iStock_000000330791LargeA major obstacle for power traders is the inability to store generated power. However, hydro power has a unique flexibility that most other power producers do not: operators can turn these facilities on and off in the blink of an eye. This practice can turn hydro dams into huge storage facilities.

Ninety percent of British Columbia’s power comes from hydro dams, and the aforementioned “power storage” ability of these units gives BC Hydro greater flexibility when deciding to sell or buy power. As in every business, in the power industry energy producers want to sell their final products at the highest possible rate. At night, power demand, and therefore cost, is low, making energy producers less profitable.

On the other hand, more than 50% of the power generated in Alberta in 2013 came from coal-powered plants. The major downside of this type of power production is the long and costly shut down procedure. This makes the export of surplus power mandatory, since production cannot be tailored to consumption, as is the case with hydro-produced power. Alberta’s unused production is exported to other provinces (mostly to British Columbia: 87%),[1] and mostly in off-peak hours when there is a surplus of production. This power is being exported at unfavorable terms for Alberta plants, given that they need to get rid of the power they cannot store. Prices of exported power are therefore much lower than prices of power imported during peak hours.

Numbers do confirm this concept. In 2013, the average price of exported power from Alberta was $26 per MWh, whereas imported power was four times that amount at $104 per MWh. The table below, obtained from Alberta Energy, indicates this:

Table 1: Alberta Electricity Statistics[2]
2009  2010  2011 2012  2013
Exports volume (MWh) 513,162 459,381 118,858 84,898 236,970
Exports value ($ million) 14.21 12.82 5.26 1.48 6.20
Imports volume (MWh) 2,018,607 2,204,839 3,591,487 3,582,120 2,520,517
Imports value ($ million) 124.17 144.81 315.61 259.10 261.63

Additional data from AESO confirms this:

Table 2: Alberta Intertie Statistics [3]

Intertie Statistics (GWh) 2013
 Total Scheduled Imports
Imports on BC intertie 1,902
Imports on Saskatchewan intertie 518
Imports on MT intertie 126
Total imports 2,546
 Total Scheduled Exports
Exports on BC intertie 223
Exports on Saskatchewan intertie 32
Exports on MT intertie 2
Total exports 257
 Net Imports (Imports Minus Exports)
Net BC imports 1,679
Net Saskatchewan imports 486
Net MT imports 124
Total net imports 2,289

 

Costly Imports and Cheap Exports

When Table 1 is closely examined, the following can be ascertained:

Table 3: Alberta Electricity Statistics – Derived Values [4]

  2009  2010  2011 2012  2013
Exports ($/MWh) 27.69 27.91 44.25 17.43 26.16
Imports ($/MWh) 61.51 65.68 87.88 72.33 103.80
Ratio (import price/export price) 2.22 2.35 1.99 4.15 3.97

The average price of exports per MWh was stagnating in 2009 and 2010, with a peak outlier in 2011 and a trough in 2012. The price ended up being $26.16 in 2013, slightly below the 2009/2010 values. On the other hand, the average import price is almost constantly growing throughout the observed period, ending with $103.80 per MWh in 2013. The price of one imported MWh is 2.22 times what it was in 2009. This gap has an ascending trend, with the export price being only a quarter of the import price by 2013. This brings us to the conclusion that Alberta has growing expenses for its imported power and is getting less for the power it exports. Given that roughly 75% of imported electricity is coming from British Columbia, this province is quite well off.

 

Hourly Trade between British Columbia and Alberta

Finally, let’s look at the net hourly trade between the provinces.

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Figure 1: BC-AB Flow and Net AB Production | Source: AESO

In the graph above, the dark blue strip represents traded (flow) power between British Columbia and Alberta. As we can see, there is a trough that starts at 1 a.m. on January 2 and ends at 7 a.m. At the same time, the red stripe represents the difference between production and consumption in Alberta. The graph clearly shows that abundant power is being exported to British Columbia, given that it cannot be consumed or stored in Alberta. After 7 a.m., though, the opposite occurs. The difference between production and consumption becomes negative, meaning that Alberta needs to import the shortfall amount of power. As the red stripe becomes negative, the blue stripe becomes positive—a mirror image. This is just one example how imports from British Columbia grow in proportion to the gap between production and consumption in Alberta.

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The Solution

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[1] “2013 Annual Market Statistics,” AESO, accessed November 24, 2014, http://www.aeso.ca/downloads/2013_Annual_Market_Statistics.pdf.

[2] “Electricity Statistics,” Alberta Energy, accessed November 7, 2014, http://www.energy.alberta.ca/electricity/682.asp.

[3] “2013 Annual Market Statistics” AESO

[4]“Electricity Statistics,” Alberta Energy.