EIA: Regional integration of electric grid improves reliability for US, Canada

Recent U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data shows that regional integration of the electrical grids plays an important role in improving electric reliability in both United States and Canada.

The integrated North American electric power system allows both countries to pool resources to improve electric reliability, according to EIA’s publication “Canada Week” on Nov. 27.

In 2011, electricity imports from Canada accounted for only 1.4% of total U.S. electric consumption, while electricity exports to Canada accounted for only 0.4% of total U.S. electrical production.

According to EIA, trade is highest in regions with large amounts of hydropower. Canadian hydroelectric generators are concentrated in the Pacific Northwest; in Northern Manitoba, which exports electricity via transmission lines running south through Minnesota and North Dakota; in Ontario bordering New York and Michigan; and in Quebec north of New England.

“Three of the eight North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC) reliability regions span both the U.S. and Canada, effectively integrating the Canadian grid with the U.S. The interconnection improves reliability, both in sharing reserves and in guarding against cascading outages. Reliability problems and even blackouts remain possible and can affect both sides of the border,” according to EIA.

There are connections between grid operators on both sides of the border. The Midwest ISO controls a portion of the Canadian grid in Manitoba. Part of the grid in northeastern Maine is controlled by the New Brunswick System Operator.

High levels of networked interconnectivity can have some drawbacks, particularly around geographical features. Both countries, and the entities that operate their electric transmission systems, are working to improve grid reliability, according to EIA.