Conservation, anti-nuke style: still more carbon, even if successful

The other day I put up a table showing the carbon implications of the brave new world Ontario is heading into when perhaps 10 nuclear reactors come out of service (six of them permanently). It’s not pretty: in a single typical July weekday, Ontario electricity generators could, in the course of delivering the same amount of power they did on July 18 2013, dump nearly 50,000 metric tons more carbon dioxide (CO2) into the already-CO2-choked air than they did this year.

… but try it on an extremely hot day. Who would want to? We need to cool off, especially if we are in the city. So the idea that conservation can solve any serious energy problems is a head-in-the-sand approach.

That dire prediction is based on a totally plausible grid mix scenario: it is totally plausible that (1) Ontario needs the same amount of power on a hot July weekday, and (2) carbon-heavy gas plants step in to supply the power that carbon-free nuclear plants once did.

Nonetheless, some have complained that I did not give any credibility to claims that conservation could play a role in reducing overall demand. Fair enough. So here is what I have done. I have showed the grid mix of one of the hours on July 18 2013, four a.m., which represented the lowest grid generation output on that day: 18,245 megawatts. Here it is:

Actual Ontario generation and carbon emissions, July 18 2013, 4:00 a.m.
Fuel MW   CO2, tons    
Nuclear 11,222 0
Hydro 3,012 0
Gas 3,083 1,614
Wind 200 0
Coal 557 547
Other 171 33
Total 18,245 2,194
CIPK: 120.25 grams

Now here is a snapshot of a 2020 scenario in which the conservation advocates have been pretty successful: it envisions that Ontarians have managed to reduce their collective demand, also on a hot July weekday, by a whopping three thousand megawatts. So the nuclear fleet has been reduced to generating 6,470 megawatts (a cause for celebration among anti-nukes), and the total generator output has been reduced from 18,245 MW to 15,245 MW. Here is a grid mix that could conceivably provide that amount:

Projected Ontario generation and carbon emissions, hot July weekday in 2020, at 4:00 a.m.
Fuel MW   CO2, tons    
Nuclear 6,470 0
Hydro 3,860 0
Gas 4,014 2,207.7
Wind 741 0
Coal 0 0
Other 160 13
Total 15,245 2,220
CIPK: 145.67 grams

Well guess what. Even in that impossible scenario in which Ontarians have reduced their collective electricity demand by 3,000 MW, CO2 emissions are higher—as you can see, total CO2 at four a.m. on July 18 2013 was 2,194 tons; in July 2020 on a similar day at a similar hour it could be, even with a totally successful conservation effort, 2,220 tons.

And why is that? Because Ontario will still be using fossil fired generators in 2020! Ontario will actually be using MORE fossil generation in 2020. Cut more nuclear, and we use more fossil plants. It is that simple.

If you are anti-nuclear, you are pro-fossil. You are not fighting carbon. You are helping dump more of it into the atmosphere.

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Steve Foster
10 years ago

“If you are anti-nuclear, you are pro-fossil.”

That simple statement is something the no-nukes crowd just can’t seem to understand.

**Without grid-scale storage**, the best wind and solar can do is act as range-extenders for fossil fuels, with maximum net annual production share not exceeding their capacity factors. If we were to get overall 10% by solar, then there would be sunny days in June when solar production would hit 100% and crowd everything else off the grid, only to decline to zero overnight. It would, therefore be impossible to get 20% solar because under that same scenario your solar panels would vastly exceed total demand before crashing to zero! Without storage that excess energy would have to be wasted, further driving up costs. Moreover, the huge amount of shadowing capacity, in order to ramp up and down THAT MUCH, would be operated inefficiently (e.g. not running in an efficient combined cycle as a baseload plant). So, inefficient use of fossil “backup” would likely negate a significant portion of the emissions gains using said “renewables”.

Wind and solar therefore guarantee continuation of CO2 emissions, just a tad slower. So it might take us 10-20% longer to reach the same level of emissions vs. not using “renewables” at all. Some help that is.

It has to be said: thinking that wind and solar can slash CO2 emissions and provide the energy needed to run our civilization is a delusional fantasy, and a dangerous one at that.

Perhaps that is the point of the dogmatic anti-nuke ideologues – they are using the energy-policy fight as proxy war for a social-change agenda. Perhaps they don’t believe in a continuation of industrial society?

Whatever the motivation, the policy options they advocate are ill-informed and dangerous. I think they are basically useful idiots for fossil-fuel interests that are quite happy with the talk of wind turbines and solar panels.

10 years ago
Reply to  Steve Foster

Perhaps they don’t believe in a continuation of industrial society?

A number of them, including at least one poster I’ve been debating at Climate Crocks, explicitly want de-industrialization.  Explain to them that this means megadeaths and ecological catastrophe as people struggle to survive, and they shrug.  Another holomodor is nothing to them.

10 years ago
Reply to  Engineer-Poet

Explain to them what starvation (energy and otherwise) means.

Billions will not quietly go into the night and disappear. They will poach and eat entire species to extinction. They’ll burn every last tree; for energy or for farm land. They’ll ditch out and drain every last peat bog; they’ll use it as fuel and as farm land.

