Renewable energy in the Ontario cold snap: a technicolour dream, debunked in grayscale

Much of North America was in a deep freeze as 2017 waned and turned into 2018. Across Ontario temperatures two hours from midnight on New Year’s Eve in the relatively populated “south” part of the province ranged from minus 31 (Kirkland Lake) to minus 13 (Sault Ste. Marie, which was actually warmer—by one-tenth of a Celsius degree—than Windsor). The residential heat demand across the “relatively populated” part of the province at that time was in the neighbourhood of 25 million kilowatts; the electricity demand was roughly 17.2 million on top of that.1 Please bear in mind that the heating demand is a quantity that is (mostly) in addition to electricity demand. Both have to do with energy, and though they are related and integrated they are distinct. This distinction carries global billion dollar implications. Many people are unaware of this distinction.

Can renewable energy based mostly on wind and solar meet 100 percent of our energy needs? Bearing in mind the data presented in this article, the answer is an obvious and emphatic NO.

Among those who are unaware, either honestly or dishonestly, are mainstream environmental groups and the political groups that have tied their fortunes to the environmentalist mindset. From this crowd you often hear confident predictions that in some few decades all of our energy will come from renewable sources; wind and solar are the most touted. You sometimes even hear such predictions coming straight from high levels of government.

How credible are such predictions? They clearly lack any and all credibility, and not only for the simple reason that the sun goes down every night, raising the vexing question of what non-fossil-fuel energy source is going to power homes, hospitals, schools, and the Internet between seven p.m. and seven a.m.

Have a look at the figure below. It shows the output of Ontario’s wind and solar generators against provincial electrical and (most) residential heating demand over the 96 hours from December 30 through January 2.

