The Great Ontario Electricity Multiplier: leadership is when they give you the ball

Imagine driving from Ottawa to Toronto in a car that runs purely on electricity. Your drive takes the usual four and a half hours. But instead of burning 40 to 50 litres of gasoline—and dumping 92 to 115 kilograms of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the air—you use 85 kilowatt-hours of clean Ontario-made electric power and dump 3.3 kg of CO2. Put another way: instead of paying $48 to $60 for 40 to 50 litres of gasoline at $1.20 per litre, you pay less than $10 for 85 kWh of electricity at the current off peak rate. As a fuel for motive power, Ontario electricity is much cheaper and much cleaner than gasoline.

The Tesla Model S: a pure-electric luxury car. Is this the future of driving? In the luxury class, perhaps. Other, more affordable pure-electrics are available. When charging or changing their batteries becomes as fast and easy as filling a comparable size car with gasoline, and when these cars become as affordable as current gasoline-powered cars, the world will witness a quantum-leap reduction in greenhouse gases from personal vehicle transportation. And if the grids that charge electric-car batteries are themselves fed with mostly zero-carbon energy, mankind may actually see the carbon reductions necessary to stabilize the global climate.

This may look like a too-good-to-be-true Brave New World. But it is the reality for those who drive cars that have the range to go from Ottawa to Toronto on pure electric power and that can charge their batteries from the grid.

I gave a presentation at a Carleton University sustainable energy summit on November 9, last Saturday. Outside there was a Tesla Model S, a beautiful but very expensive electric car capable of driving in high style and at respectable speed from Ottawa to Toronto on pure electric power. The car’s owner had offered his car as a demonstration of what driving could look like if more people buy in. There was also a Nissan Leaf, and a Chevy Volt. At the time I was admiring these cars, the Ontario grid was cranking out electricity with a carbon content of around 35 grams per kilowatt-hour. It had been less than 40 grams in each of the eight hours since midnight (see the CIPK column in the table below).

[stextbox id=”info” caption=”What is the CIPK, and how is it calculated?”]CIPK stands for CO2 Intensity Per Kilowatt-hour. It is a measure of the carbon content of a kilowatt hour of grid electricity.

The CIPK of a given grid is simply the amount of CO2 emitted by the generating plants within the jurisdiction responsible for that grid, divided by the total amount of electricity fed into that grid over a given hour. Of course, in order to calculate CIPK you have to know both of these figures.

So here is how to calculate Ontario’s grid CIPK. You need to refer to Table 1, in the upper left-hand sidebar on this page. Table 1 gives the current Ontario grid generation mix (it draws from data published at, and the CO2 emissions associated with the emitting fuel types.

  1. Go to the Total row in Table 1.
  2. Take the figure from the CO2, tons column.
  3. While still in the Total row, now take the figure in the MWh column.
  4. Divide the CO2, tons figure by the MWh figure.
  5. Multiply that result by 1,000. This converts tons-per-megawatt-hour into grams per kilowatt-hour.

Try it!


The owner of the Tesla told me the car’s batteries could store about 85 kWh and that if he is using normal charge mode then it takes about eight hours to charge the batteries from their lowest discharge point to full. I arrived at the numbers I mentioned at the beginning of this article by dividing 85 by 8 (the total kWh the batteries can hold by the number of hours to fully charge them from empty). Here is how it would have looked, hour by hour, over the eight hours starting at midnight November 9:

Ontario electricity and carbon emissions, first eight hours of November 9 2013
DateTime Total MW CO2, tons cipk kwh/hr CO2/hr, kg
Nov 09 12AM 16,024 611 38.13 10.63 0.4053
Nov 09 01AM 15,618 606 38.801 10.63 0.4125
Nov 09 02AM 15,315 603 39.373 10.63 0.4185
Nov 09 03AM 15,312 607 39.642 10.63 0.4214
Nov 09 04AM 15,320 607 39.621 10.63 0.4212
Nov 09 05AM 15,374 605 39.352 10.63 0.4183
Nov 09 06AM 15,358 605 39.393 10.63 0.4187
Nov 09 07AM 15,656 604 38.579 10.63 0.4101
Total CO2, kilograms


Look at the CO2/hr column; that’s how you tally the CO2 content of the “tank of fuel” that would carry you and the car from Ottawa to Toronto. During each of the eight hours it took to charge the Tesla’s battery pack, the batteries drew an average of 10.63 kWh (85 kWh divided by 8 hours). So to get the precise amount of CO2 during each of the 8 hours of charging, multiply that hour’s CIPK by 10.63.

In total, that “tank” would contain just over 3.3 kilograms of CO2. Again, a gasoline-powered car would dump between 92 and 115 kilograms of CO2 into the air over the same trip.

Which is to say, a car charged with Ontario electricity overnight on November 9 would have been thirty times cleaner than a gasoline-powered car of similar size.

