Our Energy Future is Renewable

It’s not a matter of “if”, but “when”. The world is moving steadily and dramatically toward a renewable energy future dominated by clean electricity. As I mentioned before, the countries with the highest solar incidence are the ones making the most progress. Last year, Costa Rica supplied electric energy for 300 days solely from renewable sources. Some of the largest solar projects are being built in countries like India and China. Renewable energy in the UK increased by 27% in 2017.

Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) and the Energy Watch Group (EWG) conducted a study that “simulates a global electricity system based entirely on renewable energy on an hourly basis throughout a whole year. Its results prove that the existing renewable energy potential and technologies, including storage, are able to generate sufficient and secure power supply worldwide by 2050. Under favourable political conditions, a full decarbonisation and nuclear phase out of the global electricity system can succeed even earlier than that.” (my emphasis added)

According to the study, “A 100% renewable global electricity system is also way more efficient. It can reduce global greenhouse gas emissions in electricity sector from about 11 GtCO2 equivalent in 2015 to ZERO emissions by 2050. The total losses in a fully renewable electricity system are significantly lower than in the current system. And, the global transition to a 100% renewable electricity system will create 36 million jobs by 2050 in comparison to 19 million jobs in 2015… The study shows that there is no reason to invest any single dollar in fossil fuel or nuclear power production. It also proves that energy transition is no longer a question of technical feasibility or economic viability, but of political will.” (my emphasis added)

This study comes at an important time as Ontario residents are preparing for an election this summer. With the price of electricity, the future of Ontario Hydro, and the ongoing refurbishment of nuclear generators at issue, determining the political will of our provincial parties is paramount. Unfortunately, one party seems to be entirely in denial about climate change and is paralyzed by its own political dogma. Its political will to form meaningful policy on this topic appears non-existent.

Where is Ontario now? Corporations successfully fought against feed-in tariffs and blamed renewable energy for higher electric rates; billions of dollars have been committed to nuclear refurbishment; the nuclear industry is hyping ‘micro-reactors’ to be scattered across northern remote communities; the bulk of Hydro One has been sold off and has made trans-national investments in pursuit of higher profits; revenue from carbon-pricing is being used to subsidize scattered voluntary conservation programs. We can do better but only if we have the political will.

According to the researchers, “policy makers should adopt favourable political frameworks and instruments, promoting fast and steady growth of renewables on the one hand and phasing out all subsidies to fossil fuel and nuclear power generation on the other hand.” (my emphasis added) This summer’s election may be a ‘watershed’ moment for Ontario, either seizing the leadership opportunity or slipping further behind the global trend.

100% renewable electricity worldwide is a new cost-effective reality, Hans-Josef Fell & Prof. Dr. Christian Breyer, (The Beam, Feb 1, 2018)

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The Price of Power

Bruce Laurie caused a stir with his article, “No one can make electricity cheap again”. I tend to agree with him, if only for his observation that the Darlington nuclear plant was built:

“10 years late and almost $12 billion over budget. No one could afford to pay the real cost of Darlington, so Ontarians carried that debt for the next three decades.”

With billions more committed by the Ontario government to refurbishment of our nuclear plants, there is no likely escape from this scenario in the near future.

Some critics blame Mr. Laurie for his role in higher prices as a “former director of the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) and Ontario’s Independent Electricity Systems Operator (IESO). He served as a member of the Electricity Transition Committee under the Harris government.”

So how high is ‘high’ for electricity prices? Hydro Quebec and Financial Post published comparative figures for 1,000 kWh of electricity from suppliers across North America (U.S.  figures were converted to Canadian dollars). InnPower came in at $182.09, which is not that different from Toronto Hydro at $181.95. ‘Low density’ rural Ontario had an average bill of $229. In Ontario our power relies on nuclear (60%) and hydro (24%).

Looking further afield, Montreal was $100, Winnipeg was $117, Ottawa $224, Halifax $220 and Vancouver $148. If we look across the US border, 1000 kWh averaged $409 in New York, $383 in Boston, $161 in Miami, $156 in Houston, $118 in Indiana.

How can we account for these variations?  Continue reading

Need a Real ‘Global Adjustment’

The Ontario government was severely criticized by the Auditor General for what has been described in the press lately as a “deeply flawed attempt to promote green energy.”

I’m skeptical of the repeated narrative to blame higher electric prices on efforts to enlarge the renewable energy sector. The website of the Independent Electric System Operator (IESO) provides extensive information on current and historical electricity pricing. Aside from Time-of-Use (TOU) rates (winter: 8.3¢ to 17.5¢), the factor that roughly doubles a householder’s bill is the little understood “Global Adjustment” (GA).

According to the IESO, “the GA is calculated based on the difference between the Hourly Ontario Electricity Price (HOEP) and:

  • Regulated rates to Ontario Power Generation nuclear and base-load hydroelectric generating stations
  • Contracts with the Ontario Power Authority such as new gas-fired facilities, renewable facilities, and nuclear refurbishments
  • Contracted rates administered by the Ontario Electricity Financial Corporation paid to existing generators.

The Global Adjustment factor for October was 7.54¢/kwh. Add that to the TOU rates above and electricity ranges between 15.8¢ and 25¢ per kilowatt-hour depending on time and day.  Continue reading