datehourElectricityHeat (res.)Elect.+HeatWind+SolarWind+Solar %
2017-12-30 00:00:0015.90221.8837.781.544.07%
2017-12-30 01:00:0015.3921.7237.111.443.89%
2017-12-30 02:00:0015.15321.5836.741.393.78%
2017-12-30 03:00:0015.03821.6036.641.333.64%
2017-12-30 04:00:0015.02321.6236.651.323.60%
2017-12-30 05:00:0015.25421.6436.891.353.67%
2017-12-30 06:00:0015.54521.7037.241.644.40%
2017-12-30 07:00:0016.10321.7637.861.884.95%
2017-12-30 08:00:0016.65821.9938.641.945.02%
2017-12-30 09:00:0017.36322.1539.511.995.03%
2017-12-30 10:00:0017.87622.1540.031.964.91%
2017-12-30 11:00:0017.76722.1539.922.045.12%
2017-12-30 12:00:0017.52721.8639.392.416.11%
2017-12-30 13:00:0017.43321.1338.562.947.62%
2017-12-30 14:00:0017.12921.1238.253.108.12%
2017-12-30 15:00:0017.13520.9738.113.098.12%
2017-12-30 16:00:0017.93921.6539.592.686.76%
2017-12-30 17:00:0019.1422.3241.462.856.87%
2017-12-30 18:00:0019.27523.2542.522.976.98%
2017-12-30 19:00:0018.924.2043.102.996.94%
2017-12-30 20:00:0018.61624.6843.302.676.17%
2017-12-30 21:00:0018.04725.1143.162.375.50%
2017-12-30 22:00:0017.27525.5442.822.004.68%
2017-12-30 23:00:0016.59425.9742.571.784.19%
2017-12-31 00:00:0016.06826.4142.481.443.38%
2017-12-31 01:00:0015.64226.8542.491.142.69%
2017-12-31 02:00:0015.42527.2942.721.082.53%
2017-12-31 03:00:0015.29227.1542.441.022.40%
2017-12-31 04:00:0015.427.8443.240.811.87%
2017-12-31 05:00:0015.58827.9143.500.691.59%
2017-12-31 06:00:0015.89727.9943.890.621.41%
2017-12-31 07:00:0016.66628.0244.690.651.46%
2017-12-31 08:00:0017.26128.2545.510.581.28%
2017-12-31 09:00:0017.56127.4445.000.511.13%
2017-12-31 10:00:0017.67926.9544.630.631.40%
2017-12-31 11:00:0017.81725.8543.670.601.38%
2017-12-31 12:00:0017.70224.6642.370.501.17%
2017-12-31 13:00:0017.50624.0341.540.591.43%
2017-12-31 14:00:0017.523.4040.900.631.54%
2017-12-31 15:00:0017.7723.4341.200.691.67%
2017-12-31 16:00:0018.5922.5541.140.621.52%
2017-12-31 17:00:0019.82921.6841.510.651.57%
2017-12-31 18:00:0019.48423.2642.740.811.90%
2017-12-31 19:00:0018.70624.8343.541.152.63%
2017-12-31 20:00:0018.28425.0343.311.353.12%
2017-12-31 21:00:0017.77225.6343.411.333.06%
2017-12-31 22:00:0017.22825.1242.341.373.23%
2017-12-31 23:00:0016.84225.5342.371.313.09%
2018-01-01 00:00:0016.62725.9342.561.182.77%
2018-01-01 01:00:0016.08426.3442.431.122.63%
2018-01-01 02:00:0015.86626.7542.621.262.97%
2018-01-01 03:00:0015.72525.8941.621.423.42%
2018-01-01 04:00:0015.4725.7741.241.543.73%
2018-01-01 05:00:0015.50225.4540.952.085.08%
2018-01-01 06:00:0015.7525.6941.442.275.49%
2018-01-01 07:00:0015.88725.9341.822.686.40%
2018-01-01 08:00:0015.92326.1842.102.866.79%
2018-01-01 09:00:0016.38125.7242.103.077.29%
2018-01-01 10:00:0016.67224.9441.613.107.44%
2018-01-01 11:00:0016.7223.9640.683.368.26%
2018-01-01 12:00:0016.83922.9839.823.438.61%
2018-01-01 13:00:0016.77222.5239.293.579.09%
2018-01-01 14:00:0016.86822.1839.053.368.60%
2018-01-01 15:00:0017.31422.6739.982.837.08%
2018-01-01 16:00:0018.08122.9941.073.167.69%
2018-01-01 17:00:0019.33923.3242.663.157.38%
2018-01-01 18:00:0019.24923.6442.893.067.14%
2018-01-01 19:00:0018.9624.0943.053.297.63%
2018-01-01 20:00:0018.66323.8242.493.357.87%
2018-01-01 21:00:0018.07424.3642.443.217.57%
2018-01-01 22:00:0017.21823.6740.892.997.31%
2018-01-01 23:00:0016.35622.9839.342.897.36%
2018-01-02 00:00:0015.80922.9238.733.067.91%
2018-01-02 01:00:0015.46522.8638.323.238.43%
2018-01-02 02:00:0015.25522.8038.052.867.50%
2018-01-02 03:00:0015.23622.4237.662.987.90%
2018-01-02 04:00:0015.27522.5137.792.576.80%
2018-01-02 05:00:0015.72622.5438.272.987.78%
2018-01-02 06:00:0016.87422.9639.833.228.07%
2018-01-02 07:00:0017.89723.3741.263.809.20%
2018-01-02 08:00:0018.23223.9442.184.069.63%
2018-01-02 09:00:0018.73923.8242.564.029.45%
2018-01-02 10:00:0019.0322.9241.954.2110.03%
2018-01-02 11:00:0019.12622.5341.654.4510.69%
2018-01-02 12:00:0018.98422.1341.124.6811.38%
2018-01-02 13:00:0018.87321.7440.614.8311.88%
2018-01-02 14:00:0018.75321.1239.874.8112.07%
2018-01-02 15:00:0018.88321.0539.944.6411.62%
2018-01-02 16:00:0019.39621.2340.633.999.82%
2018-01-02 17:00:0020.33121.4141.743.869.25%
2018-01-02 18:00:0019.8921.5841.474.2210.18%
2018-01-02 19:00:0019.93721.6041.544.2510.24%
2018-01-02 20:00:0019.63321.8741.504.1810.06%
2018-01-02 21:00:0018.81621.8740.694.2510.44%
2018-01-02 22:00:0017.79222.5240.313.889.61%
2018-01-02 23:00:0016.92123.1740.093.608.99%

Note that at the time that combined electricity plus residential heat demand were highest, wind and solar production were at their lowest. This is typical for Ontario in the winter, and a big part of the reason is that nighttime temperatures tend to be lower than daytime, and at nighttime there is no solar power at all.

