October 15, 2021

Standby Generators and Why Canadian Utilities Make Use of Them


Canada is known as the global powerhouse for sustainable power generation, with more than 67% of the total electricity consumption coming from hydro, wind, solar, and biomass. The remaining demand is met through nuclear power plants, gas, and other fuel generation. Nevertheless, utility companies in Canada see standby gas or diesel generators as a solution to cater for power emergencies and outages caused by power plant failures, natural disasters, and the aging power grid structure.

Understanding the Canada Grid Infrastructure and Utilities

The grid infrastructure in Canada is no different from the one in the US, especially considering that the US imports several megawatts of power from Canada annually. The utilities use the same 120 Volts AC 60 Hz transmission to feed residential buildings. For commercial or industrial use, they don't often use the 480 VAC US industries get. Instead, they prefer the 600 Volts AC supply, especially for large industrial sites.

Another key difference to note is that Canada is divided into provinces, each with a local utility company that generates and supplies electricity across the provincial jurisdiction. But regions can also buy power from other provinces with surplus supply. For example, Ontario, one of the largest provinces in Canada, has higher power demands and gets most of the electricity from nuclear power plants (62.1%) and hydro (26.8%).

Furthermore, some utility companies offer thermal energy production through the power grid system, primarily to commercial buildings or large consumers like universities, colleges, or sports arenas. Thermal is seen as an efficient method of recycling heat energy for both heating and cooling purposes. Typically, thermal energy is produced in a facility near or on-site that is powered by utility power. The facility includes equipment such as pumps, chillers, and heat exchangers. Essentially, the operation of the thermal facility is dependent on the availability of utility power.

Emergency Generator Power for Utilities in Canada

Canada experiences the same need as the US for backup power. This is because of similar conditions such as snow, storms, wildfires, and high winds, which cause power outages. For utilities, installing diesel or gas-powered standby generators is the only way to ensure continuous power supply during these interruptions. This is especially true for renewable power plants like solar cities that need continuous operation even during harsh weather in winter. Standby generators close the production gap caused by these conditions or due to inadequate power storage capabilities.

For plants like thermal energy generation that rely on external power sources to operate, a standby generator's importance can't be emphasized exhaustively. When the grid goes off, it means that the buildings that depend on the thermal grid will still have lighting but no heating or cooling. For example, this is what happens when, for example, you install an emergency power source like a Cummins 2000 kW diesel generator in a thermal facility.

  • The utility power feeding the thermal facility encounters an outage due to substation transformer failure or other factors. The thermal grid to the buildings is cut off.
  • The ATS (Automatic Transfer Switch) senses the outage and signals the generator to start up. The switch transfers the load to the generator, and regular thermal grid operation is restored after minimal downtime.
  • The generator provides power until utility power is restored.
  • The ATS returns the load to the utility grid upon restoration. The diesel generator operates in a cool-down mode for a while before shutting down.
  • Facility operators might adjust the thermal building to optimum operation if they had earlier adjusted operations to match the generator load limit.

Bottom Line

When it comes to utility power generation, the question is never "if "but "when" will the power interruption occur. The only way to be proof and resilient is by having an efficient backup power plan in place, like a standby generator. At Power System Services, we're industry leaders geared to help utility companies in the US and Canada to find and buy the right choice of generator depending on their unique needs. Explore our different products or contact us at any time for any inquiry about generators.