Think Energy

Recap: Mitigating the Impacts of Winter (Part 2)

Dec 18, 2023

Ice storms, blizzards, and high winds can all lead to extended power outages, turning bad weather into a crisis for those affected. And Canada has had several intense cold weather events in recent years. In part 2 of mitigating the impacts of winter, experts Guy Lepage, Canadian Red Cross Disaster Management Volunteer, Julie Lupinacci, Chief Customer Officer at Hydro Ottawa, and Jim Pegg, Director of Infrastructure Products and Services at Envari Energy Solutions, share how to prepare for a winter disaster.

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Dan Seguin  00:06

This is thinkenergy, the podcast that helps you better understand the fast changing world of energy through conversations with game changers, industry leaders, and influencers. So join me, Dan Seguin, as I explore both traditional and unconventional facets of the energy industry. Welcome back, everyone. And thank you for joining us for part two of our winter highlight reel, where we revisit clips from previous interviews discussing the unique impact our Canadian winters have on our energy sector. Although Canadians are accustomed to cold and snowy winters, Recent years have brought more intense weather events into the mix. From heavy snowfall to ice storms to bone chilling subzero temperatures, these factors are driving the need for emergency preparedness and protocols to ensure public safety. Whether you're snugged at home or navigating the elements during your commute, utility companies like hydro Ottawa are pushing for increased reliability of their system. The goal is to keep your power on and keep you informed before, during and after outages. This commitment also extends to supporting the growing presence of electric vehicles on the road, emphasizing reliability in electric transportation. In our first clip, I spoke to Guy Lepage, a volunteer with the Canadian Red Cross disaster management, he sheds light on how the Red Cross provides support for those who may face devastating experiences. Let's dive into this conversation. Guy, we usually think of major disasters, but let's talk about personal disasters. I read that 97% of Red Cross responses in the last five years have been for personal disasters. What is the most common personal disaster that Canadians experience?

Guy Lepage  02:17

House fires, it's that simple. For whatever reason, it could be a faulty electrical outlet. A lot of times people leave stuff on the stove and it spreads. Fire starts to spread, but they happen in a home. And so people get out with their lives but nothing else. And that's where we show up. When there's a fire at two o'clock in the morning, there will be two volunteers who will show up. And then they will assess the family to make sure they have lodging, they have a place to stay, whether it's a hotel or shelter. And then we will make sure that they have gift cards to buy clothing and to buy food and take care of them for three days. And we're an emergency service, so after three days, people have to make their own arrangements, but we are there to make sure that they get a semblance of normalcy back as quickly as possible. And you can do that if you don't have a place to stay, and a safe place to stay. And you don't have any money. And so that's what we do, we make sure that they get back on their feet. And we give them a hygiene kit, with toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, you know, the essentials of life that we all take for granted. So that's why forest, house fires are the biggest, the biggest sources of disaster in Canada. But if, of course, we are ready to respond to any kind of disaster and and, you know, if you live in an apartment building, for example, there might be a fire and another unit. But you might have water damage. I mean, first of all, if there's a fire in the unit, the entire building gets evacuated until the firefighters inspect everything and decide who, when and where it's safe to go back in. Now, in many cases, the entire building has to be evacuated and stay empty until major repairs are conducted. And that's where the Red Cross will set up a shelter in a community center and in a school or even the church to take care of people for three days until the authorities deem it's safe to go back into the apartment complex. If it's longer than that, then folks have to make other arrangements.

Dan Seguin  04:29

Okay. Here's a follow up question for you. Sorry about those. Why do house fires occur more often in winter months? And what are the causes?

Guy Lepage  04:42

I'm told by fire officials that it's careless use of pots and pans in the kitchen, you leave something unattended and it just causes a fire. But there are a wide variety of reasons. I mean, even though there are fewer smokers in Canadian society, we still get fires caused by careless cigarette use, or kids playing with lighters. I remember one case a few years ago, where indeed, mom and dad and three kids living in an apartment, and one of the kids got a hold of a lighter and set the drapes on fire. And then of course, it was get out, get out, get out. So we responded, they went to a friend's location, so we responded to take care of them to arrange for accommodation and food and clothing. And I'm talking to the mom, and she still has to sit on her face because of the fire. And she starts crying and teardrops are rolling down through her soot stained cheeks and I'll always remember that image, because she was crying because it happened but crying that she was so happy that we were there to assist. So it's just one of those images, one of the many memories I have as a responder. But you know, you have to remind people to be very careful with all flammable situations, you know, whether it's a stove, matches, cigarettes, just be careful. Just be very, very careful in your home. We don't want to respond at two o'clock in the morning because that means you've gone through a crisis, we will of course, but if you can prevent it, that's even better.