For the professional renewable energy salesman, the solution to this is easy: just expand the amount of wind and solar capacity so that the probability of achieving enough generation to meet demand becomes greater—i.e., “buy more of my inferior product.” Leaving aside the obvious issues implied by the operative word probability in the preceding sentence, here’s how the situation from December 30 through January 2 could have been different had the wind and solar generation fleets each been ten times its current capacity:

RE x 10: summary stats of hourly Ontario energy demand against wind+solar output, Dec 30 2017 to Jan 3 2018. Million kW. Count = 96
Electricity Demand Res. Heating Demand Electricity+Heat Wind+Solar
mean 17.28 23.77 41.04 23.89
std 1.43 2.02 2.07 12.43
min 15.02 20.97 36.64 4.97
25% 15.90 22.10 39.76 13.26
50% 17.27 23.25 41.47 26.20
75% 18.60 25.53 42.53 32.19
max 20.33 28.25 45.51 48.26

As you can see, in almost all hours (86 out of 96) wind and solar generation fleets ten times their current capacities would still have failed to collectively produce enough power to meet the demand for electricity and residential heat.

Not only that, but when you look at the summary stats, notice that the minimum value of Wind+Solar times ten does not even come to one-third of the minimum value of Electricity Demand.

i.e., had Ontario had ten times its current wind and ten times its current solar, there were a significant number of hours when the combined generation of that tenfold-expanded fleet could not have even served the electricity component of the electricity-plus-heat energy demand. In fact, the entire bottom quartile of Wind+Solar generation featured output values that were less than the minimum value of Electricity Demand.

Can renewable energy based mostly on wind and solar meet 100 percent of our energy needs? Bearing in mind the above, together with the fact that I didn’t even include industrial, commercial, and institutional heat demand, nor even residential hot water—let alone transportation demand (planes, trains, automobiles)—the answer is an obvious and emphatic NO. Not only that, it is obvious that it would be foolish to even try.

In light of this, another monster-size question is begged. Why do governments all across the world regularly and routinely regurgitate the 100 percent renewables myth?

And why do the media types who interview the government types who regurgitate this nonsense not call them on it?

  1. Contrary to the highly misleading impression given out by our electricity system operator, heating and electricity describe two (mostly) separate energy systems. The IESO (Independent Electricity System Operator), which along with managing the day to day operation of our grid oversees contracts for power generation and conservation, publishes a web page that confuses energy with electricity.
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5 years ago

For the professional renewable energy salesman, the solution to this is easy: just add thousands of kilometers of high voltage DC cables to connect ontario with solar and wind plants all over north america

Suggest you show graphs of wind and solar power production all over north america to refute or support this once and for all

Cosmos Voutsinos
5 years ago
Reply to  v

A quick analysis shows 22,000 km of grid cables,222,000 power poles each needing 100 tonnes of steel (that requires steel coal and iron ore to be mined to manufacture the steel), and 100 tones of concrete to anchor the pole. (1 tonne of concrete emits 1 tonne of CO2), and of course a lot more CO2 For the construction. All these emit millions of tones of CO 2 to the atmosphere. Then the wind mills and solar panels infrastructure needs to be replaced every 20 years which emits the same amount of CO2 all over again.
I forget, didn’t we started the renewables dream to save CO2 emissions?

5 years ago
Reply to  v

Unfortunately there is night all over North America at the same time. Never mind, just build DC cables across the Bering Strait….

