Over the past three months, the IESO has witnessed a number of changes in demand for electricity resulting from measures taken to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Ontario’s economy is starting to reopen but there’s still some uncertainty as to the pandemic’s long-term impacts on demand.

Graph representig Ontario Electricity Use Reductions during COVID-19 Pandemic

Given our role as Ontario’s power system integrator, conversations with generators, transmitters, distributors, large customers and other stakeholders are ongoing. These discussions are critical to understanding the emerging energy landscape, and will help ensure we are collectively prepared to adapt to the “new normal.”

Although our focus in recent weeks has been on managing the system during COVID-19, we’ve also been preparing for summer conditions. Our priority is to ensure Ontario has sufficient supply and transmission resources to meet higher demand – much of which is driven by residential air conditioning usage. Our latest Reliability Outlook indicates resource availability remains positive and Ontario is expected to have sufficient supply to meet forecasted demand conditions. Our latest forecasts show demand peaking at around 22,360 megawatts (MW) under normal weather conditions, and 24,700 MW should extreme conditions materialize.

Overall, Ontario’s electricity system is well-positioned for the next 18 months, with adequate supply to meet demand. In addition to conducting regular assessments, there are a number of other measures we take to prepare for summer operations. This includes frequent conversations with transmitters, generators, gas pipeline operators and system operators in neighbouring jurisdictions to coordinate and optimize outage plans for the summer. We also work with generators to test equipment to ensure full operating capability during peak hot weather.

Late last week the government of Ontario announced it would be implementing an Industrial Conservation Initiative (ICI) peak hiatus to enable and encourage businesses to focus on their operations during this recovery period. The ICI has reduced peak demand by about 1,600 megawatts in recent years and is a reminder of the value businesses can provide to the reliable operation of our grid. After considering the impacts of an ICI hiatus, the IESO has determined that Ontario’s electricity system should remain reliable this summer without the program. To help manage periods of high demand, we can rely on other tools such as economic imports and/or outage deferrals.

Recent events, whether it’s COVID-19, the ICI hiatus, or just unusually hot weather earlier this spring, show that Ontario’s power system is resilient and has the flexibility needed to adapt to changing circumstances. Through electricity market mechanisms as well as our diverse supply mix, the IESO has a broad range of tools to manage the system and support reliability and cost-effectiveness over the short term and long term alike.