Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Ontario goes ahead with wind power

There has been some good news in Ontario in the past few days. The province has started to move on building wind power generating stations.

Is this a sizeable minority in our power generation mosaic? It will work out to about 5% of our sources of power if everything else stays the same. This is significant. Take a look at this great map, if you want to see where our power is coming from.

Is Ontario a practical place for wind power? We do have a lot of large lakes, which tend to be good generators of wind. If you look at this impressive study on wind power, you can see that we have a couple spots that are in the "black dot" category. There aren't as many here as there are in northern Europe, but we aren't in bad shape. West Texas has black dot as well, and that is another region that I've heard is making some effort to increase its wind power generation.

As for the negatives about wind power, the newspaper article I pointed to above mentions concerns about whirring sounds and birds getting killed. From what I understand, these are the problems of old style wind farms, with small fast moving blades like the wind farms of California. Modern wind turbines are huge and slow moving, but still generate more power because of their size. It makes sense that a larger blade would be capable of higher torque.

Ontario has plans to close at least its worst offending coal power plants. You can see from the numbers that this would require a hell of a lot of wind turbines. I doubt that this will be the real replacement. If cost of power is the main deterrent to building more wind turbines, when Ontario Power Generation starts to give consumers the choice of paying a higher price for their power based on the source, this will be irrelevant. Call me idealistic, but I don't think it would be hard to find the 5% of Ontarians who would happily pay more for their power if it meant reducing smog and nuclear waste problems.

"Even if only ~20% of this power could be captured, it could satisfy 100% of the world's energy demand for all purposes... Several practical barriers need to be overcome to fully realize this potential." -- from the wind power study by Archer and Jacobson

Darren J 11/23/2005 10:39:00 a.m.


I know the wind turbine on the Ex grounds serves very few people for its massive size. I think the government should look more seriously at conservation instead of building power plants. I can't remember the numbers I've seen quoted about how many power plants could be shut down if everyone switched to compact fluorescent bulbs - and it would be far cheaper for the government to buy and give away those bulbs than to build the equivalent plants.

There also should be incentives to generate power closest to where it is being used, ie your own home or business. Help to subsidize the capital costs of putting solar panels on the roof of your building.

I think before the government capped the price of electricity (a bad move I think, we should be paying the true cost of the commodity) there was more incentives for various green power startups.

Time of day usage is also significant since electricity can't be stored, we need as many plants as can meet the peak demands - usually 4-8 pm. But now there's no incentive not to turn on the dishwasher or dryer or whatever whenever. Time of day meters would get people more aware of what they are using when and give them incentive to shift high power usage activities to off peak hours.

Sorry I could ramble on forever about electricity conservation :)
No need to apologize! Plus, I agree with you on just about everything.

With current prices, there is almost no motivation to conserve other than altruistic ones. A few weeks ago, I decided I should be hanging my clothes to dry. I realized that for each dryer load I avoid, I save about $0.25! To me that seems like an extremely small amount for one of the largest consumers in the home. Current prices simply don't account for all the problems our electricity use will cause in the future.

I am aware though, that if you're heating your home at current electricity prices, it makes a real dent in the budget. This has other solutions.

And the power generation on a small scale close to the user makes a lot of sense too. This would avoid more power lines going over peoples' homes. (but it might mean fewer places for bike paths!) And it keeps people more aware of the impact their behaviour has on other people. I know there has been some effort to do this in Newmarket and it was met with strong opposition.

In other good news, Toronto is giving everyone compact flourescent light bulbs and low-flow shower heads. I got mine this weekend. I'm so amazed when I see smart government programs!
Ultimately all renewable energy comes from the sun. Wind, water, wave, biofuel, photovoltaic are all ultimately solar driven.

As Tanya has mentioned, the problem is storage and meeting peak demand. Storage solutions like compressed air, pumped storage (e.g. hydroelectric plants), batteries, flywheels etc. are possible. The problem is first law thermodynamics. You can never break even in terms of the amount of work you can get out of the system versus what you put into it. You get hit twice in the charge/discharge cycle.

I actually work in the power industry as a consultant, and I can tell you that conservation programs at local utilities are generally an afterthought. This looks like it is changing, but utilities typically look at load growth as an annual percentage that already figures in the impact of conservation. The peak demand for the average household is increasing, not decreasing.

We need to develop a culture of conservation. Moral suasion works to some degree, but it is quickly forgotten. Perhaps it takes some real rotating outages for people to understand the importance of conservation.

I agree that time of use meters will help in the long run with reducing the peak demand. In the short term, we won't see a big impact, as electrical demand is fairly inelastic. We’ll see a lot of pissed of consumers, much like when the electrical rates were originally de-regulated. I'm not sure if smart meters will actually reduce the annual kwh consumption per residence though. Short term, we’ll just shift consumption times which will smooth out the peak. This certainly has positive implications, however.

I never could figure out why electrical prices were capped. It made sense to me that we should be paying the full cost of production and delivery. Then again look at the external costs that are not included in a litre of gasoline.

I forgot to comment on the local generation. I recently completed a MASc degree, and I did my research on distributed cogeneration. Distributed as in many small plants providing load to small areas of demand, and cogeneration as in producing electricity and heat products in the same process. Heat from a conventional electrical generator is emitted as a waste product, but in a cogen system a significant portion is recuperated and used for space heating, domestic hot water, absorption chilling, or even process heat in an industrial application. There is some marginal benefit to doing this with natural gas-fired microturbines in terms of overall GHG emission reductions. It doesn’t make economic sense in the current market, however.

While I examined natural gas-fired microturbines, the DG model offers some advantages. As you have alluded to, there is less of a dependence on the traditional huge electrical grid. There are losses incurred by the transmission system, and these can be significant. In really crappy systems, the losses can be up to 15%. IIRC, we have a loss of about 5% on the Ontario system. Losses should be less in a DG system. The other advantage I think is that the inherent health risks with traditional generation options are distributed a little more evenly through the population.

Thanks for all the insight Andrew. It's discouraging that average household consumption is going up. With improvements to energy efficiency in a device, it just results in more devices! Maybe the increase is related to larger homes on average. (?)

The best way to develop a culture of conservation is to make people aware of the impact of the decisions they make. Rotating black outs would make for some interesting and relaxing afternoons, but I'm sure that would get old quickly. Local generation and realistic pricing would seem like the most effective way of informing people. Instead, we pay for our electricity through our provincial taxes. Cause and effect are impossible to connect.

Do businesses get to pay the capped prices, or do they pay market rates? I don't know.

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