Ontario nuclear winning streak rolls on: impressive example of energy efficiency

Ontario’s nuclear generating capacity is around 12,500 megawatts. Its wind capacity is around 1,800 MW. So the provincial installed nuclear capacity is close to 7 times that of wind.

But the interesting thing is the difference in the amount of actual electrical output that each technology delivers. In the Output department, nuclear outperforms wind by a dramatic margin—a margin far greater than the difference in capacity. This means nuclear is far more energy-efficient than wind. The chart below illustrates this perfectly; it compares nuclear and wind capacity with their respective electrical output so far this year. The Output figures are in million megawatt-hours. (See this page to watch the running total increase hour by hour.)

As you can see, nuclear, with seven times the capacity, has so far in 2013 out-generated wind by more than 18 times. But when you drill into the data, you see even starker illustrations of nuclear’s superior efficiency. Last Friday (August 16), for example, the provincial nuclear fleet produced nearly 100 times as much electricity as the wind fleet did. The table below compares nuclear production with wind in the last six days.

Ont. generation, selected sources, Aug 16-21 2013, mWh
Nuclear Wind Total grid CO2, tons
August 16 283,381 2,857 419,008 15,289
August 17 285,702 2,749 399,486 7,350
August 18 285,086 2,481 398,712 7,394
August 19 293,035 4,389 446,063 31,565
August 20 287,719 7,696 465,729 44,037
August 21 290,321 11,825 477,960 48,660

Notice the difference in CO2 emissions between August 16 and August 21: fossil-fired power generators in Ontario, mostly running on natural gas dumped 15,289 on the 16th and 48,660—more than three times as much—on the 21st.

Why did Ontario generators dump more than three times as much CO2 into the air on the 21st as they did on the 15th?

Because Ontario generators were called on to produce more electricity on the 21st. As you can see, they produced 58,952 more megawatt-hours on the 21st.

And that was because the 21st was a much hotter day than the 16th.

Well, the nuclear fleet was producing at close to 99 percent of its capacity. So the extra 58,952 megawatt-hours could not have come from nuclear plants. In fact, the extra megawatt-hours came from fossil-fired plants, mostly ones that run on natural gas.

The fact that the wind fleet produced more power on the 21st than on the 16th is pure random chance. Wind is a function of thermodynamics and atmospheric pressure. It happens when it happens, and that has nothing to do with human work patterns. You cannot plan an electricity system on the assumption that wind will produce as it did on August 21. You must assume its production will approximate that of August 16 (actually you must assume it will not produce any electricity). Otherwise you will have blackouts and brownouts.

You can plan a system on the assumption that nuclear generation will be steady and constant. Look at the 2013 table on my Ontario Power Stats page. You will see that nuclear output has been constant since January 1. It is constant hour after hour, day after day, month after month, year after year—and has been like that for literally decades, ever since the large-scale introduction of nuclear power in Ontario in the early 1970s.

What is critical in this picture is the performance of the nuclear fleet. As you can see, it produced roughly similar amounts hour day after day. If you drill down into each day, you will see that the fleet performance was the same hour after hour. Nuclear produces much more energy, as a function of generating capacity, than wind.

That is typical of these two generating sources. Nuclear simply outperforms wind in all cases: even when political rules tilt the electricity market in wind’s favour.

Nuclear is far more efficient than wind. This is why it is not only capable of reliably running Ontario, an advanced industrial jurisdiction; it is why it does so cheaply.

Wind is inefficient: aside from solar, wind is the most inefficient power source we have. This is why it is so expensive. It generates so little actual energy as a function of installed capacity that wind turbine owners had to get the government to force rate-payers to pay them far-above-market prices just so they could avoid bankruptcy.

The table above illustrates as clearly as it is possible to do that if we want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from our power sector, we need more nuclear plants.

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10 years ago

Awesome info! We are members of OCI.

Would it be possible for me to post some of this info on our website or my linkedin account and or facebook please?

I think more people need to see this info.

thanks Paul Schell VP

10 years ago

The dates you give in the table, and in the rest of the text, are for the month of July. Given that you wrote “Last Friday (July 16)”, you obviously mean August. July 16 this year was on Tuesday.

Wayne SW
10 years ago

Great information. Ontario is truly the powerhouse of Canada. That has made it a wealthy and prosperous land. It is unfortunate that when you look at places like Wikipedia they attribute the majority of Ontario’s energy abundance to hydropower, and make no mention of nuclear, even though it outproduces hydro by a huge margin.

James Greenidge
10 years ago
Reply to  Wayne SW

Re: “Wikipedia they attribute the majority of Ontario’s energy abundance to hydropower, and make no mention of nuclear, even though it outproduces hydro by a huge margin.”

Wiki won’t let you call them out on it! Even if you say the truth is a leak! So much for the pursuit and passion for accuracy!

James Greenidge
Queens NY