On September 10 2013, the smart meter data for my office indicated I used a total of 13.36 kilowatt-hours of electricity. I calculate that those 13.36 kWh came with a total of 1,885.9 grams, or 1.886 kilgrams of carbon dioxide (CO2). Is that a big amount of CO2? A small amount? My office is in Ontario, Canada, and I used electricity from the provincial grid. How does the carbon content of Ontario grid electricity compare with that of other jurisdictions? Let’s find out.
The table below compares the actual carbon content of my office electricity on Tuesday with the carbon content it would have had if my office were in Germany. Note that CIPK stands for CO2 Intensity per Kilowatt-Hour.
|Hour of day||Usage kWh||Ontario CIPK||Hourly Ontario CO2||Germany CIPK||Hourly Germany CO2|
Note also that the hourly CO2 figures are derived by multiplying each hour’s electricity usage in kWh by that hour’s CIPK.
You can see that if my office were in Germany instead of Ontario, then the carbon content of Tuesday’s electricity would have been nearly five times as high.
But wait! Isn’t Germany regarded as the paragon of green energy policies? Isn’t Germany building more wind turbines and solar panels than every other country? Didn’t Germany decide to close down all of its nuclear reactors and replace them with wind and solar generators?
Yes, yes, and yes. And look at the numbers above. Ontario, which rarely gets mentioned as a clean energy jurisdiction, is more than three times cleaner than Germany, which gets all the press.
And guess what. The 672-gram CIPK for Germany is an old number: it is from an Ecometrica Technical Paper from August 2011. In 2011, much of Germany’s nuclear fleet was still generating electricity; the panic-driven nuclear phaseout had not been fully implemented. And nuclear generation emits zero CO2.
But Germany is closing its nuclear plants. This means that the CIPK of German electricity is going to rise, likely to well above 700 grams, possibly above 800.
Germany is not a paragon of clean energy policy. It is a cautionary tale for those who really want to reduce carbon emissions instead of just bragging about it.
Ontario is a much better example. And the best example of all is France. France’s CIPK is around 70 grams. Copy the table above into a spreadsheet, then put France’s 70 grams into it; see what results you get. I sigh for the day that Ontario, and the rest of Canada, follow France’s example.
Now, why is Ontario’s electricity so clean? You can see why immediately by looking at Tables 1 and 2 in the left hand sidebar. As you can see, the biggest source by far contributing to Ontario’s total grid generation is nuclear. Nuclear is carbon-free.
[NOTE: The Ontario CIPK numbers in the table above are based on each hour’s total grid generation output as reported by Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator. I have written a program that assigns a carbon emission factor to each of the 145 generators and wind farms reporting to the IESO. All generator carbon output is then divided by total generation to give the CIPK.
Note also that the Ontario figures are much more precise: they vary hour by hour, and reflect the generation the IESO needs to call on to meet hourly demand. The German figures are an annual average; I do not have precise hourly German data available.]