Energy

Long Term Planning Meltdown

By Ryan McGreal
Published December 20, 2005

The Ontario Government asked the Ontario Power Authority to prepare a report on Ontario's long term energy needs - and to do so with a CANDU attitude, so to speak.

Happy to oblige, OPA came back and recommended $40 billion in new spending on nuclear power over the next two decades.

Electricity demand growth has been averaging around 0.5 percent a year for the past fifteen years, but OPA assumes demand will grow by 0.9 percent from now on - apparently because energy is so cheap and abundant.

This nodding acquaintance - at best -with supply and demand continues through the report, from the hopelessly optimistic cost and efficiency projections for the new nuclear plants to its mindboggling recommendation to increase natural gas fired electricity - a resource that is already past its North American peak and is already in a permanent decline.

The report claims Ontario should provide 12,400 megawatts (mw) of power through new nuclear capacity at a cost of around $40 billion.

Now try to imagine what else we could do with that kind of money.

There are around 12 million people in Ontario, living in a total of around 5 million households. Let's be conservative and assume half those people live in single family homes (I expect the actual number is higher). That makes 2.5 million homes.

Assuming $5,000 per unit for residential wind turbines that generate 2.5 kw of power, we could install a turbine on each of those 2.5 million houses for a total of $12.5 billion.

That would produce 6,250 mw of power, or half of the power produced by new nuclear reactors, but for only a third of the price - and for an extra bonus, wind is renewable and doesn't produce radioactive waste.

Combine the dramatic gains in energy efficiency we could realize in Ontario (as the world's highest per capita energy consumer), and the OPA's nuclear option makes less and less sense.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted December 23, 2005 at 07:40:00

Building new power plants is like building new roads so people can continue putting a single occupant in a 5000 lb vehicle and commute two hours a day.

From a purely economic standpoint, conservation blows all other options out of the water. Conventional power use is monumentally wasteful. Waste never equals quality of life.

Incandescent light bulbs are mostly electric resistance heating, light production is like a side effect. My 3000 sq. ft house uses only 3/4 of what the average (smaller) household consumes. It could be even less with a little effort. A purpose built efficient home could get by on miniscule power - like 25% of average.

The total consumption of "idling" electronic equipment, due to using cheap transformers and not giving a damn about efficient design, conservatively amounts nationwide to the size of a new nuclear plant. Not to mention lights left on when nobody's home.

New, more efficient appliances are only better if the old one does not become the beer fridge.

The Globe had a recent piece on heated driveways with electricity - the "exergy" efficiency of this is, well, embarrasing. Almost as bad are clothes dryers and electric resistance heating in general.

Some economists suggest "exergy" analysis should be the basis for energy pricing and policy - I wholeheartedly agree. This is not mainstream terminology - look it up - but in general it parallels common sense in appropriately matching source to use.

High grade energy like electricity is a severe mismatch with low grade energy such as space heating (and lowest grade like melting snow on your driveway - that's about as socially responsible as slavery!)

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 28, 2005 at 09:08:47

Excellent ideas, Ted.

We're grappling with ways to retrofit our smallish (1,200 sq. ft.), 92 year old house to be more energy efficient.

We use mostly compact fluorescent bulbs (our oldest are nearly ten years old and have moved with us twice - they've definitely earned their keep), hang much of our laundry to dry, avoid running lights unnecessarily, caulked and weatherstripped all over the place, added insulation to the attic, and keep our furnace set between 16 and 19 degrees Celsius.

We've pretty much run out of cheap ways to save energy. Now we're onto replacing old windows (not cheap!), and have started talking about removing our exterior shingles and shakes, adding insulation, and replacing them with clapboard.

We're also looking at building a solar greenhouse over our kitchen and installing a vertical axis wind turbine on the roof.

The last item prompted me to conduct the back-of-the-envelope calculation in the blog article above.

Combining rooftop turbines with moderate efficiency gains inside the house, Ontario could easily realize the 12,400 MW in combined clean generation/conservation that the OPA wants to create using nuclear.

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted January 04, 2001 at 01:41:20

The first parts of an energy retrofit are simple and inexpensive, then as Ryan points out, get really expensive quickly.

ONe small ray of hope will come soon because of technology (which on its own is rarely useful in fulfilling the goal of improving efficiency).

This is small scale residential "cogeneration" or CHP (combined heat and power). The deal is you start with an engine (fancy, like the superefficient Sterling engine, e.g. Whispergen, or conventional internal combustion, e.g. Honda) and use it to generate electricity to use in your house or feed back to the grid. THe waste heat from this process can be used for space heating or hot water heating.

This is the basic setup, more complex schemes could run A/C's directly or through absorbtion technology etc.

Fuel is generally clean burning natural gas.

THe "exergy" that is just wasted in burning natural gas for space heating gets put to better use - electricity, while still getting most of the waste heat from the engine.

At present this is not available in North America but will be soon. It is also still quite expensive.

More benefits from this include unloading the grid and ensuring power in emergency outages.

My gas furnace's days are numbered.

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