Dan Seguin  06:21

Okay. so next up, speaking on the topic of extreme weather, and preparing for emergencies. I have a clip from my interview on what electricity customers want with Julie Lupinacci, Hydro Ottawa's Chief Customer Officer. Julie speaks to how Hydro Ottawa is actively working on leveraging advanced technologies in order to improve communications during crisis situations. When customers are out of power, she also shares some key things to focus on when preparing an emergency kit for your family. Here's what Julie had to say. We are all aware that Ottawa has had some major, major weather events these past five to six years. What would you say to customers that are worried about reliability, power outages, and restoration?

Julie Lupinacci  07:19

Yeah, weather events have been tough. They're tough fun. And I don't think Ottawa has seen something like this in a very long time, like probably since the '98 ice storm and I'm not even sure that really measured up to the same impact right of what we saw and what customers dealt with. But what I would say is Hydro Ottawa has put a lot of focus on what we need to do from a grid perspective to adapt to the changing climate that we're seeing here in Ottawa. And that includes those weather events. Like I don't want to pretend that I know more than our Chief Electricity Distribution Officer, like I think you interviewed him maybe a couple of weeks ago. And in that podcast, he talks about what we're doing to future proof the grid against those extreme weather events. So I'm not going to try to think that I have anything more impactful that he will say on that front. But I will say that, from a front office perspective, from a customer service, from a communications perspective, we are really looking at a lot of those tools, and further modernizing them. And what I mean by that is, is taking a look at some different technology that allows us to receive more phone calls into our system, triage those phone calls, using some cloud based technology. So that not everybody is forced to talk to an individual because even at the height of the storm, like you're not going to have 10,000 people answering phone calls within a couple minutes of the storm hitting but we can use technology to triage to allow our customers to know that we know if they are out of power and provide them with the information that we have at that time. So looking at updating some of the telephony software that we have in utilize some of the new technology there. So we are actively working on that. The other component to communications because I think communications really is that biggest avenue for our customers especially during these winter weather events is pushing information out and we are looking to be working on an SMS text based technology system that allows us to push information out so similar to what we're pushing out through our social media channels today. Now sending that information directly to customers, either on their iPhone or potentially in their email box however they want to receive those inputs and alerts from hydro Ottawa. We also took some steps to help people become aware like the weather alert, the weather system and the weather alerts. that are out there giving people a heads up on systems that are coming through. Like that's, that's one thing. But I think customers want to know, when we're looking at a weather event that's different, right? You'll, you'll know when rains coming into Ottawa and you'll get those alerts about snow and all of those things, but not all weather impacts our grid, and what we're looking at is to be able to provide an alert system, again, through through whether it's an SMS or an email out directly into customers inboxes, so to speak, giving them a heads up when we're watching it differently, right. And if we're watching it differently, you know, messages are going out, make sure phones are charged, make sure that you've got blankets, make sure you know where your flashlights and your candles are. So really concentrate on getting people ready for what they need to do. So there's a few steps and you can follow us on to get better details on that. But that's what we're doing and making sure that we're putting that out there. Additionally, we've piloted sorry, Dan, I got one more. Additionally, we've piloted a battery program, this was used to be able to support some of our capital work. But in the recent storm this year, we use that battery pilot to be able to help some of the most vulnerable customers in Ottawa, that are really relying on electricity to be able to breathe, right and working with the paramedics hand in hand to make sure that these batteries got to those households so that they, you know, had some additional time for us to get the power back on either to their house or to the community.

Dan Seguin  11:42

Now tell me Julie, what are some of the things customers can do to be better prepared for emergencies and outages?

