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By Charles Rhodes, P. Eng., Ph.D.

I envisage a future in which electricity from non-fossil sources almost completely displaces fossil fuels. Nuclear power supplies reliable base load electricity. Renewable energy sources supply intermittent power that is suitable for synthesizing hydrocarbon fuels and for displacing hydrocarbon fuels at times when there is sufficient electricity generation.

The rate of implementation of this energy vision is primarily a function of the future price of fossil fuels relative to the future price of electricity.


An issue that many governments have failed to face is that energy conservation will not solve the fossil CO2 emissions problem. Raising the price of electricity as a means of encouraging energy conservation has the opposite effect of increasing fossil fuel consumption, which makes the atmospheric CO2 concentration worse. To address the fossil fuel consumption problem there must be a surplus of non-fossil electricity, so that the cost of non-fossil electricity falls with respect to the cost of fossil fuels. This electricity surplus must be made available to the general public, not constrained. If an electricity surplus is only available some of the time it should be sold via an interruptible electricity rate. Suitably priced interruptible electricity is essential for displacing existing fossil fuel consumption and for production of synthetic hydrocarbon fuels.

The bottom line is that to substantially reduce fossil fuel usage delivered electrical energy from non-fossil electricity sources must be less expensive than delivered energy from fossil fuels. Fossil carbon taxes and a change in the electricity price structure are required to achieve this relative cost relationship.

History has shown that on average the costs of energy transmission and distribution constitute about half of the delivered electricity price. Hence any policy that seeks to encourage consumption of non-fossil electricity in place of fossil fuels must also address the costs of electricity transmission and distribution. Politicians as a group have failed to reserve sufficient land corridors for electricity transmission and consistently procrastinate about this matter. Transmission planning requires 50 to 100 year planning horizon and hence is an activity inherently unsuitable for politicians who make decisions on two to four year election cycles.

One of the most effective ways of producing non-fossil electricity is via nuclear fission. However, today most nuclear power is made via fission of U-235, which is a limited resource. To address this limitation the source of the energy must be changed to U-238, which is about 140 times more abundant in nature than U-235. However, use of U-238 means adoption of fast neutron reactor technology, which few politicians understand and still fewer are willing to embrace, in part due to fears related to nuclear weapon proliferation. It is time for politicians as a group to realize that in the short term fast neutron reactors are essential for disposing of high level nuclear waste and in the longer term, are essential for human survival. Politicians simply have to face the issue of appropriate use of fast neutron reactors.

For the last 60 years the world has been aware that most of the readily accessible energy in the universe comes from nuclear fusion reactions. If human civilization is to persist on Earth humans are going to have to master fusion as a controlled energy source. However, for fundamental thermodynamic reasons obtaining controlled energy from fusion is more difficult and is more expensive than obtaining controlled energy from fission. The appeal of fusion is that it is inherently safer than fission and cannot be used to produce fission weapons. To make fusion economic it must be applied in situations where it makes financial sense. These situations are loads which are far from fission reactors or other reliable sources of electricity. However, to make fusion economic it is essential to remove hidden subsidies on the cost of electricity in remote regions. For example, if it actually costs $1.00 / kWh to transmit electricity to a remote town but the transmission charge imbedded in that town's electricity price is only $.07 / kWh that town is receiving a hidden subsidy of $.93 / kWh which acts as a huge disincentive to anyone seeking to build a fusion reactor to service that town. Thus, if we are serious about eliminating fossil fuels we must also eliminate transmission subsidies. However, such a policy must be applied with great care because misapplication could cause an increase rather than a decrease in fossil fuel consumption. Moreover, it is an issue about which voters are very sensitive.

In February 2013 the Ontario consumer's cost of home heating oil reached $1.129 / litre plus 13% HST. If the furnace efficiency is 85% the corresponding cost of a kWht derived from combustion of oil is:
($1.129 / litre) X (1 litre / (38.2 X 10^6 J X .85)) X (1 j / Wt-s) X (1000 Wt / kWt) X (3600 s / h)
= $.1252 / kWht + HST

The corresponding cost of a delivered kWh of electricity from Hydro One as charged to low density residential customers without TOU rates during the 2012-2013 winter was:
$.1575 / kWh + HST

