Ontario Nuclear Performance in the Recent Heat Wave

The following is reblogged from Steve Aplin’s Canadian Energy Issues blog. Steve does a great job explaining the realities of power generation in a carbon-conscious world.

Nuclear power generation plays an important role in providing Canada with a safe and reliable source of low-carbon baseload electricity. Currently, nuclear energy provides 15% of the electricity produced in Canada, and almost 60% in Ontario alone. Nuclear power generation is the most affordable source of non-hydro power, low-carbon electricity in Canada, selling on average at around $.06 per kWh. Plus because nuclear power facilities produce large amounts of continuous power, they enable the use of complementary renewable energy sources that are intermittent (such as wind and solar).

The Pickering Nuclear Generating Station – Operated by Ontario Power Generation

Ontario nuclear performance in the recent heat wave
July 10, 2012
By Steve Aplin

Anybody who followed the output of Ontario’s electric generators during last week’s heat wave would have noticed the nuclear fleet’s stellar performance. During the entire week, the sixteen nuclear units—with a total electricity generating capacity of around 11,500 megawatts—ran at just over 96 percent. Through the week of July 1 to July 7, they generated over 1.8 billion kilowatt-hours of rock-steady cooling power to fight the heat wave.

By contrast, the performance of the much-vaunted wind turbine fleet was dismal. The fifteen provincial wind farms scattered all across southern Ontario contain nearly a thousand individual turbines, and have a collective (fleet) capacity of around 1,700 megawatts. Over the same July 1 to July 7 period their actual output represented less than 14 percent of that capacity. They collectively produced less than 38 million kWh—about one-fiftieth of the nuclear fleet’s output.

Put another way, the nuclear fleet, the capacity of which is only 6.7 times that of the wind fleet, produced nearly 50 times as much actual electricity.

That’s called clutch hitting. When Ontario needed cooling power to fight the heat wave, nuclear stepped up and delivered it.

It is also called bang for the buck. Those 1.8 billion kWhs of nuclear electricity each cost around 6 cents. Each of the less-than-38-million wind generated kWhs cost at least 11 cents.

That is to say, Ontario rate payers paid less money for nuclear power, which—as last week proved—is by far the more reliable power source.

Moreover, nuclear is the only reliable carbon-free power source. People think wind is carbon-free. It’s not. Because wind is so unreliable, it must be paired with a backup source that is capable of delivering power on demand. In Ontario, the preferred backup source is natural gas.

Well, natural gas is mostly methane (CH4). React CH4 with oxygen—i.e., burn it—and you create a lot of carbon dioxide (CO2) to go with the heat. That CO2 gets dumped into our atmosphere, where it swirls around for centuries before dissolving in ocean water and turning that water more acidic.

From an environmental point of view, the sheer unreliability of wind power during last week’s heat wave should come as a sobering wake-up call. If Ontario’s wind fleet only produced power at 14 percent capacity during a period when every megawatt of capacity was needed, then what produced the other 86 percent? The answer: natural gas. Gas is a carbon-emitting fossil fuel.

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