British Columbia

Highest number of power-use records set in 2021, trend expected to continue with climate change: B.C. Hydro

As B.C. temperatures swung between deadly highs and bone-chilling lows in 2021, B.C. Hydro says more electricity consumption records were set that year compared to any year prior.

Utility says its system is in good place to meet demand until about 2030

A pedestrian carries a fan during extreme temperatures in Vancouver in late June. B.C. Hydro said the record-breaking summer heat drove record-breaking electricity consumption. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

As B.C. temperatures swung between deadly highs and bone-chilling lows in 2021, B.C. Hydro says more electricity consumption records were set that year compared to any year prior.

A report from the utility released Friday found 2021 had more record system peak loads — defined as the hour in a day where customers use the most electricity — than any other year.

"There seems to be a connection between electricity use and extreme weather conditions," B.C. Hydro spokesperson Kyle Donaldson said.

"We had the extreme weather conditions … high temperatures, with the heat dome at the end of June, early July, and then several days of sub-zero temperatures and snow during the last couple of weeks of December."

A cold snap blanketed wide swaths of the province in December, when B.C. Hydro said power use was at its highest in 2021. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

According to the report, the utility set 19 of its top 25 all-time summer daily peak records in 2021, and 11 of its top 25 all-time winter daily peak records.

A new all-time record for power usage was set Dec. 27 — the fifth time in five years a new record was set.

The utility said with climate change leading to higher temperatures, the trend of record-breaking electricity use is expected to continue.

Heat dome, cold snap impacts

Summer 2021 brought extended record-breaking heat, including a "heat dome" that created temperatures above 40 C from late June to early July and led to 596 heat-related deaths.

Many British Columbians turned to air conditioners at that time, which was reflected in electricity use data.

The hour that saw the highest electricity use all year, however, was between 5 and 6 p.m. on Dec. 27, Donaldson said. At that time, much of the province was gripped by extreme cold.

"We believe that in addition to not only people using their electricity to heat their homes at that time of day, it was also a busy time where people were in the kitchen making their meals," Donaldson said.

"Some of them perhaps were reheating their turkey dinner from the Christmas weekend."

The report also noted changing electricity use, possibly due to the pandemic.

While pre-pandemic system peak loads tended to come as spikes, during the pandemic, electricity has gradually ramped up through the day. That could be due to more people working from home or staying in instead of going out.

Donaldson said despite the high usage, B.C. Hydro was able to meet 2021's electricity demand easily.

He said the utility expects it will have no problem meeting projected demand for power until about 2030 even as electric vehicles and heat pumps see wider adoption.

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