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ALL FUELS

ABOUT THIS CHART

The charts in Fig. 1 show the mix of generator types and fuels that contributed to the Ontario electrical grid in the selected period.

Most of Ontario’s electricity is made by sources that involve no air pollution. To see generation broken down into non-polluting and polluting fuels, click here.

To see generation only by non-polluting fuels, click here.

To see generation only by polluting fuels, click here.

Abbreviations

kWh = kilowatt-hours (1,000 watt-hours)

k = kilo (thousand; 103)

M = Mega (million; 106)

G = Giga (billion; 109)

T = Tera (trillion; 1012)

ELECTRICITY AND ENERGY

ELECTRICITY AND ENERGY

Most of the artificial bulk energy we use falls into the following three broad categories:

  1. Electricity, for numerous things.
  2. Gasoline and diesel, almost all for road transportation.
  3. Natural gas, mostly for heating and cooling.

As you can see in Fig. 2, electricity is only one type of artificial bulk energy we use.

You can view electricity as a super category of energy. In addition to its numerous other uses, we use it for transportation—for example, Toronto’s subways and streetcars are electric powered.

But almost all cars and trucks are powered with gasoline or diesel. Ontario’s government wants more cars and trucks to be powered with electricity. This is because Ontario electricity is much cleaner than any of the other energy sources. To compare CO₂ emissions of the three types of bulk energy, click on the CO₂ button in Fig 2.

We also use electricity for heating and cooling. Electric heaters are widely available. Much of our air conditioning is electric powered.

All of the heating and cooling we currently get from natural gas could be provided with electricity. Again, when you compare CO₂ emissions, you can see that electricity is much cleaner than natural gas.

Bulk energy in Ontario, 2014

the cost of electricity

the cost of electricity

Fig 2 shows that Ontario electricity is far cleaner than the other types of energy. It also shows that electricity is also currently far more expensive.

Because of this, in situations where electricity would be a far easier and cleaner alternative to fossil fuels, consumers find that the higher-carbon alternatives are far more affordable.

Why is Ontario electricity so costly? Fig 3 breaks down the generation types, by output, cost rate, and overall cost in 2014.

Electricity in Ontario, generation versus cost, 2014
CIPK stands for carbon dioxide intensity per kilowatt-hour. It is a standard measure of the waste (in this case, carbon) content of a kilowatt-hour of energy.

CIPK stands for Carbon Intensity per Kilowatt-hour. It is a measure of the carbon dioxide emission content, in grams, of a kilowatt-hour (3.6 million joules) of energy. It is a function of the carbon content of the fuel being used to produce the energy. If the fuel contains no carbon, or if carbon does not participate in the process that produces the energy, then the CIPK is zero.

Abbreviations

kWh = kilowatt-hours (1,000 watt-hours)

k = kilo (thousand; 103)

M = Mega (million; 106)

G = Giga (billion; 109)

T = Tera (trillion; 1012)

HOW TO COMPARE ELECTRICITY AND ENERGY

HOW TO COMPARE ELECTRICITY AND ENERGY

Fig. 1 shows that most Ontario electricity generation is from non-polluting fuels (represented by the green coloured parts of the charts in Fig. 1). This means that the carbon content of Ontario electricity is much lower than other electricity grids, including Germany’s and Denmark’s.

It also means Ontario electricity is cleaner than all other forms of energy that are in use today.

We can measure how clean electricity is by using CIPK. The CIPK of grid electricity is determined by dividing the amount of carbon dioxide all generators feeding the grid have emitted during a given period by the total energy they have put into the grid in the same period.

THE IMPORTANCE OF CIPK

THE IMPORTANCE OF CIPK

When we know the CIPK of electricity or other energy, then we can compare electricity from different grids, and we can compare electricity with the other energy we use.

Fig. 2 provides these comparisons.

Knowing how the CIPK of our electricity compares with that of other grids, and how it compares with the CIPK of other kinds of energy, can help us make informed decisions about how to tackle the carbon pollution that comes with much of our energy use.

For example, note the difference in CIPK of different grids (click on Grids). Why is there such a difference? Why does Ontario electricity have such a low CIPK compared with, say, Germany?

The answer is because there are major differences in the ways Ontario and Germany make electricity.

The way to have a low CIPK of electricity is to reduce the polluting fuels contribution, while continuing to provide sufficient electricity.

