Guest post by Donald Jones: “An alternative Long Term Energy Plan for Ontario—an 80/20 nuclear/hydro generation mix by 2045”

When planning Ontario’s future electricity supply mix we have to answer the question, what should we be aiming for 35 to 40 years from now, and how are we going to get there? 35-40 years because that’s when our 10,000 MW of “to be refurbished” nuclear will be decommissioned and new generation would have to take its place. With fossil fuels in decline, and with climate change possibly making hydro generation less reliable, the obvious answer is that Ontario will have to increase its nuclear capacity.

This would make Ontario independent of outside jurisdictions, including long costly and unreliable transmission lines, and give us a clean reliable power supply at stable prices well into the future. Nuclear would supply around 80 percent of generation, up from the current ~ 50 percent, with hydro supplying the balance.

For nuclear to achieve 80 percent of generation would mean that all new nuclear build must be capable of load cycling using changes in reactor power with steam bypass as necessary, and of load following using steam bypass followed up with changes in reactor power. Automatic Generation Control would also be possible using steam bypass.

The Ministry of Energy has already made load following a requirement for nuclear new build at Darlington. However, 80 percent nuclear penetration on the grid would mean that the new build nuclear in operation after 2045 (including the proposed 2,000 MW of Darlington new build) would have to have substantially better night time turndown than anything seen up to now in Ontario. It would also have to use a combination of reactor power reduction together with steam bypass to bring unit output down to around 40 percent of full power.

So, until around 2045-50 the province would have to rely on a generation supply mix of around 50 percent nuclear, 25 percent hydro and 25 percent gas with wind playing interference. The limit of 50 percent on nuclear generation is because the present nuclear plants do not have the capability to reduce reactor power (load cycling) during the periods of surplus baseload generation (SBG) that usually occur in the spring and fall.

Bruce B has been, and is, called upon to reduce station output when necessary. However, plant operators do this by bypassing steam that would normally be used to generate power, not by reducing reactor power. Other Ontario nuclear stations do not power maneuver, they are either on or off. It is doubtful how long the four units of Bruce B can go on using steam bypass since the original design was that any maneuvering was to be done by the reactor. The bypass system was not designed for the wear and tear from this kind of frequent use.

The gap between where we are now and where we want to be 35 years or so from now could be filled by more nuclear instead of by natural gas if the present 10,000 MW of nuclear slated for refurbishment could be made more flexible. Improving reactor maneuverability may not be practical since it is complex and impinges on reactor safety, which means this would depend on the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission giving it the green light. So it may be easier (all relative, nothing is easy) to improve the steam bypass capability of the units so that, at least, load cycling is possible.

This would allow the output of the units to be reduced during periods of SBG, and overnight and on weekends, without any changes to the reactor power output. It would also accommodate much more new nuclear on the grid than the 2,000 MW limit set in Ontario’s November 2010 Long Term Energy Plan.

Doing this would reduce Ontario’s dependence on conventional natural gas and on the increasing amounts of controversial shale gas that is offsetting the drop in conventional gas supply. Cost and life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions are concerns with shale gas. Life cycle greenhouse gas emissions may be worse than those from coal and costs are sure to go up as demand increases elsewhere in North America for power generation and many other uses.

There is still a lot of life left in the coal-fired units at Nanticoke and Lambton. Indeed they should be kept operating, burning coal, to be available through the long nuclear refurbishment program. Coal generation will be a lot cheaper than gas generation and, being much more flexible than gas, it is a better partner for wind if that totally unnecessary energy source is to be continued with.

The health risks associated with burning coal at Nanticoke and Lambton have been greatly exaggerated to say the least, to the benefit of the gas industry (just like the hysteria associated with low doses of radiation) and not to the benefit of the nuclear industry since present nuclear cannot compete with coal on maneuverability. Two units at Nanticoke and two at Lambton have flue-gas clean up systems and need not be converted to expensive gas-firing or biomass-firing or a combination of both.

Expensive flue-gas clean up systems are not even necessary on the other coal-fired units since emissions from those plants pose little health risks. These assets belong to the people of Ontario and should be kept in operational readiness.

If the refurbishment of the 10,000 MW of nuclear does not include the improvements that would make the units more flexible, then flexible coal-fired units can be used instead to protect Ontarians from gas price hikes over the next 35 to 40 years. Having coal generation available to compete with gas may keep non-utility gas generation costs in check and reduce the large amount of contracted gas generation that has led to the present surplus and the need to export electricity at subsidized prices.

Since the long term outlook for wind and gas is bleak, the billions of dollars being invested in the so called “smart grid” should instead be put into improving the reliability of the existing centralized grid to get it ready for the increased centralized nuclear generation after 2045. Distributed generation based on many small wind and gas installations, and their necessary expensive transmission connections and “smart” grid, does not have a long term future. With a future grid powered by nuclear and hydro, wind has no place. It makes little environmental, economic, or technical sense to maneuver multi-billion dollar nuclear power plants and hydro facilities, with attendant wear and tear, to accommodate the vagaries of wind generation.

