Hydro-Québec expects record demand as extreme cold spell looms
Population growth and electrification causing uptick in demand
With temperatures set to plunge on Friday morning, Hydro-Québec is preparing to face a record demand for electricity.
"It's a historic peak," said an official at the utility who spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren't authorized to speak to the public.
Demand is expected to rise beyond 41,000 megawatts (MW) on Friday and Saturday, when, according to Environment Canada forecasts, temperatures will plunge to -29 C in Montreal and -30 C in Saguenay.
The cold will place a very high demand on Hydro-Québec's electricity distribution network, according to the official at the state-owned utility.
Internal Hydro-Québec communications obtained by Radio-Canada show that the utility anticipates the demand for electricity to outstrip supply by as much as 4,500 MW. As a result, Hydro-Québec intends to temporarily reduce its electricity exports and even pay a premium to import some power.
Spokesperson Francis Labbé said Hydro-Québec can keep more of its electricity for itself and even import electricity when, for a few hours in the winter, demand is higher.
"We will reduce our exports [while meeting our firm commitments] or be able to import from neighbouring markets," he said.
In January 2022, Hydro-Québec saw the previous record for electricity demand broken with 40,380 MW of consumption. It had to import 2,000 MW from Ontario and the state of New York.
Weekday peak hours are between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. and between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Hydro-Québec says half of the province's electricity consumption comes from heating because 80 per cent of homes in Quebec are heated by electricity. Lowering the thermostat by one or two degrees, particularly in unoccupied rooms, can lead to significant energy savings.
In addition to the cold, Quebec is expected to set a new record is due to population growth and the electrification of transportation and the economy, according to Normand Mousseau, scientific director of the Trottier Energy Institute at Polytechnique Montréal.
"We are electrifying more, we have more houses, but also, we are taking out natural gas and fossil fuels to put in electricity. All of that is increasing demand," he said.
With files from Thomas Gerbet