POLLUTING FUELS

Fig. 1 shows the electricity output of the “polluting fuel” generators that contribute to the Ontario grid.

We hear a lot about nuclear waste, but by far the most waste from Ontario power plants comes from the types of generators shown in Fig. 1.

These generators produce gaseous waste, which is mostly carbon dioxide (CO₂) but also includes particulate matter (PM), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), and oxides of sulfur (SOx).

Abbreviations

kWh = kilowatt-hours (1,000 watt-hours)

CCGT = combined cycle gas turbine

GT = simple cycle gas turbine

RCG = Rankine cycle gas (Lennox plant)

k = kilo (thousand; 103)

M = Mega (million; 106)

G = Giga (billion; 109)

T = Tera (trillion; 1012)

HOW MUCH WASTE DO POLLUTING FUELS PRODUCE?

HOW MUCH WASTE DO POLLUTING FUELS PRODUCE?

The “polluting fuel” generators shown in Fig. 1 produce gaseous waste in amounts so enormous that it would be physically impossible to store this waste at the sites that produce it.

Polluting fuels produce pollution in varying amounts. For example, the CO₂ amounts shown in Fig. 2 and Fig. 3 are metric tons. It is difficult to visualize a ton of CO₂, because CO₂ is an invisible gas at the temperatures across most of the earth. But one metric ton of CO₂ would fill more than half a million litres, or 500 cubic meters, of volume.

That volume is slightly more than the indoor volume of a typical 1,700 square foot Ontario home.

If you mouseover or tap on the bars of the CO₂ chart in Fig. 3 you will see the number of tons of CO₂ that were emitted in that period.

Remember, that amount of air pollution was produced by generators that typically contribute only a small percentage of Ontario’s electricity in any selected period. See Nonpolluting vs polluting fuels.

WHERE DOES POWER GENERATION WASTE GO?

WHERE DOES POWER GENERATION WASTE GO?

Air pollution goes into the air, of course, but what happens to it once it is in the air?

In the case of carbon dioxide (CO₂), the major waste product of power generators that run on polluting fuels, about a third of it is “eaten” by land plants. Another third is absorbed into the world’s oceans. This is making seawater more acidic, which is already having profound consequences.

And close to forty percent of the CO₂ emitted today will stay in the atmosphere for many hundreds, even thousands, of years.

If you mouseover or tap on the bars of the CO₂ chart in Fig. 3 you will see the number of tons of CO₂ that were emitted in that period.

Remember, that amount of air pollution was produced by generators that typically contribute only a small percentage of Ontario’s electricity in any selected period. See Nonpolluting vs polluting fuels.

See lifecycle

WHAT IF WIND+GAS REPLACED NUCLEAR?

WHAT IF WIND+GAS REPLACED NUCLEAR?

The charts below compare actual current pollutant emissions with what would have been emitted had a combination of wind and gas generated the same amount of energy that the nuclear fleet generated over the selected period.

Emissions from the actual grid mix compared with emissions if wind+gas replace nuclear

WHAT ABOUT NUCLEAR WASTE?

WHAT ABOUT NUCLEAR WASTE?

The chart below compares energy generation and waste production by nuclear and wind+gas in the selected period. Note that nuclear makes much more electricity than gas, or a combination of wind and gas.

THREE FACTS ABOUT NUCLEAR WASTE

THREE FACTS ABOUT NUCLEAR WASTE YOU SHOULD KNOW

Nuclear waste is

  1. Literally thousands of times smaller, in both mass and volume, than the waste produced by the cleanest fossil fuel, natural gas. You can visualize this size difference by clicking or tapping on the View Waste button above.
  2. By far the most easily managed of the waste products of any type of electric power generation. Nearly all of the waste produced by Canada’s nuclear plants over many decades of continuous high power output is today safely stored at the very same sites that generate nuclear electricity. It would be very difficult, and extremely expensive, to store even a few hours’ worth of waste from generators running on polluting fuels.
  3. The only power generator waste that is recyclable, back into further huge amounts of clean, reliable electricity.

Nuclear is the only type of electric power generation that has no externalities. It is the only type whose “waste” product has been costed and paid for, through low retail rates for nuclear-generated electricity.

No other form of electric power generation has these advantages.

Ontario’s proposed emission cap and trade system is an attempt to price the externalities of power generators that run on polluting fuels.

However, because the physical amounts of waste from polluting plants are so much greater than those from nuclear plants, and because the waste itself is gas (unlike nuclear waste which is mostly solid and much easier to manage), it can be expected that the costs of disposing of those wastes will be far higher than the cost of managing nuclear waste.