In summary. Ontario should start planning now to get off fossil fuel use by 2045-50. A new Long Term Energy Plan is needed. The supplier of Ontario’s new reactors should be made aware of the stringent requirements for load cycling and load following if Ontario is to wean itself off fossil fuels after 2045. Money should be put into improving the existing centralized grid rather than into the so called “smart” grid. Since it is unlikely that Bruce Power and Ontario Power Generation will include steam bypass improvements in their refurbishment plans if left to their own devices, it will be necessary for the Minister of Energy, through the Ontario Power Authority, to mandate that they do so.

This means delays in the refurbishment schedule and extra costs that the nuclear-electric generators would be unwilling to accept. Contracts with these generators would have to resolve this issue, bearing in mind the benefits to be obtained by a significant reduction in fossil fuel use up to 2045-50 when the refurbished nuclear units are replaced by new nuclear build.

All this has to be initiated now, now, now!

Donald Jones, P.Eng.
Retired nuclear industry engineer

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12 years ago

A real plan Don. Your clear thinking and steadfast logic is much appreciated!

12 years ago

Donald Jones wrote:
Coal generation will be a lot cheaper than gas generation and, being much more flexible than gas, it is a better partner for wind if that totally unnecessary energy source is to be continued with.

While I strongly favor nuclear over gas fired generation (or wind), gas fired generation can have a lot of flexibility if one is using aero-derivative gas turbines. The can be throttled quickly like jet and turboprop engines, since they share many components and design features of those engines.

12 years ago

This is nuts.

The cost savings from load cycling nukes are so close to zero that why bother – a half cent a kwh for fuel. That’s a tiny fraction of the cost of gas or coal operations.

Even forgetting about global warming, Jones’ spew on the damage from coal pollution is nonsense. This fellow is a PE?.

There is a 40% rate of return to the economy on investment converting from fossil to nuke electricity.

With Shell now making diesel out of natural gas at a cost of less than $35 a barrel, substituting offpeak nuke hydrogen is a ready to go technology. Using ice based air conditioning and higher temperature water heat storage are other huge off peak uses for nuke power.

Ontario needs to move to a total existing hydro/nuke mix starting now.

Steve Aplin
12 years ago
Reply to  seth

Seth, let’s keep it civil. The alleged dangers of coal emissions, especially the ones from Ontario coal plants, ARE exaggerated: based on statistics a first-year SPSS neophyte could punch holes through. There’s a better case in saying that coal is responsible for smog because it’s warming up the planet. Warm air is a bigger factor in smog formation than NOx and SOx.

We couldn’t do a total mix of nuclear and hydro today, we just don’t have the capacity. The question is twofold: (1) how to get to that mix asap, and (2) what to do in the mean time.

Throwing away coal plants that are built, paid for, and connected to the grid is like refusing to run a gasoline generator during a blackout. Do we want the power or not? Besides, the lobbyists who hate coal also hate nuclear. They are pro-gas.

You have a good point about nuke hydrogen. Let’s use CO2 from Nanticoke and Lambton as a raw material for the same fuel Shell is making using natural gas. That would be a made-in-Ontario solution.

Ernest Siddall
12 years ago

Good to see that someone is thinking constructively. But I suggest that the excess nuclear generation should earn revenue. The most obvious [1] off-peak battery charging [2] hydrogen production [3] pumped storage. And the writer seems to forget that if climate change comes to be taken seriously, it will not be enough to reduce CO2 emissions, they will need to be virtually eliminated for many years during which time CO2 levels will only slowly fall.

12 years ago

It is wonderful to see such a well-thought out plan, and incredibly frustrating that our current provincial government refuses to deviate from the approaching wind and solar train wreck.

Portugal is the latest country to discover the fiscal reality of renewables.

“Wind power has been a big bet. Big promises included green jobs, but the truth is that they are only a few thousands… The reality is that the more the wind blows, the poorer we get. This is true because wind feed-in tariffs are much higher than energy prices in the spot market.

With such a high share of wind energy, dam construction has started, so that they can be used for energy storage. A double cost, which would not be needed, if wind energy was not so big. But it doesn’t stop here: gas power stations had to be paid for being in standby, rising even more the indirect costs of wind power.

Portugal has boasted that it exported electricity energy for the first time in 2010. The truth is that most of that energy was exported at zero cost, ”

12 years ago

Hi Steve. Nice meeting you at the symposium. Donald Jones does a great job of laying out the issues. He raises important questions that makes you wonder if such forethought has gone into anybody else’s plans. I am also wondering why excess energy does not get sold to US? I know Quebec sends a lot of electricity to the US.

Maury Markowitz
12 years ago

I debate many of the claims made in this post. For instance…

“including long costly [snip] transmission lines”

Costly? Transmission lines are cheap, and getting cheaper all the time (CF-AL).

