The Ontario Liberal government recently released a pledge to convert, within a decade, major portions of the GO Train network from diesel to electric power. This is an excellent idea, and I hope that it is actually implemented. If it is, it could reduce—dramatically—the carbon footprint of rail transportation. But only if the electricity that powers it remains as clean as it is now.
Right now, a kilowatt-hour of Ontario grid electricity comes with less than 50 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2). This is called the CO2 Intensity per Kilowatt-hour (CIPK) of grid electricity. Ontario’s CIPK changes hour by hour, depending on what kinds of generators are providing how much power. See Table 1 in the left hand sidebar for the last hour’s CIPK.
[stextbox id=”info” caption=”What is the Grid CIPK, and how is it calculated?”]CIPK stands for CO2 Intensity Per Kilowatt-hour. The Grid CIPK is a measure of the carbon dioxide content of a kilowatt hour of electric power from the grid.
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 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.
How does Ontario’s CIPK of grid electricity compare with that of other jurisdictions? It is, at this moment, about about the same as that of France (hat tip to Rick Maltese for forwarding the excellent web resource showing France’s grid CIPK in real time).
It is far lower than those of Germany, Denmark, Spain, the UK, Italy. Here are those jurisdictions’ CIPKs as average values in 2010 (Table A):
TABLE A: Electric power CIPK of selected jurisdictions, 2010
Sources: Non-Ontrio CIPKs from “EIA CO2 emissions from fuel combustion,” p. 111;
Ontario estimate from IESO and EmissionTrak™
As you can see, Ontario’s 113 grams in 2010, which were far higher than today’s roughly 50, still put it well in the bottom five in this list. The top five CIPKs—those of the UK, Germany, Denmark, Italy, and Spain—were all well more than double that of Ontario.
This means that electrified train travel is far cleaner in Ontario (and even more so in France, Sweden, and Switzerland) than it is in the five jurisdictions with the highest CIPKs.
In fact, in an article in early December 2013, I tried to quantify the CO2 footprint per passenger-kilometer of electric versus diesel rail travel. I used data published in a study from the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) in the UK, which estimated the CO2 per passenger-kilometer of electric rail to be 54 grams.
The rail-specific data in the ATOC study was from 2005 – 2006. The CIPK of UK grid electricity in 2005 and 2006 was, according to the International Energy Agency, 491 and 515 grams respectively (see the publication cited in the table above). I took the mid-point between them, which is 503. If the carbon footprint of electric rail travel was 54 grams per passenger-kilometer in a grid with a CIPK of 503 grams, then I reasoned that it would be less than 17 percent of that on a grid with a CIPK that is less than 83 grams (which I estimate Ontario’s was in 2013). That works out to a CO2 footprint per passenger-kilometer of Ontario electric rail transportation of around 8.8 grams (17 percent of the UK’s 54 grams).
Using the UK’s 54 grams per passenger-kilometer and 503-gram 2005 – 2006 CIPK as a benchmark, we can make some predictions of the CO2 footprint of electric rail transport in Ontario.
If the current annual 82 gram CIPK of Ontario grid power holds, then each passenger riding the electric GO Train will have a CO2 footprint of 8.8 grams per kilometer.
But the current annual 82 gram CIPK of Ontario grid power will not hold. It is going to increase, beginning early next year. It is going to increase to at least twice the 2013 level.
That is because Ontario’s nuclear generating fleet capacity will decline, from the roughly 12,730 megawatts that it is now, to around 8,030 by 2020. By that date, the Pickering nuclear station—3,090 MW of capacity—will be out of service. At least one Darlington unit, 860 MW, and at least one Bruce B unit, 750 MW, will be undergoing refurbishment, for the foreseeable future. That adds up to only 8,030 MW of nuclear capacity. (12,730 – 3,090 – 860 – 750 = 8,030.)
What does this mean? It means that natural gas-fired generators, which emit upwards of half a kilogram of CO2 for every kilowatt-hour they put into a grid, will pick up the lion’s share of the slack.
Table B gives a comparison of the grid mix in 2013, versus what we can expect in 2020. Wind output in 2020 has increased by 50 percent, and gas has picked up the rest of the nuclear shortfall. Total kilowatt-hours are the same. Suspending credulity on that assumption, here is how it looks:
TABLE B: Ontario grid output by fuel, 2013 and 2020, billion kWh
|Fuel||2013 (12,730 MW nuclear)||2020 (8,030 MW nuclear)|
|CO2, million tons||12.46||24.49|
Source: estimates from IESO, utilizing EmissionTrak™ emission counting method
As you can see, the CO2 emissions in 2020 will have at least doubled; (bear in mind I show only the CO2 from gas-fired generation). That means our grid power CIPK will have also at least doubled.
This means the CO2 footprint per passenger-kilometer of electric rail transport in Ontario will have also nearly doubled from what it would be now.
All those millions of tons of extra CO2, just because we think today that our electrical load will not increase between now and 2020.
Well, I can think of one source of load growth. That is the electrified GO Train. And another: the additional lines on the Toronto subway. And a third: Ottawa’s electric light rail line, scheduled to come into service in 2018.
We need to put new nuclear back into our long term energy plan.