At first glance, the Samsung wind deal appears a viable and “green” way to replace Ontario’s coal-fired power plants. Wind is free, and comes with no pollution. Why would anyone object to that? They would object because wind actually comes with lots of pollution. Wind provides intermittent power; coal provides on-demand power. For wind to replace coal, you really need another on-demand source to “supplement” wind. That means natural gas. The Samsung turbines will, effectively, emit 8.4 million tons of carbon dioxide every year.
Why did I put quotations around the word “supplement”? Because wind doesn’t blow all the time. In fact, it blows far less than half the time. In Ontario, the organization that runs the power grid assumes, for forecasting purposes, that wind will produce power only 30 percent of the time. This means the “backup” source, natural gas, will actually run 70 percent of the time. Wind is the supplement, not gas.
Now, under the Samsung deal the Korean firm will build 2,500 megawatts of wind capacity. Why 2,500 MW? Presumably, because Ontario will need 2,500 MW of energy some time in the future. But remember—capacity does not equal energy. Capacity is the equipment; energy is the electricity that the equipment generates. Over one year, 2,500 MW of capacity would generate 21.9 billion kilowatt-hours of energy—if it were running every hour of every day of that year.
Since Ontario’s electricity system operator only forecasts that wind will blow 30 percent of the time, we can realistically expect the Samsung turbines will only generate under 6.6 billion kWh every year. Since we need 21.9 billion kWh, the wind turbines leave a shortfall of 15.3 billion kWh (21.9 billion kWh minus 6.6 billion kWh). Where will those 15.3 billion kWh come from? From the “backup” natural gas generators.
Well, even the most efficient natural gas generators emit 550 grams of carbon dioxide, CO2, for every kWh of electricity they generate (see Environment Canada’s Electricity Intensity Tables). This means that the 15.3 billion kWh of gas-fired generation will come with more than 8.4 million metric tons of CO2 every year.
The only thing “green” about this is the greenish plumes of off-gas that have been reported coming out of gas-fired facilities like the brand-new Portlands Energy Centre in downtown Toronto.
The $7 billion Ontario will pour into the heavy-emitting wind turbines is $7 billion that won’t go toward the planned new reactors at the Darlington nuclear station. I mention this because we should compare the CO2 emissions of a wind strategy and a nuclear strategy. Wind, as I’ve demonstrated, is really gas, and 2,500 MW of wind capacity will emit 8.4 million tons of CO2.
How much CO2 would 2,500 MW of nuclear capacity come with? Nuclear generators have high capacity factors, above 90 percent across a fleet of generators. Assuming 90 percent, the 2,500 MW of nuclear capacity would generate over 19.7 kWh in one year. Now remember that we need 21.9 billion kWh of electricity from the 2,500 MW of capacity. Our nuclear strategy would leave a shortfall of just under 2.2 billion kWh. Assuming we got those 2.2 billion kWh from gas, our nuclear strategy would effectively result in 1.2 million tons of CO2.
Here’s the comparison side by side: wind effectively comes with 8.4 million tons of CO2; nuclear with 1.2 million tonnes. i.e., the wind strategy would emit seven times as much CO2 as the nuclear strategy.
This begs an obvious question. If nuclear is so dramatically superior to wind as a CO2-reduction technology, why is Ontario so hell-bent on going with wind?
I think it’s a good question. I’ll explore it in further posts. As you will see, nuclear is not just a superior CO2-reduction technology. It is also far less expensive and far less land-intensive. Stay tuned.