Imagine driving from Ottawa to Toronto in a car that runs purely on electricity. Your drive takes the usual four and a half hours. But instead of burning 40 to 50 litres of gasoline—and dumping 92 to 115 kilograms of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the air—you use 85 kilowatt-hours of clean Ontario-made electric power and dump 3.3 kg of CO2. Put another way: instead of paying $48 to $60 for 40 to 50 litres of gasoline at $1.20 per litre, you pay less than $10 for 85 kWh of electricity at the current off peak rate. As a fuel for motive power, Ontario electricity is much cheaper and much cleaner than gasoline.
This may look like a too-good-to-be-true Brave New World. But it is the reality for those who drive cars that have the range to go from Ottawa to Toronto on pure electric power and that can charge their batteries from the grid.
I gave a presentation at a Carleton University sustainable energy summit on November 9, last Saturday. Outside there was a Tesla Model S, a beautiful but very expensive electric car capable of driving in high style and at respectable speed from Ottawa to Toronto on pure electric power. The car’s owner had offered his car as a demonstration of what driving could look like if more people buy in. There was also a Nissan Leaf, and a Chevy Volt. At the time I was admiring these cars, the Ontario grid was cranking out electricity with a carbon content of around 35 grams per kilowatt-hour. It had been less than 40 grams in each of the eight hours since midnight (see the CIPK column in the table below).
[stextbox id=”info” caption=”What is the CIPK, and how is it calculated?”]CIPK stands for CO2 Intensity Per Kilowatt-hour. It is a measure of the carbon content of a kilowatt hour of grid electricity.
The CIPK of a given grid is simply the amount of CO2 emitted by the generating plants within the jurisdiction responsible for that grid, divided by the total amount of electricity fed into that grid over a given hour. Of course, in order to calculate CIPK you have to know both of these figures.
So here is how to calculate Ontario’s grid CIPK. You need to refer to Table 1, in the upper left-hand sidebar on this page. Table 1 gives the current Ontario grid generation mix (it draws from data published at www.ieso.ca), and the CO2 emissions associated with the emitting fuel types.
- Go to the Total row in Table 1.
- Take the figure from the CO2, tons column.
- While still in the Total row, now take the figure in the MWh column.
- Divide the CO2, tons figure by the MWh figure.
- Multiply that result by 1,000. This converts tons-per-megawatt-hour into grams per kilowatt-hour.
The owner of the Tesla told me the car’s batteries could store about 85 kWh and that if he is using normal charge mode then it takes about eight hours to charge the batteries from their lowest discharge point to full. I arrived at the numbers I mentioned at the beginning of this article by dividing 85 by 8 (the total kWh the batteries can hold by the number of hours to fully charge them from empty). Here is how it would have looked, hour by hour, over the eight hours starting at midnight November 9:
|DateTime||Total MW||CO2, tons||cipk||kwh/hr||CO2/hr, kg|
|Nov 09 12AM||16,024||611||38.13||10.63||0.4053|
|Nov 09 01AM||15,618||606||38.801||10.63||0.4125|
|Nov 09 02AM||15,315||603||39.373||10.63||0.4185|
|Nov 09 03AM||15,312||607||39.642||10.63||0.4214|
|Nov 09 04AM||15,320||607||39.621||10.63||0.4212|
|Nov 09 05AM||15,374||605||39.352||10.63||0.4183|
|Nov 09 06AM||15,358||605||39.393||10.63||0.4187|
|Nov 09 07AM||15,656||604||38.579||10.63||0.4101|
|Total CO2, kilograms||3.326|
Look at the CO2/hr column; that’s how you tally the CO2 content of the “tank of fuel” that would carry you and the car from Ottawa to Toronto. During each of the eight hours it took to charge the Tesla’s battery pack, the batteries drew an average of 10.63 kWh (85 kWh divided by 8 hours). So to get the precise amount of CO2 during each of the 8 hours of charging, multiply that hour’s CIPK by 10.63.
In total, that “tank” would contain just over 3.3 kilograms of CO2. Again, a gasoline-powered car would dump between 92 and 115 kilograms of CO2 into the air over the same trip.
Which is to say, a car charged with Ontario electricity overnight on November 9 would have been thirty times cleaner than a gasoline-powered car of similar size.
Now, I don’t want to see anything but zeros in the CIPK column of any electric power output table that I display on this blog. The aim of every country or jurisdiction that manages an electric power grid should be to shoot for zero in that grid’s CIPK.
I made this point in my talk, and compared Ontario electricity with German electricity. The CIPK ought to be the prime number that everyone instantly refers to when talking about de-carbonizing electricity. It is really the only way to fairly compare grids.
The bottom line is this. If Germany had had a CIPK like Ontario’s in 2011, then instead of dumping 325 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere the course of making 602 billion kWh of electricity, it would have dumped less than 69 million. That works out to a 256 million ton reduction.
That is to say, Germany could have had every kWh of the 602 billion kWh it generated in 2011, but if it had a grid generator mix like Ontario does, it would have dumped 256 million tons of CO2 less.
I don’t see how anybody who really wants to reduce CO2 could possibly object to that.
Ontario is a world leader in clean electricity. We share that leadership position with France. (Actually, though I hate to admit it, we are in the junior position—France’s electricity grid is incredibly clean.) We need to start showing some responsibility for this: leadership is about responsibility. Our clean electricity makes electric transportation that much more clean: there is a multiplier effect in operation here.
The rest of the world needs to know about us.