Now, I don’t want to see anything but zeros in the CIPK column of any electric power output table that I display on this blog. The aim of every country or jurisdiction that manages an electric power grid should be to shoot for zero in that grid’s CIPK.

I made this point in my talk, and compared Ontario electricity with German electricity. The CIPK ought to be the prime number that everyone instantly refers to when talking about de-carbonizing electricity. It is really the only way to fairly compare grids.

The bottom line is this. If Germany had had a CIPK like Ontario’s in 2011, then instead of dumping 325 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere the course of making 602 billion kWh of electricity, it would have dumped less than 69 million. That works out to a 256 million ton reduction.

That is to say, Germany could have had every kWh of the 602 billion kWh it generated in 2011, but if it had a grid generator mix like Ontario does, it would have dumped 256 million tons of CO2 less.

I don’t see how anybody who really wants to reduce CO2 could possibly object to that.

Ontario is a world leader in clean electricity. We share that leadership position with France. (Actually, though I hate to admit it, we are in the junior position—France’s electricity grid is incredibly clean.) We need to start showing some responsibility for this: leadership is about responsibility. Our clean electricity makes electric transportation that much more clean: there is a multiplier effect in operation here.

The rest of the world needs to know about us.

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Wayne SW
9 years ago

EVs have a ways to go yet. You mentioned one drawback, recharging time. I can refill my gas tank in about five minutes and drive another 500 miles before I have to refill. I don’t know that EVs can do that well.

Then there are environmental factors. EV mileage is affected by heat and cold. Gasoline, not so much. How is the mileage affected by running A/C or the heater? The A/C takes some mileage away from the gas guzzler but not much, and heating is a freebie from engine heat.

But the real killer of electrics is hills. My niece and I just drove up Pike’s Peak in her Corolla and it didn’t break a sweat. I’m guessing the climb would pretty much kill the EV’s charge.

Wayne SW
9 years ago
Reply to  Steve Aplin

Yes, her Corolla was less than a year old. I don’t know if it is engineered specifically for Colorado. By “just” I meant back in Sept., weather was still okay. Not sure you can go up there now. We stopped a lot along the way to take in the view and snap some pics, so it wasn’t a long drag on the engine.

If the price came down, I actually wouldn’t mind having an EV for local and moderate-distance (< 100 mi.) trips. When I was working full-time, the round trip distance was about 20 miles, so I think an EV could handle that even in hot summer/cold winter. Mostly flat terrain. So there may be a market for vehicles that meet those needs, if the price came down. But right now, even a Volt or a Leaf is still too rich for my blood, given the alternatives.

Wayne SW
9 years ago
Reply to  Steve Aplin

Yes, costs would have to come way down if performance relative to an IC is lacking. Most people would not want to pay more for a vehicle if it has poorer performance. Paying more for less goes against most peoples’ grain.

9 years ago
Reply to  Wayne SW

The Tesla would definitely have no trouble accompanying the Corolla on a Pike’s peak climb. Also, while coming back down, it would take back a third to a half of the energy it used going up.

9 years ago

The latest news on Tesla charging stations is they can be charged in 20 minutes and free of charge. If this is the case then I would say that nuclear energy and the Tesla are an incredible match made in heaven.

Wayne SW
9 years ago
Reply to  Rick Maltese

What is the range of that vehicle under normal and abnormal (e.g., running the A/C) conditions? How does it do hauling a significant load (passengers and luggage, for example, going on vacation)? How many deep-cycle recharges will the batteries take before they have to be replaced?

Just for the record, I am not arguing against the use of EVs. Electric substitution in the transport sector is one of the things we have to look at if we’re going to eventually transition away from a predominantly petroleum-based energy source. But we need to be sure what we move to has comparable performance if there is going to be any significant widespread acceptable on the part of potential customers.

9 years ago
Reply to  Wayne SW

After visiting this page. The Tesla uses up 10-15% for heating one commenter said as high as 38% in the winter. The performance otherwise is said to be good but first official test reports will need to wait since it is so new to Canada. Roadster gets over 300 miles. Current Tesla batteries are expected to run at 70% capacity after 7 years.

