Tag Archives: Steve Aplin

Guest Blog

Toronto Electric Transit: Clean, Affordable, and Nuclear Powered

Today’s post comes from guest contributor Steve Aplin. Steve works at the HDP Group and authors the great blog, Canadian Energy Issues.

Toronto is a beautiful, modern, clean, world-class city which is—sometimes unfairly—nicknamed The Big Smoke. The nickname comes from the smog that sometimes hovers over the city on hot summer days. Smog is caused in part by fossil fuel combustion, and in Toronto that means cars. Therefore the city’s biggest and most effective weapon against smog is its electric-powered subways and streetcars.

Subways and streetcars run on steel rails, and rail transportation is far more efficient, in terms of fuel used per kilometer traveled, than road transportation. And electric-powered rail is far more efficient than fossil-powered. If the electricity comes from mostly zero-carbon sources, as it does in Ontario, then electric rail transit is, on a passenger-by-passenger basis, twenty to eighty times as clean as car transportation.

In 2010, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) used 4.4 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity to move millions of passengers on electric subways and streetcars. Most of those 4.4 billion kWh came from Ontario’s three nuclear power plants. Because most of that electricity came from nuclear plants, each individual subway or streetcar rider’s carbon footprint was tiny: nuclear emits no smog or greenhouse gas pollution.

And because Toronto’s subways and streetcars are mostly nuclear powered, TTC fares were low—nuclear is among the least expensive types of electricity in Ontario.

Nuclear energy is affordable because it is also among the most efficient and reliable ways we know to make electricity.

So I congratulate all Toronto subway and streetcar riders: every day you prove that modern transportation is affordable, reliable, and clean.

Guest Blog Nuclear Energy

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.