5 years ago
Reply to  v

And where will those areas get their renewable power from??

5 years ago

If, in 1990,I had made the outlandish prediction that the internet would soon become the enormous engine of the information age that it has now become, a reasonable person, like this author,would have pointed out the clear impossibility of my prediction. He would point out that just the memory required would cost more than the entire gross global economic output. The electricity consumed by servers would be equal to all electricity consumed for all other purposes. Those servers and the cabling would be prohibitively expensive.
Solar PV, batteries, demand response, wind turbines, long distance transmission, are all technologies that are improving rapidly as their cost keep falling.
The endpoint and how we get there may be unclear now, but the imperative of building an ever cleaned grid is clear. And now with the cost of renewables so low, it makes sense to develop more of them regardless of we can eventually get to 100% or not,

5 years ago


The only criticism I have is that I assume in the 10x wind and solar scenarios you simply extrapolated current output. The issue with this is that greater geographical disbursement of this capacity increase across the region would lead us to expect some marginal decrease in fleet-wide variability. The flipside is that siting the generators to minimize aggregate variability can greatly decrease individual capacity factors.

This message about the incredible challenge in meeting total gross energy demand with variable weather-dependent generation sources is probably the most important and convincing message of all. Using irrefutable data it pulls the rug out from under the half-baked ideologies leading this conversation once and for all. Ideologies that would simultaneously promote battery powered cars as a mass solution to climate change but also insist that nuclear power is antiquated and unneccessary. This is the analysis that needs to be proliferated and repeated in order to steer the conversation and policy action toward sanity.

5 years ago

You’re an idiot Stephen. You have such a misunderstanding of the of wind and solar its embarrassing and dangerous. Wind blows 24/7/365. We know the demand curve is looks like when solar is generating. We only run gas plants to make up for the wind and solar and that is based on historical demand data. We pay 15 cents per kWhr for Nat Gas generation. Your numbers above are missing almost 3GW’s of behind the meter solar. China is deploying an additional 54 GW’s of solar or enough to power all of Canada for 25 years. Wind and solar has added only $12 /month to my bill or $144 a year, but its the best money we spend every month because my kid like 5 million others get to breath cleaner air in Toronto. With every jurisdiction in North America switching to NG from coal, how long is it before we see the price of gas doubling, or like in 2008 quadrupling. A doubling would cost our household $600 a year. Wind and solar keep that generation in check and therefore demand in check.

Rocky Potuer
5 years ago
Reply to  EdBCN

The difference would be; “we can control the internet” to make it bigger and more productive. When you can control how fast the wind blows and where, and make the sun shine 24/7/365, then come back to your arguement. Until then, it’s just babble with no thought.

5 years ago
Reply to  EdBCN

Often people make analogies of computer based technologies and energy generation technologies – and often they are wrong.

The fundamental physics are very different. Energy generation systems do not follow moores law and the theoretical performance potentials (and therefore cost potentials) of things like PV panels and wind turbines are well understood. Solar panels are not the smartphones of energy, the physics of scaling down integrated circuits are entirely different than the physics of maximizing photovoltaic output.

5 years ago
Reply to  B

it’s not about scaling the performance. Its about reducing panel costs. The Chinese learned that lesson years ago. They now have a strategic energy source which they count on to lower the costs of electricity for everyone. hence they are installing 54 GW’s of new solar this year.

Steve Bernard
5 years ago
Reply to  EdBCN

You make the mistake of believing renewables are the future, when in fact they are the past. The Romans had renewables – wind for sailing ships, hydro for milling corn, biomass (trees) for smelting iron. They also had animal- and human-powered machinery. It wasn’t until the introduction of coal and oil that we developed the highly industrialized society we have today. As for the costs coming down, renewables will, by their intermittent nature, always require backup fossil fuels. If we have to maintain a full-sized fossil fuel grid to support renewables, what is the point of building renewables in the first place, other than to achieve a small (20% or so) reduction in fuel costs and GHG emissions? Only nuclear will replace fossil fuels on the scale that is required (80-100%) to save the world from catastrophic global warming, and since they run at 90% capacity, they need no fossil fuel backup.