9 years ago
Reply to  Steve Aplin

I must admit I would prefer a hybrid to be able to function during the rare occasions when electricity is unavailable.

robert budd
9 years ago

Impressive numbers. I’ve often wondered why Ontario’s enviro groups spent so much time obsessing over a relatively clean electricity system that was making impressive advances. Almost totally ignored is the much bigger and rapidly growing transportation emissions problem. Effectively electrifying transportation with nuclear I think is the game changer on the emissions front. Heating/cooling with much improved heat pump technology would be next.
When the Chiarelli announced cancellation of the new reactor builds, Mark Mattson of Waterkeeper was the media point person saying he “was glad the province was finally giving up on the charade Ontario needed their electricity”. It was hard to know whether to laugh or cry. These folks constantly work the angle that our reactor impacts on the great lakes are huge,
yet seem incapable of accepting the quantity of CO2 not emitted thanks to our nuclear would be enough to turn all the Great Lakes into club soda.
Those two new reactors would have gone a long way toward replacing the gas/diesel vehicles in the GTA that are contributing to the oil, antifreeze, transmission fluid and a combustion gases that form above the city every working day, that all get washed into Lake Ontario. Duh.
Now the same, too well funded folks are working with Greenpeace and Northwatch at the Federal court level to quash future use of the approvals.
I guess they don’t care a witt for the request from James Hansen and fellow climatologist recently, to give up on the anti-nuclear fund-raising.
I have to wonder how Waterkeeper and its GTA supporters would feel about the 7000mw of installed wind capacity (and the magical storage capacity) needed to replace those reactors, if they were sighted on, or in the adjacent Lake Ontario shoreline? Do they really believe that would be better for the lake ecology? Or do they just believe the much needed clean energy to move us, heat us and feed us will come from fairy dust and organic hamster farts?

9 years ago

I don’t want to see anything but zeros in the CIPK column of any electric power output table I make. The aim of every country or jurisdiction that manages an electric power grid should be to aim for zero in that grid’s CIPK.

I’d be okay with a non-zero number, so long as it was displacing a much larger number from something else.  But I think that “more nuclear” would work with “more Tesla-class EVs” to bring numbers down.  Adding EV demand at night to raise the amount of baseload power allows more carbon-free nuclear generation during the day as well, and the numbers go down.  If you can manage the EVs as a V2G resource, a whole lot of good things happen.

Ontario is a world leader in clean electricity….

The rest of the world needs to know about us.

The way to fight the anti-nuclear ideologues is to prove that nuclear is greener than wind.  Show them up as hypocrites, or even worse, in bed with gas interests.  Proudly claim that whatever cuts carbon is good, and Ontario is just about as good as anyone, anywhere… and much better than the wind (actually, gas) interests want Ontario to be.

Incidentally, you don’t need a Tesla Model S to slash carbon from vehicles.  Most driving isn’t Toronto to Ottawa.  For the price of a Tesla you can get 3 or 4 Ford C-Max Energis, which will go 20 miles or so on a fully-charged battery.  Charge them every night and as necessary during the day, and you can replace a lot of carbon-based liquid with electrons.

9 years ago
Reply to  Engineer-Poet

“The way to fight the anti-nuclear ideologues”

Maybe this isn’t your point, but…

The reason no one is building nuclear reactors has basically nothing to do with the “anti-nuclear ideologues”, and everything to do with ever-rising costs of the reactors.

Moody’s market review from a few years ago predicted major sales of new reactors at $4.50 a Watt. Unfortunately, all new reactors went in for over $7 a Watt. Vogtle’s new-build, by far the easiest to install (everything was already in place), is currently priced at $7.25 a Watt (IIRC). Darlington B was at *least* $8.25/W, so they canceled them. Duke’s Florida plants were over $11, so they cancelled them too.

In the meantime, practically every other form of power (except coal) has gone down in price. Some quickly, some not so quickly. Here’s a relatively recent chart:

Compare the yellow with the blue dots. If the yellow is to the left of the blue, the price fell.

So here’s the problem… pretend you’re the energy minister. You look at this graph. You notice that the price of nuclear went up in the last year (and all the years before that, but they’re not on here). Notice that the price of wind and PV is falling, in the case of PV, very rapidly (and all the years before that, but…).

You also know that if you OK a new reactor today, it won’t generate a single electron for a dozen years. So you project that graph forward 12 years. You notice that practically every form of power will be less expensive by that time. And really, we have no idea what our needs will be in 12 years, so we have very serious potentials for over-build, like what happened in the 70’s in the US.

So what do you do? You delay. You give a bunch of hand-waving arguments about demand and costs to the press, and don’t build the reactors. You wait and see.

Which is precisely what is happening. This year current predictions are that 37 GW of PV will go in (although the latest suggestion is 50), about 36 of wind, and about 10 GW of natural gas (worldwide numbers for NG are hard to find). Nuclear is nowhere. There are lots of comments about the buildouts in China and India, but they’re both building PV and wind about 5 to 10 times as fast, and both have made some comments about slowing their buildout.

So blame the long-hair crowd all you want, but as the saying goes, you should “know thine enemy”.

“C-Max Energis”

This is a fantastic vehicle, I plan on getting one when the wife’s Echo finally dies. I just happen to have 240V/100A in the garage, so I can even hook up a reasonably fast charger.

9 years ago
Reply to  Steve Aplin

They are cute, aren’t they?  If I needed a second passenger car, that’s probably what I’d get.