Julie Lupinacci  11:51

Yeah, so I think there's a few things that we need to do. One, I think we need some major awareness about what that is, like, going back to our elementary school days when we had to plot out the fire, you know, the fire escape plan for our house, right? And go back to thinking about if there's an emergency, do we have an emergency kit together? Right? Do we have bottled water in our house? Do we have working flashlights, right? Not just flashlights that don't have batteries? But where are those batteries? And they are up to date, right? Making sure that you have them not all over the place. But you know where these flashlights are right. I know if anybody's like my kids, they come in, they grab the flashlights and all of a sudden they're in different locations around the house like they need to be, your emergency kit needs to be in one central place so that you know how to get to it, whether the lights are on or off. The other piece is I would make sure that you're following us on our social channels, because we do put information out there. So make sure if you haven't connected with us that you do connect with us. And you can go to our website to find out what those are, I won't list them off here. But the other piece that I would really strongly suggest is that people go and update their contact information into our database or into our database, which will become even more crucial as we start sending these alerts and messages directly to you. Right, no longer just through social media but directly to you and your household to be able to let you know what's going. And if I could say one other thing is that I think planning based on our reliability that we've always had, and the experience that you've always had to these dates, it's no longer enough, right? Like hydro is going to do everything that we can to get the power back on. But you need to plan for Worst case scenario, you can't plan only for the best case. So having an alternative place to go speaking with family and saying if power's out here, we're going to come over and what do we need to bring? Having those plans in place in advance makes you better equipped to withstand any weather event that comes through that may have an outage associated with it.

Dan Seguin  13:59

NExt up, I have Jim Pegg, Director of Infrastructure Products and Services at Envari Energy Solutions. In my interview with Jim he shared all about electric vehicles, including the benefits and challenges of ownership in Canada. In this upcoming clip, he shares some strategies around optimizing electric vehicle usage in winter. Being an EV owner myself, I can confirm that our cold Canadian winters pose certain challenges when it comes to battery life. Is this something to be aware of? And how can organizations mitigate any issues?

Jim Pegg  14:41

So I would say yes, it is true that the cold weather has an impact on batteries, you know, depending on where you are on the globe, there's different different weather patterns and so on, but cold weather certainly has an impact on batteries and the range needed of those batteries. Currently, there are a few ways to tackle this. One is something called pre-conditioning, meaning having your vehicle plugged in while it's warming up in the morning, and you can actually automate that to take place at a certain time. And it can help maintain the battery's range for that day. So that can have a really big impact. The other factor, you know, is what we talked about a little bit earlier, it was a driver training, you know, simple things like understanding the impact of few degrees of heat can have or how people actually drive smooth versus hard accelerations, all those things have an impact on the range you get out of your battery. The good news is with you know, with upfront planning, these issues can be managed to a point where they're not issues at all, you know, and if, if more public chargers come along each year, the certainty around getting from point A to B, to C, D, E, F, and G will get stronger and stronger. There's also a lot of work going into battery technology itself that will help with cold climates as well as the speed at which batteries can be recharged without causing, you know, increased battery degradation. The risk right now is if you know fleets of vehicles are out there and they're constantly having to use fast chargers and higher power chargers on their vehicles on the smaller size fleets that can have a damaging impact on your battery life. But there's a lot of technology going into working on that. But again, with good planning and understanding of a fleet's needs, there are certainly ways to plan around those issues.

Dan Seguin  16:26

Now, I may be biased but as a proud owner of an EV, who has been driving in all sorts of wintry conditions, I can say that the benefits of EV driving far outweigh the challenges around battery usage in the cold. So if you're considering purchasing an EV on your own, I can tell you that you won't regret it. And as Jim said, the technology is always improving. Finally, folks, thank you for joining me today for part two of our winter highlight reel. And thank you for another incredible year! Oh, and before I forget, I'd love to hear from you, our listeners. If you have any feedback or suggestions for future episodes, please reach out to [email protected]. I'd love to hear from you. I can't wait to continue this journey with you, so we'll be back in two weeks. On Tuesday, January 2, to kickoff 2024 with all new shows, interesting guests and topics. And, as always, there will be some surprises. Don't forget to subscribe to stay in the loop. Until next time, folks. Happy holidays. Cheers. Thanks for tuning in for another episode of the thinkenergy podcast. Don't forget to subscribe and leave us a review wherever you're listening. And to find out more about today's guests or previous episodes, visit And I hope you will join us again next time as we spark even more conversations about the energy of tomorrow.