5 years ago
Reply to  Steve Bernard

we have 32 Nat Gas plants in the province to back up the nuclear plants, not wind and solar. it is required by regulations.

Ian Forsyth
5 years ago

You and the IESO are missing the point. This is only Transmission connected perspective. There is an incredible amount of solar on the distribution system.
And as your statistics point out Solar and Wind are such a small part of the generation supply they can’t possibly be the cause of high rates can they?
What is needed is a tripling of Solar in Ontario and all points east of the Mississippi.
Solar is peak coincident generation. Benign to neighbours and if crop coupled a protection of the bee population (lots of recent history in England). Distribution Solar equals on peak supply with reduced losses and reduced transmission system requirements.

5 years ago

This is just the failure of Mark Z. Jacobson’s “roadmap”, writ small.

Anyone interested in this issue should also read “Roadmap To Nowhere”, which is available free to read at the authors’ website  It summarizes Clack et al’s takedown of Jacobson, but in language accessible to the layman.  Once you’ve read it I suggest you spread it widely.

Andrew Jaremko
5 years ago
Reply to  Engineer-Poet

Thanks E-P and Steve. You can also watch Conley and Maloney present their critique at TEAC8 in Gordon McDowell’s video at

5 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Jaremko

Just finished watching it.  TYVM.

David Patterson
5 years ago

Sad that they never talk about the other half of the equation, energy efficiency. No talk of how much less energy would be required if we were building to net-zero or better.

5 years ago

“The IESO (Independent Electricity System Operator), which along with managing the day to day operation of our grid oversees contracts for power generation and conservation, publishes a web page that confuses energy with electricity.”

“Political fiat” is indeed the answer to your own questions. The Globalist Left has a different set of goals.

5 years ago

You missing so much understanding Stephen…solar is demand reduction technology. So our peaks are much lower then they were back in 2003. There are 3GW’s of solar behind the meter generating everyday. We contract Gas capacity based on annual peak demand, the lower that peak demand the lower the amount of Gas generation will be contracted in the future. We pay 15 cents for Gas generation from the 32 Gas plants that only run at less then 15% of their capacity. That is a guaranteed rate in the GA. They have to be there to back up the nuclear plants. Now li-ion storage is available even with it sitting there fully charged they can count wind and solar as firm capacity in a much greater percentage.

5 years ago
Reply to  BW

solar is demand reduction technology.

Unless the local demand peaks around noon, solar can’t reduce it.  In most places, demand peaks in the evening after solar has gone off-line for the night.  Solar does nothing to reduce this demand, it only offsets some fuel consumption.

They have to be there to back up the nuclear plants.

You only need enough to provide spinning reserve if one nuke trips off-line.  The sensible way to deal with outages for refurbishments is to build a few extra units and just have one or two always being brought back to good-as-new status while the rest hum away.

Solar is next to useless for this, but Ontario ratepayers are shelling out top dollar for it anyway.

5 years ago

Ok, this HVDC system falls apart as soon as one region doesn’t like the others’ politics ant attempts an embargo. When a country is truly independent other countries have much less influence. I sense a political trap. If every country’s electricity is independent then the others have much less influence in this renewable gambling. Most places have plenty of thorium and uranium reserves, and if they don’t it is easy to horde/stockpile for such an event.

I have once worked for a solar installer and expressed my concerns with solely solar FIT and my boss said it saves Ontario money during peaking hours. Later I learned this is completely false. I can’t even find my old company any more but one of my bosses was stalking my mom’s chemical engineer friend. I’m a bit weirded out about that.

[…] [4] S. E. Aplin, “Renewable energy in the Ontario cold snap: a technicolour dream, debunked in grayscale,” 4 January 2018. [Online]. Available:…. […]

5 years ago

Renewable energy is so so important nowadays. Really pleased to see one of our major provinces trying to work for it.