Lots of bad things are easy to make and will be made by desperate people. DDT is cheap and fairly easy to make.

10 years ago
Reply to  Soylent

I keep telling them that, but they don’t get it yet.  I can’t break through the denial alone; click here and help me straighten them out.

Jeff Walther
10 years ago
Reply to  Soylent

The way I like to phrase it is: “A man with cold and hungry children will cut down the last tree in the world, if it will feed his children for a day or keep them warm for a night.”

But that doesn’t get through either. They seem to think it’s a sermon on the evil of man, rather than a comment on the length people will go to when they are driven to poverty.


Steve Foster
10 years ago
Reply to  Steve Foster

Just for fun, lets have a look a what 10 GW-days of storage would look like. I’m guessing this would be enough to smooth-out 5-10 GW of wind + solar generation to ensure ~2GW steady output. The only thing practical, that I’m aware of, is pumped hydro.

Lets assume the drop is the height of Niagara Falls, or 53m. To simplify things (and I’m feeling generous), lets also assume no losses in pumping up- / running down- hill. The work done, hence energy stored, to lift 1 tonne of water up the hill is 1000kg x 9.81 m/s/s x 53 m = 5.20E05 Nm (aka 5.2E05 J).

10 GW-days of energy is equivalent to 10 dy x 1E09 J/s x 86400 s/dy = 8.64E14 J. So, to store this much energy would require pumping uphill 8.64E14 J / 5.20E05 J/t = 1.66E09 tonnes of water.

Since 1000kg of water is approx. 1 cubic metre, this amount of water would occupy a volume of 1.66E09 cubic metres. The City of Niagara Falls has an area of 210 sq. km, or 2.10E08 m^2. So, if we turned the ENTIRE CITY of Niagara Falls into a reservoir, it would have to be flooded to a depth of 1.66E09 / 2.10E08 = 7.9m (26ft).

So, to make ~2GW continuous renewable power viable using 10GW-days of storage and 10GW of renewable capacity, we would need to flood the City of Niagara Falls to a depth of 26ft. and drain it as the generated power fluctuates over periods of max 5 days. To replace all nukes in Ontario, we would need to repeat this exercise SIX TIMES over…

This is all totally hand-wavy, but it gives us a measure of the sheer scale of the problem of smoothing out variability of renewables at grid scales using storage. It is utterly, completely impractical using the only known method of grid-scale storage (pumped hydro).

Conclusion: renewables in Ontario will only work when in conjunction with dispatchable generation, which means FOSSIL FUELS.

robert budd
10 years ago

If we were honestly trying to decarbonize Ontario’s economy , we wouldn’t be trying to shrink clean baseload electricity generation.
Conservation and efficiency are great and should continue apace, but the much larger emissions contribution from fossil is transportation and heating. Why do Ontario’s so called greens avoid that truth?
By trying to drive conservation by forcing electricty prices up with R.E.FIT commitments and expensive infrastructure, we are encouraging fossil or wood/biomas substitution for heating and not providing a cheaper alternative to gas and diesel for transport.
Look at Germany now. Biomass bigger than wind /solar combined. Over harvesting of firewood a growing problem and no reduction in transportation fuels. People are substituting for expensive electricity.
For Ontario clean nuclear baseload combined with the new high efficiency air to air heat exchange technology would be a perfect fit for both heating and cooling. Simple cheap time of use rates for night time recharging of E.V. for public and private transport would be a natural as well. Also very little of the costly grid infrastructure and land use necessary for diffuse renewables.
We would then have a legitimate chance at being world leaders in low carbon, low impact economy.

Steve Foster
10 years ago
Reply to  Steve Aplin

Yeah, but it would reduce gas demand! All this green nonsense is foisted upon the public debate because it SERVES THE INTERESTS OF BIG OIL. Generally speaking, wind and solar CANNOT be integrated into the grid without fossil fuels. Pushing these “solutions” therefore serves Big Oil’s agenda by default.

A rational low-emissions policy would put nuclear front and centre of electricity generation, along with efforts to electrify as many aspects of the economy as possible including heating (esp. with heat pumps) and transportation (EVs, PHEVs, transit-oriented development along electrified-rail corridors).

But, rational analysis and obvious solutions never see the light of day in public policy discussions. WHY IS THAT??? Might the fact that multinational oil interests are only the richest, most powerful corporations in existence have something to do with it?


10 years ago
Reply to  Steve Aplin

Adding heat during the day when you are awake and none at night when it’s cold but you want it dark isn’t exactly the right timing.  You might be better off using LEDs for light and heat pumps or plain resistors for heat.  Maybe a molten-salt heat battery that can be fed as a dump load, and called upon for heat surges like wakeup and morning showers, nothing during the day, then bring the house back up to temperature when people get home.

Wayne SW
10 years ago

Efficient use of resources (energy) is generally a good thing, but what I can’t help coming back to is the thought that conservation in and of itself has never generated a single watt-hour of energy. It only preserves the sources that you already have. All the conservation in the world won’t help you if your energy source is lacking, which it is 70-80% of the time if you depend exclusively on unreliables. If you want reliable energy, and I’m guessing almost everyone does, then it is better for everyone if that energy source is emissions-free, which means nuclear ahead of everything else.