The cost of managing nuclear waste is included in the current price of nuclear-generated electricity. This price ranges from roughly six to seven cents per kilowatt-hour, and is much lower than the price for wind or gas-fired electricity.

ABOUT THIS CHART

ABOUT THIS CHART

The above chart is an interactive view of the nonpolluting fuels that fed the grid in the selected period. The aim of reducing carbon in electricity generation is to increase the amount of electricity made by the fuels shown in this chart. Note how, or whether, the individual fuel types fluctuated during the selected period.

Abbreviations

kWh = kilowatt-hours (1,000 watt-hours)

k = kilo (thousand; 103)

M = Mega (million; 106)

G = Giga (billion; 109)

T = Tera (trillion; 1012)


HOW TO CUT POLLUTION EMISSIONS FROM ELECTRICITY GENERATION

HOW TO CUT POLLUTION EMISSIONS FROM ELECTRICITY GENERATION

To cut pollution emissions from electricity generation, we must cut the amount of electricity that is generated by polluting fuels, like gas, biofuel (which is wood waste), and coal. You can view the contribution of polluting fuels here.

We must at the same time increase the generation from non-emitting sources, like nuclear, hydro, and wind. Fig 1 shows these in the selected period.

But there is a catch. The nonpolluting sources that replace the polluting ones must be capable of providing electricity when it is needed.

Many people believe all zero-carbon electricity can come from renewables, chiefly wind and solar. Is that belief justified by data from the real world?

The chart below shows Ontario wind output in the selected period, and allows you to see what wind output would have been if there were 2, 5, and 10 times as many wind turbines as there currently are.

Multiply wind fleet capacity:

WIND MEANS GAS

WIND MEANS GAS

The chart above shows that, in most periods selected, even with dramatically increased wind capacity, wind simply cannot provide all the power we need.

During those frequent times that wind is unable to meet demand, we would need electricity from other generators, ones that we can rely on to provide electricity when it is needed.

Only three sources are capable of providing electricity on demand:

  1. Nuclear
  2. Hydro
  3. Natural gas

Of the above three sources, only nuclear and natural gas are capable of being expanded.

And between nuclear and natural gas, only nuclear comes with zero point-of-generation emissions (and drastically lower lifecycle emissions).

So if Ontario were to remove nuclear from its generation mix, as some people recommend, the province’s only option would be to dramatically increase use of natural gas.

Natural gas is a fossil fuel which comes with significant amounts of air pollution. See the Polluting fuels page for details.

Pollution factors

Point of Generation emission factors
FUEL CYCLE GHG PM NOx SOx
Nuclear 0 0 0 0
Wind 0 0 0 0
CCGT gas 385 0.016 0.125 0.002
Simple cycle gas 569.39 0.024 0.185 0.0029
Rankine cycle gas (Lennox) 626.33 0.026 0.203 0.0032
Hydro 0 0 0 0
Biofuel 1006 2.22 1.83 0.129
Solar 0 0 0 0
Nanticoke 7&8 (coal) 1000 2 0.0096 4
Nanticoke 1-6 (coal) 1000 2 0.0115 4
Lambton 3&4 (coal) 950 2 0.0109 0.1232
Lambton 1&2 (coal) 950 2 0.0109 8
Tbay & Atikokan (coal) 988 2 0.0114 8
Lifecyce emission factors
FUEL CYCLE GHG PM NOx SOx
Nuclear 18.5 0.008 0.039 0.023
Wind 10.5 0.015 0.028 0.025
CCGT gas 478 0.021 0.62 0.007
Simple cycle gas 662.39 0.0283 0.682 0.0082
Rankine cycle gas (Lennox) 719.33 0.031 0.701 0.0085
Hydro* 4 0 0 0
Biofuel** 1006 2.22 1.83 0.129
Solar* 46 0 0 0
Nanticoke 7&8 (coal) 1090 2.2 0.5096 4.2
Nanticoke 1-6 (coal) 1090 2.2 0.5115 4.2
Lambton 3&4 (coal) 1040 2.2 0.5109 0.6232
Lambton 1&2 (coal) 1040 2.2 0.5109 8.5
Tbay & Atikokan (coal) 1078 2.2 0.5114 8.5
Lifecycle air pollution emissions from Ontario power plants running on combustible fuel