Fighting carbon in Ontario: a stunning reversal of the 1997 carbon spike

Ontario’s carbon reductions from electric power generation have since 2003 been simply remarkable. From a peak of over 40 million metric tons of CO2 in the year 2000, these fell to just over 16 million tons in 2012. That represents a 24 million ton annual reduction. This is by any standard a stunning achievement, worthy of great celebration—especially in light of recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which warn of climate catastrophe unless the human race reduces the amount of carbon we dump into our atmosphere.

And how did Ontario achieve this remarkable result? Simply put: we added six nuclear generators to our fleet of operating generators. The smallest of these are rated at 515 megawatts; the largest at 750 MW. Collectively, more than 4,000 MW were added to Ontario’s fleet of operational generators between 2003 and 2012. Because nuclear generators tend to run 24/7 for many, sometimes hundreds, of days at a time, their power output is huge.

The most recent of these newly operational nuclear units, while technically grid-ready in 2012, really entered service in the summer of 2013. Here is the environmental impact the nuclear fleet had in 2012 and has had so far in 2013:

2012 2013
Nuclear % total generation 56.69% 59.14%
CIPK 110.30 86.40
Total CO2, tons 16,181,577 10,796,240

The key in the above table is the CIPK row. CIPK stands for CO2 intensity per kilowatt-hour, and is a measure of the grid-level environmental impact of electric power generation. Think of it as a measure of the carbon content of your personal power supply: multiply each kilowatt-hour of Ontario electricity you use by that hour’s CIPK, and you have a pretty accurate picture of your carbon footprint from electricity use.

As you can see in the above table, the CIPK of Ontario grid electricity was 110.3 grams in 2012; that translated into the 16 million tons of total CO2 I mentioned above.

Ontario’s grid CIPK has been 86.4 grams so far in 2013. If the rest of the year goes similarly to the first ten months, we will have achieved an all-time low in CO2 emissions: something in the order of 13 million tons.

That is to say, we will have gone from 40 million tons in 2000 to 13 million in 2013—an annual reduction of 27 million tons.

Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that is the single biggest CO2 reduction from a single industrial sector anywhere in the world that wasn’t the result of an economic downturn.

This happened because we returned nuclear units to service. It is not surprising: CO2 emissions from Ontario electricity generation skyrocketed when the same nuclear units were removed from service in the late 1990s.

Nuclear is the decisive element in any strategy to reduce CO2 emissions from electricity generation.

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6 years ago

Nuclear is the decisive element in any strategy to reduce CO2 emissions from electricity generation.

That’s the truth.  Now, try getting Greens to believe it!

robert budd
6 years ago

What’s driving wind/solar and decentralized power over clean public owned nuclear is worth considering.
There appears to be no rational emissions , effiency or environmental footprint arguement to support it. For sure there is a deeply embedded “green ideology” driving this issue in Ontario and elsewhere.
I’ve sat in council meetings while a spokes person from Canadian Assoc of Physicians for the Environment held up Denmark and Germany as role models for Ontario. Apparently totally oblivious of their riculously high CIPK’s. Not to mention nuclear free Denmark has the EU.s highest cancer rates. He was trying to tell people they should be happy to live in the midst of 170 turbines (all erected on prime ag) owned by Korean/US and an Alberta corp that was happily building coal plants there. Define insanity.
The biggest driver though is that wind/solar allows for a whole new layer of landscape prospecting. Ontario ag. and crown land represents a huge potential for new resource extraction. It’s a bit ironic that oil and gas development requires payment to all sitting over the large area of reserve. With wind you need pay for only a couple acres, but you effect many and essentially steal their resources from them for free. And unfortunately with the blessing of the above mentioned greens.
Bottom line here is if our public owned nuclear can be removed from the equation, it represents a vast feeding opportunity for some at the expense of many. The “some” are respresented by the corporate sector for sure , but you don’t have to look far to find well placed politicos (typically Liberal)that will benefit too.
No suprise in that, but the real tipping point in this equation has has been the NDP that claim to represent true public interest, but have enabled this whole dirty stupid business to continue by propping up the Liberals for fear of not being optically green.