A transmission line to an existing source is much less expensive than building new capacity. Lawrence Berkeley puts long-distance lines from the US midwest at a mid-range cost at $300/kW “from the best resources”. However, range was not specified, this was averaged out over the country. In a recent study, a 7 GW 768 kV DC line from Plano, Illinois to PJM Interconnection’s feed-in point in the Delaware area was priced at $11 billion. That’s $1,570 a kW but the distance in this case is 1,300 km. So I believe we can use this as a useful upper limit, it’s about $1/W/km.

Darlington B was bid with two (up to four) ACR-1000’s of 1.2 GWp each. The price for the first two reactors was a minimum of $26 billion, all in (although no one in the public knows the real bid, it is assumed this is the minimum amount). That’s about $11 per watt.

Or, we could buy a fraction of Hydro Quebec’s excess power (currently ~6 GW) by running a power line to James Bay. La grande is 1,500 km from Toronto downtown (nice!), so using the PJM figures, this line would cost $3.5 billion dollars. Using LBNL’s numbers it would be closer to $1 billion.

So, the project costs 1/10th as much as Darlington B, requires zero subsidies, offers load following even CANDU 6e would blanch at, would bring massive amounts of power through the north of Ontario so smelters would be economical again, could be built in only a few years. Better yet, there’s another 11 GW of power that was left undeveloped because there was no market, so the spare existing plus easily buildable capacity is greater than all of Ontario’s nukes together. Plus, there’s lots more power in Churchill and Manitoba, so we can easily spread the load and plan for the future.

But wait, there’s more! As the cost of nuclear power in Ontario is baselined at 7.7 cents on a LTPA basis, we can’t really afford to sell it to anyone (for contrast, Ontario’s hydro fleet is 1.1 cents, IIRC) . But power from James Bay? No problem there. So why does Hydro Quebec have all this excess capacity? Because Vermont can’t use it and New York won’t buy it. But Illinois certainly can, and will. So if we were to build serious new transmission capacity — which we have to anyway — we could also get kickbacks for haulage.

For your consideration: if you add up all the *easily* build-able hydro projects (none of this microhydro or flow dynamics stuff) in Canada, and add it to what we’ve already built, that’s enough power for every single watt we currently burn, every single watt that every worst-case says we *will* burn, AND enough to run everyone’s cars if we all buy a Volt or Leaf.

Now given all this, why would one possibly consider new nuclear for Ontario?

“unreliable transmission lines”

And what’s this about “unreliable”? Capacity factors for CANDU rebuilds are about 65% and new plants around 85%. Capacity factors for power lines are what, 99.9%? The ~1000 km Nelson River Bipole has been in operation since the early 1970s, and has suffered only one major outage. In contrast, the majority of the Ontario nuclear fleet has spent extensive times in layup. I wish the same could be said for even the local infrastructure around here (my local reclosers blow at least once a month).

BTW, the price of the Bipole III is about $2.2 billion, even if they go “the long way” (the western route) which is 1,350 km, so basically identical to the system above. What do they get for that? So far, $4 billion a year in income.

“power supply at stable prices well into the future”

This statement is, quite simply, untrue.

Uranium ore prices have become something of a proxy for oil and have fluctuated dramatically. The Ux U3O8 is just coming off its historical highs of ~$135 and is back down to around $55 now. This year alone it’s varied between $40 and $75.

The only “good news” here is that operational costs are dominated by capital, only around 20% is fuel. So that being the case, the average 250% capital overruns for nuclear in Ontario are far, far more worrying.

In contrast, few things on the planet are more reliable than water in the Canadian north. If you’re going to cast aspersions with the global warming boogyman, note that every prediction I’ve seen for its effects on Canada make the north *wetter*.

“steam bypass to bring unit output down to around 40 percent of full power”

So we pay for power and then dump it into the drain – literally.

Andrew Stuart
12 years ago

Connecting surplus power to hydrogen production is an important part of the mix of solutions to increase base load power like nuclear into a more affordable energy system.

One of the great aspects of hydrogen is that production can be on a very large scale (GW), variable, and connected to both energy and industrial applications. For example many of the options include simply mixing hydrogen with natural gas in the pipelines, adding zero-emission hydrogen to petorchemical industry to reduce green house intensity, producing fertilizers, methanol, synthetic fuels, and many other storable commodities. Use of hydrogen to regenerate peak power or other similar means may have promise but can be capital intensive systems.

Steve Aplin
12 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Stuart

Andrew, I agree. Hydrogen would add flexibility to a nuclear-centric system like Ontario’s. Yes there would be big capital considerations depending on what is done with the generated hydrogen. My inclination would be to make synfuel; there would be no problem storing, distributing, and selling the stuff. It’s a question of designing a process to do this economically.

There is no better jurisdiction in the world than Ontario to figure out how to do this. We have lots of nuclear power, lots of water, and after 2014 we’ll have 15 mothballed coal-fired units for testing better ways of capturing CO2, which could be a raw material for synfuel.

If we did this, Canada would have two synthetic fuel provinces instead of just one.