Ontario’s roadmap to fast quantum-leap carbon reductions: Mate in Three meets Apollo 13

Road transportation, mainly cars and trucks running on gasoline and diesel, is the single biggest source category of man-made carbon pollution in Ontario. In 2009, cars and trucks put more than 45 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) into our air. That was well more than double the output from the province’s electric power generating stations. If electricity from the Ontario grid were powering these vehicles, instead of gasoline and diesel, then that CO2 output would drop like a stone (I walked through the numbers in “The Great Ontario Electricity Multiplier”).

If these were electric vehicles, we  wouldn’t see any of that exhaust, because there wouldn’t be any. Motor vehicles are the single biggest source of man-made CO2 in Ontario, and most other jurisdictions on earth. According to Environment Canada’s National Inventory Report, 1990-2009, Part 3 (p. 89), Ontario cars and trucks put more than 45 million metric tons of CO2 into the air in 2009.

If more of these were electric, we wouldn’t see any of that exhaust, because there wouldn’t be any. Motor vehicles are the single biggest source of man-made CO2 in Ontario, and most other jurisdictions on earth. According to Environment Canada’s National Inventory Report, 1990-2009, Part 3 (p. 89), Ontario cars and trucks put more than 45 million metric tons of CO2 into the air in 2009.

Electricity could and should be powering many more of these vehicles than it does today. In fact, Ontario is the most suited of all the places in North America to such a game-changing strategy. The Power Workers’ Union a week urged the Ontario government, in a Globe and Mail advertorial, to pursue exactly this strategy. We are a major auto-making jurisdiction, the PWU pointed out, and we could influence such a decisive move.

This kind of integrated energy strategy is exactly what is needed. As I have pointed out many times, Ontario electricity is among the cleanest on the continent. (It used to be also among the cheapest, but we have adopted a very ill-advised expensive electricity policy; this should be revisited.) That is mostly because our electricity system is among the most nuclearized. Our nuclear electricity comes from the famous CANDU reactor, which is perhaps Canada’s finest engineering achievement. Have a look at Tables 1 and 2: all the nuclear output represented in them is from CANDUs.

The PWU is the only organization, as far as I can tell, that is calling for this strategy. It is an elegant, viable, structurally sound strategy. More people should have a look at it.

I used to play chess, and used to love the “mate in three” type problems, where you were given a game-in-progress scenario and told that, for example, it’s white’s move and that white can achieve checkmate in three moves. How do you get from here to there? The object of these exercises is to imbue you with the entrepreneurial and opportunistic spirit: always seek, in the general structure of your situation, for the breakthrough. Your problem might be less intractable than it seems.

checkmate in three

Check mate in three, white’s move. Can you see it?

As I look out at the Ontario energy policy chessboard, I can see an easy—and I mean, easy—route to massive, quantum leap carbon pollution reductions. We could chop those 45 million annual metric tons of CO2 from cars and trucks in half, without banning cars and without putting ourselves into the poorhouse.

We can do this by simply guiding a shift in auto manufacturing toward the electric powertrain. As I have argued in earlier articles, this does not have to be a pure electric powertrain, though such an animal might prove easily viable. Shift more of our transportation kilometers to electric power, and our transportation CO2 plummets. It is literally that simple.

Ontario has all the pieces, ingredients, components it needs to pull this off. I remember the drama of Apollo 13. Who can forget this, it is one of the most spectacular and innovative in-flight repair jobs in history. Essentially, the flight crew of Apollo 13 were forced to retreat into the lunar lander after an oxygen tank exploded. Their problem immediately became one of finding enough air to breathe during the emergency trip back to Earth. And to do this they had to figure out how to remove CO2 from the air inside the lander.

The object of the “checkmate in three” exercises is to imbue you with the entrepreneurial and opportunistic spirit: always seek, in the general structure of your situation, for the breakthrough. Your problem might be less intractable than it seems.

To help the flight crew figure out the CO2 problem, part of the ground crew shut themselves into a room with only the equipment and materials available to the astronauts in the lunar lander, and tried to jerry-rig something. It worked, and the crew splashed safely into the Pacific ocean and were rescued.

Apollo 13 command module, after it was fished out of the ocean with all three crew members alive and well. They solved THEIR CO2 problem. Can we in Ontario solve ours?

Apollo 13 command module, after it was fished out of the ocean with all three crew members alive and well. They solved THEIR CO2 problem. Can we in Ontario solve ours?

Ontario today faces a dire CO2 problem. Perhaps it is not so life-and-death as the one that the Apollo 13 astronauts faced. But it is still urgently important that we solve it.

The best thing is, we have all the equipment and materials we need to chop the enormous CO2 emissions from our current transportation fleet. The most important component for this job is low-carbon electricity, and the most important component for that is nuclear reactors.

Transportation is not the only sector where a shift to electricity as the prime energy source would achieve huge CO2 reductions. Residential space heating put 18 million tons of CO2 into Ontario’s air in 2009, according to Environment Canada. Space heating, in clean electricity jurisdiction like Ontario, should be done with electric resistance heating. Again, that would involve building more nuclear plants. Which is something we Ontarians have done successfully many times.

6 comments for “Ontario’s roadmap to fast quantum-leap carbon reductions: Mate in Three meets Apollo 13

  1. Jeff Walther
    February 21, 2014 at 13:08

    “As I have pointed out many times, Ontario electricity is among the cleanest on the continent. (It used to be also among the cheapest, but we have adopted a very ill-advised expensive electricity policy; this should be revisited.)”

    Have you considered doing an article contrasting past and present and pointing to the policies which increased the costs? I see so many folks claiming that wind and solar have gotten cheap, while in the real world, every utility which subscribes to them also delivers a substantial rate increase to their service area. It would be nice to have a clear before and after picture to lay at wind’s doorstep.

  2. Joffan
    February 21, 2014 at 13:32

    Political inconstancy is probably the biggest risk, given that this is effectively a decade-scale project, both for increasing nuclear electricity and for renewing the transport fleet. No doubt there would also be the sadly-ubiquitous 5-year dither on actually getting starting.

    So roughly the political steps might be
    1. Commit to more nuclear build (and hydro if available)
    – Reduce overhead approval lead times
    – Set up low-interest loan authority
    2. Commit to incentives for electric vehicle use (or disincentives for hydrocarbons)
    [2a. Fully electrify railways]
    3. Commit to NO penalties/obstacles for vehicle electricity use
    4. Sponsor development in electric vehicles/reduce trade barriers

    :

    oh, and Qh7+ 🙂

    • seth
      February 21, 2014 at 14:27

      Don’t forget mass producing a geothermal heat storage high Coefficient of Efficiency electrical heat pump based HVAC system to replace residential and industrial gas heat. Using nuke electricity over gas, even without mass production, it pays back but just a little too slowly.

      • Joffan
        February 21, 2014 at 17:49

        Good addition to double up the value by addressing another hydrocarbon use – thanks seth.

  3. February 21, 2014 at 15:46

    The genius of the puppeteers behind our two camps is that they’ve convinced “conservatives” that nuclear power is fine but ACC is a lie, and “liberals” that nuclear power is anathema because “conservatives” like it and anything atomic must one step from going boom (or something).

    Break out of that thought-trap, and the solution is really this obvious.

    • February 21, 2014 at 19:21

      That’s pretty accurate. Coming from a fairly far-left background it pains me to acknowledge that, on the basis of many conversations with many partisans, conservatives appear far less likely to like nuclear just because liberals dislike it than liberals are to dislike it just because conservatives like it.

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