Reducing emissions of man-made carbon dioxide (CO2) is the Number One environmental priority facing the human race. Fitting this priority into the daily business of government has, in the sheer pressure of that business, taken some policymakers’ eyes off the ball. In those cases—and I will put Germany’s efforts to address CO2 emissions from electricity generation as the most spectacular example of them—policymakers focused on building as many wind turbines as possible. This violated the two paramount criteria for reducing CO2 from any major human activity. CO2 reductions must be:
- Major, massive, significant. They must represent a quantum step away from today’s emissions levels.
- Affordable. Achieving major CO2 reductions must not negatively disrupt the economy of the jurisdiction in which the reductions take place.
These two criteria can be represented in a matrix, which I call the Electric Power Carbon-Price Matrix.
Meeting the challenge of reducing man-made CO2 emissions—which to repeat is mankind’s greatest and most urgent environmental priority—requires that each jurisdiction aim to situate itself in Quadrant IV of the matrix (the one highlighted in yellow).
And that of course requires knowing which Quadrant you are in when you start. You can only determine that by comparing yourself with other jurisdictions. To do this, you need to know the carbon content and price of electricity.
Here is a question: where does Ontario fit in the C-P Matrix? Have a look at Table 1 in the upper left-hand sidebar. Table 1 gives last hour’s provincial generator output. As you can see there are six types of generators: nuclear, hydro, gas, wind, other, and coal. Three of these types—nuclear, hydro, and wind—emit no CO2. So all of the CO2 from Ontario grid electricity comes from generators that run on gas, coal, or “other” (mostly wood and combined oil and gas).
The bottom row in Table 1 gives last hour’s carbon content of Ontario’s grid electricity. This is represented in a metric called the CO2 intensity per kilowatt-hour (CIPK).
[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, that feed the grid with electricity, 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 www.ieso.ca), and the CO2 emissions associated with the emitting fuel types.
- Go to the Total row in Table 1.
- Take the figure from the CO2, tons column.
- While still in the Total row, now take the figure in the MWh column.
- Divide the CO2, tons figure by the MWh figure.
- Multiply that result by 1,000. This converts tons-per-megawatt-hour into grams per kilowatt-hour.
Germany, unfortunately, is squarely in Quadrant II. Germany electricity is high-carbon, and expensive. The CIPK of German grid electricity is among the highest in the European Union. Have a look at the chart entitled “Carbon intensity per kWh.” It compares the CIPKs of four EU countries: Denmark, Germany, France, and Finland. As you can see, the CIPK of grid electricity in Denmark and Germany is far higher than that of even Finland, let alone France.
Germany also has the second-most expensive electricity in the EU; see the chart “Household electricity prices.”
Like most major industrial countries, Germany began in Quadrant I of the C-P Matrix. Its grid electricity came with a very high CIPK. That was because it made almost all its electricity by burning coal. Coal is cheap and abundantly available in Germany. This fit the economic imperative of all major electrification efforts the world over: electricity had to be cheap enough to make and deliver so that the companies making and delivering it could be profitable selling it at rates that even poor people could afford.
But Germany’s efforts to reduce the CO2 coming out of its electricity generating plants did not move it to Quadrant IV (low-carbon and cheap) of the C-P Matrix. They did not even move it to Quadrant III (low-carbon but expensive). Germany’s efforts just moved it to Quadrant II, high-carbon and expensive.
Germany’s efforts to reduce the CO2 coming out of its electricity generating plants did not move it to Quadrant IV (low-carbon and cheap) of the C-P Matrix. They did not even move it to Quadrant III (low-carbon but expensive). Germany’s efforts just moved it to Quadrant II, high-carbon and expensive.
Why did Germany achieve this result, which is exactly the opposite of what it was trying to achieve? Because, as I mentioned off the top, it took its eye off the ball. Instead of reducing CO2, Germany focused on building wind turbines. Wind turbines do not result in significant CO2 reductions, and they are enormously expensive. So Germany’s CIPK of grid electricity stayed high (actually, it has gone even higher than shown in the chart above), and the price of grid electricity went up. Hence Germany sits today in Quadrant II of the C-P Matrix.
The European Union appears to have understood, finally, that CO2 reductions happen not when you build lots of wind turbines. Again, look at the respective CIPKs of Germany and Denmark, the two EU countries that have made the biggest investment in wind turbines.
Rather, CO2 reductions happen when you look at what works. And what works is nuclear power. Look again at the chart “Carbon intensity per kWh.” See where France sits in relation to Germany. And then look at the chart “Household prices.”
France has low-carbon, cheap electricity. That is because it makes most of its electricity in nuclear plants. That is why France sits comfortably in Quadrant IV of the C-P Matrix.
This might be why the EU will drop its mandatory renewable energy targets, and focus on CO2 reductions instead.