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Ontario Got Rid of Coal, But Who’s to Thank?

There’s a lot of talk about what actually contributed to the successful elimination of coal-fired electricity in Ontario. Was it oil and gas? Wind and solar? Restructuring and conservation? Additional nuclear? Advocates for each group would have you believe that their guys did the heavy lifting, but in reality, everyone played an important part.

One of the most accurate (though not necessarily simplest) ways to look at the data is to consider coal’s lost output from the time Ontario started actively phasing it out in 2006 until it was completely eliminated in 2014, and what energy sources (or conservation efforts) replaced it.

Coal plants produced 34.5 TWh in 2005, and a total of 159.4 TWh between 2006 and 2014. That means that approximately 151.1 TWh had to be made up over the course of 9 years.

(34.5 x 9) – 159.4 = 151.1

The chart below shows what energy sources increased as a function of lost coal output – as well as lost output from other sources (since it’s impossible to separate them at this level).

For example, coal production decreased from 34.5 TWh in 2005 to 28.7 in 2006. That’s a 5.7 TWh decrease in coal, which was met with increases of 5.5 TWh of nuclear, 2.5 of diesel, 0.4 of hydro and 0.1 of wind. It was also met with a 1.9 TWh decrease in natural gas and a 0.9 decline in demand.

5.5 + 2.5 + 0.4 + 0.1 – 1.9 – 0.9 = 5.7

coal-graph1

As you can see, diesel played a small part early on, but was quickly eliminated. In 2009, the global financial crisis caused a decline in energy consumption, however usage increased as the economy recovered. Natural gas made up for the largest share of lost coal between 2010 and 2012, but nuclear was clearly the main reason that Ontario was able to meet its goal in the end.

Nuclear’s strong support in the final years of coal was due mainly to the fact that Bruce Power Units 1 and 2 came back online in 2012, providing about 11 additional TWh annually to the grid.

If you look at the results in terms of total output replaced from 2006 to 2014, nuclear made up 69.6 TWh, which represents about 44% of the whole. Natural gas made up 27%, wind made up 13%, lost demand (or conservation, depending on how you look at it) made up 7%, hydro made up 6%, diesel made up 2% and solar made up less than 1%.

coal-graph2

Getting rid of coal has had enormous health and environmental benefits for Ontario. It also serves as an example to other provinces and countries of what can be realized given sufficient public support, methodical planning, and a truly diversified supply mix.