This upcoming March, I will be celebrating my 10-year anniversary at the Canadian Electricity Association. Ten years with the reliability program. Ten years, looking at data from utilities across Canada. Ten years, listening to stories about equipment failures, customer interruptions, and blackouts due to ice storms, tornadoes and sometimes squirrels. Ten years of building a bond with an industry that I was once completely unfamiliar with.
Ask yourself what it means to have a reliable electricity system. Personally, I had never thought about it for a second, before being introduced to this industry 10 years ago. As a child, when the lights went out, the candles and the cards came out, and maybe a board game or two. There was a certain element of nostalgia and familiarity that a blackout would bring to a household. They were nice.
Working with utilities across the country makes me think about those childhood memories, but it also makes me think of what it means to get those lights back on; the communication needed, the crews out on the roads during extreme weathers, the equipment and the logistics needed to manage major outages and the lives at risk. Outages can be small or monumental in size, they can be caused by a squirrel taking out a residential block or by 150 km winds taking out half a city.
Recently, Ottawa experienced a major event. Multiple tornadoes struck the region, an entire transmission station was destroyed, and power had to be coupled together around it. After a few days of hard work, power was successfully restored to everyone.
Even though I personally did not lose power that weekend, I did see the impacts. Folks from the affected areas came to the ‘powered zone’ to get gas. Gas stations need electricity to pump fuel; ATMs need electricity to dispense cash; folks need electricity to cook meals… It wasn’t long before fuel became scarce, ATMs were depleted, and restaurants ran low on food. Without refrigeration – possibly the greatest invention alongside electricity – food was being wasted in those “unpowered zones”.
It takes events like this for folks to realize just how much they need electricity and the critical role it plays in our lives. Not only is it important for the grid to be reliable, but also – just like an injured NFL player – it needs to be resilient, to bounce back quickly and be able to perform to its intended level.
Here’s the kicker!
Global leaders, politicians and Joe Public will often take electricity for granted. Only people who spend time studying and working in this industry will ever understand the complexity of a system that requires electricity to travel thousands of kilometers to get to one’s household. However, when the lights go out, global leaders and the media are quick to ask why.
As society progresses towards the future, discussions on climate change and establishing targets to help minimize environmental impacts have become a hot topic across the globe, especially to global leaders and politicians. They look towards green energy, smart grid initiatives and electrification to help achieve international emission targets. Those leaders want to work with the electricity industry to help them with green energy, electric vehicles and more. However, it is rare for them to address the complexity that comes with electrical system, reliability or resiliency. Those topics are just not as attractive as talking about “Green Initiatives”.
With that being said, regardless of what global leaders are asking for, or the targets they are setting, I know that they will have to lean on reliable and resilient electricity systems, in order to meet their needs.
After ten years, I know reliability and resiliency will always be the backbone and heart of an industry that everyone benefits from. After 10 years, I am proud to say I work in reliability.