The average Toronto resident uses around 253 liters of water a day, according to the City of Toronto. Most residents of the city have no idea how much energy it takes to get that water into their homes. Those 253 liters of water weigh over 253 kilograms (over 556 pounds, for those who deal with Imperial measurements). That’s more than a quarter of a metric ton. Try lugging a quarter of a metric ton of water by hand every day. You will quickly realize how important electric-powered pumps are. If you had to lug 253 kilograms of water every day, you would have little time for anything else. This is why people who don’t have electricity are poor. People need water to live and carry on a normal life in reasonable cleanliness. Moving and working with water by hand is hard labour. That is what Hans Rosling tries to point out in this brilliant TED talk:
Imagine you live on the 15th floor of a high rise. You are above the level—usually the 12th floor—where the pressure in the municipal water system can push water up to your unit. Above that level, electric booster pumps push the water up. So each and every day, electricity is bringing huge amounts of water to each and every Toronto resident who lives above the 15th floor in a high rise. Without those booster pumps, those residents would have to carry the water up the stairs by hand.
If you think this is a trivial matter, then try this. I encourage every reader to fill a pail with water; a standard pail holds around 10 liters. Then carry the pail of water up about fourteen stairs; that is about one standard storey, or one standard flight of stairs. I urge you: give it a try.
Now that you’ve done it, how do you feel? Remember that feeling, then try lugging the same pail of water up two flights of stairs. Then try three. Or if you are really feeling energetic, try four. How do you feel? A bit tired, and perhaps out of breath? Or completely wiped out?
Well, consider that that one pail of water—10 kilograms of water—represents about one-twenty-fifth of the amount of water you consume each and every day. Your normal household activities—cleaning up the kitchen, using the bathroom, having a shower, watering the plants, and making a cup of tea or coffee or hot chocolate—require a huge amount of energy.
If you had to supply that energy yourself, with your own muscle, you would spend most of your day doing extremely hard manual labour. If you had dreams of improving your lot, say by going to school and studying for a degree or certificate, those dreams would be quickly subordinated to the cruel reality that water weighs one kilogram per liter and that it takes just over one watt-hour of heat to increase the temperature of 1 kilogram—roughly a liter—of liquid water by one degree Celsius. (It takes considerably more than 1 watt-hour to melt the same amount of water.)
You cannot possibly do that work yourself. You need an external source of energy, or you simply have to give up modern life and revert back to the Stone Age lifestyle, when life was nasty, brutish, and short.
Going back to my challenge to hand-lug one pail of water up one, then two, then three, then four flights of stairs: remember how tired you were. Don’t feel bad or lament your state of physical fitness. An Olympic athlete would find it challenging. If he or she had to lug a quarter of a metric ton of water every day, he or she would have no time left to train for any event but water-pail-lugging, which I don’t think is even an Olympic event.
Now imagine an eighty-year old person. How much less able is he or she to move a quarter of a metric ton of water each and every day?
The moral of this story: we need a lot of energy just to live a normal life. Without lots of energy, especially in the form of electricity, Toronto high rises would be literally uninhabitable.
The latest round in the Ontario energy wars is being fought right now, in Courtice Ontario, where there is a hearing to discuss the environmental assessment for the Darlington Nuclear Refurbishment project. As I mentioned a while back, Darlington is of enormous importance to Toronto: the station could power the entire city 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. That is to say, Darlington can, on its own, provide enough energy to bring a quarter of a ton of water to every one of Toronto’s 2,480,000 residents each and every day of the year, and also to heat and purify that water.
There are other ways to generate Darlington’s electricity, of course. But those other ways are very, very few: two in fact. They are coal and natural gas. Natural gas, allegedly the “cleaner” of these two fossil fuels, dumps half a kilogram of carbon dioxide (CO2), the principal greenhouse gas, into our air every time it generates a kilowatt-hour of electricity.
There are people right now at the Darlington hearing who are trying to convince Ontarians that it is better to use carbon-heavy gas to power Toronto. They are trying to make their case by pretending that wind and solar energy, which are intermittent and unreliable, are capable of bringing the quarter-ton of water to every Toronto resident every day. Don’t believe them. They don’t believe it themselves. None of them would get into a high rise elevator if they knew it was powered only with wind and solar.