Thursday, September 1, 2011

Coal’s Replacement in Ontario

Ontario had a record low pricing day, where we paid to dispose of generation, and the coverage in the press[i] meandered to quoting Minister of Energy Duguid;

“It’s a distinguishing issue for the Ontario Liberal party and its premier, who have stood up and taken the decisions needed to be taken to get out of dirty coal … You can’t do it without wind and solar being part of the energy mix.”
That’s a remarkable amount of incorrect information to fit into so few words. In July 2002, an all party committee recommended, “the Ontario government shall mandate the closure of all remaining coal or oil-fired generating stations by 2015.”  The current Premier distinguished himself, in 2003’s campaign, by promising to get rid of coal by 2007. Perhaps he is distinguishing himself now by claiming it could only be done by lying about everybody else while hand-picking recipients for rich wind and solar contracts. Wind, and solar, have not been significant factors in the reduction of coal-fired generation, in Ontario, over the past few years.

There are a couple of reasons we wish to displace coal generation. The first is pollution – contaminants in air sheds that have health impacts. These are greatly diminished in North American jurisdiction in the past 20 years - primarily through operational methods to reduce emissions at continuing plants.[ii] The second reason is CO2 emissions that many relate to climate change.
· In 1994, emissions of 15,800 kt CO2 eq were reported on the production of 152,430 GWh in Ontario. The emissions intensity was reported at a very low 104 g CO2 eq/kWh.[iii]
· In 2009, emissions of 15,000 kt CO2 eq were reported on the production of 144,400 GWh in Ontario. The emissions intensity was reported at a marginally higher 110 g CO2 eq/kWh.[iv]   
At the height of the 2009 recession our emissions intensity was higher than it had been 15 year prior. A lot of numbers are moving targets in the national inventory reports. For instance, IESO data shows about 5000 GWh more produced in 2009 than the GHG Inventory report indicates!  I collect data from many sources and fill in gaps with some unique methods – so treat all the figures here as estimates (whether referenced or not).

The years between 2009 and 1994 saw emissions grow, before falling rapidly in 2004 due largely to nuclear units returning to service, and again falling rapidly in 2009 due to a steep drop in demand concurrent with the recession. The movement in emissions appears inversely related to the production from nuclear facilities

Coal use has declined. Tracking a different set of data, with running 12-month totals, some other relationships can be seen by isolating pieces of data to simplify our search for actual coal replacements. This set of graphs looks at changes in each generation source using the 12-months of 2005 as the base (the peak demand year in Ontario, and many jurisdictions in North America). In Ontario, it looks like demand reduction is cancelled out by exports. The lines diverge and converge, but the trend looks to be the less we use, the more we export (shown here as negative imports).

A clearer picture of the sources that could be said to be replacing coal appears once the 2 factors, of demand and exports, are filtered out.  Note here emissions move up and down with hydro output, but hydro output eventually ends up at the same level it produced at during 2005.

Breaking out only the source 'fuels' which increased output, since 2005 as coal declined, we see  natural gas as the dominant gainer. This makes sense as most people realize natural gas production has attributes that most closely match coal.   Knowing the last nuclear reactor to return to service (Pickering Unit 1) was in 2005, I see some expected order when looking at the sources that have increased to compensate for the decrease in coal-fired generation.  

The oversimplification here is that it is highly unlikely that reductions in demand caused exports to increase – because we export electricity at less than half the price Ontarians pay for the same generation, my assumption is we do so only out of necessity.  It is far more likely that exports have gone up because nuclear and wind generation lack the flexibility, provided by coal-fired generation, allowing production to occur only when demand exists for the output.  

It is simply wrong to state only wind and solar could replace coal; neither is significant in reducing coal generation output in Ontario, and neither is capable of replacing coal-fired generation capacity in a reliable energy system of a northern country.

[ii]  I address SOx and NOx emissions in posts here and, tangentially, here
[iii]   Page 364 of Environment Canada’s National Inventory Report 1990-2004
[iv]  Page 50 of Environment Canada’s National Inventory Report 1990-2009, Part 3


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