If the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) adopted a 3:1 on-peak / off-peak electricity price ratio there would likely be a rapid conversion of off-peak rural heating from oil to electricity. The impact of that conversion can be estimated as follows:
According to NRCan the annual heating oil consumption in Ontario is about:
1,068 X 10^6 litres.
Environment Canada degree day data shows that on a cold winter day about 1% of this amount is consumed, so the oil consumption on a cold day is about:
.01 X 1068 X 10^6 litres = 1068 X 10^4 litres/ day.
In one hour on that cold day the oil consumption is:
1068 X 10^4 litres / day X 1 day / 24 h = 44.5 X 10^4 litres / h

The electric power needed to replace that oil with electric resistance heat is:
44.5 X 10^4 litres / h X 38.2 X 10^6 J / litre X .85 X 1 W-s / J X 1 kW / 1000 W X 1 h / 3600 s
= 401.36 X 10^4 kW
= 4013.6 MW

The Ontario electricity system has sufficient connected non-fossil generation to accommodate this controlled load increase in the winter months.

The longer term problem is carbon dioxide that is accumulating in the oceans and atmosphere. This carbon dioxide is causing global warming that is warming the oceans and is leading to world wide agricultural failure and mass starvation. Halting further global warming requires an immediate world wide reduction in the use of fossil fuels of about 34% with respect to the 2004 world wide fossil fuel consumption. If the present Canadian and Ontario politicians are unwilling or unable to effectively deal with global warming, then as a simple matter of survival the Canadian and Ontario voters must replace them. The world is looking to Canada and Ontario to take a leadership position with respect to meeting the challenge of global warming.

Even if we could totally stop combustion of fossil fuels today, it would still take at least 28 years for half of the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to be absorbed by the oceans. If we fail to promptly reduce combustion of fossil fuels now, much of mankind will likely die from inundation, starvation, disease or related conflict.

We cannot in an ongoing way consume biomass unless there is a mechanism for returning to the soil phosphorus, potassium and trace elements that are essential for plant growth. This recycling of soil elements is practical for agricultural carbohydrate production but is more difficult for forest production. To further enhance plant growth we need nitrogen fertilizers, production of which requires ammonia. Ammonia production is an energy intensive industrial process.

If we are serious about stopping global warming human beings MUST CEASE COMBUSTION OF FOSSIL CARBON FOR PRIMARY ENERGY GENERATION. To achieve this objective there must be economic alternative energy sources, enforceable international agreements and effective population control.

The so called "cap and trade" methodology is in reality an elaborate form of fuel rationing that is difficult to enforce. A fossil carbon tax levied at the point of fossil fuel extraction is much less expensive to administer and much more practical to enforce. In the case of parties such as manufacturers of plastic resins, water proofing materials and road surfacing adhesives, that do not burn much of the fossil carbon that they purchase, the onus is on them to prove to regulatory authorities the fraction of their fossil carbon purchases that does not eventually convert into carbon dioxide.

Any process for replacing the liquid and gaseous fossil fuels that we presently use for transportation and general purpose heating, without use of fossil carbon, involves large amounts of energy and heat that can only be obtained from renewable energy or nuclear energy. There are a variety of methods for obtaining renewable energy and to the extent that these methods are available they are preferred over nuclear energy because nuclear electricity generation results in reject heat being dumped into the atmosphere. However, in many circumstances renewable energy is not available when and where required and hence there is no practical subsititute for nuclear energy.

Another key issue is the range of important industrial processes, such as ammonia production and reforming of methanol into energy dense liquid fuels, that require high temperatures. Realizing these high temperatures without combustion of carbon requires electrolytic hydrogen and/or use of liquid metal or molten salt cooled fast neutron reactors.

Disposal of the used fuel from CANDU nuclear reactors can be done in a fast neutron reactor (FNR). FNRs can burn the highly radio toxic actintides that are generated in water moderated reactors. Hence CANDU reactors should be gradually replaced by FNRs.

In the future the supply mix should consist of a mixture of nuclear and renewable generation. The nuclear generation must be sufficient to meet the peak load associated with the high reliability Standard Electricity Service. The renewable generation, which fluctuates both daily and seasonally, together with the unused off-peak part of the nuclear generation, must be sufficient to meet the Interruptible Electricity Service load, which is primarily used for displacing hydrocarbon fuels and for producing synthetic hydrocarbon fuels and fertilizers.

Once fossil fuels are a negligible portion of the supply mix, the most efficient way to match generation to load is to vary the load, not the generation. Then only in the most extreme circumstances is generation constraint warranted. Most ongoing generation to load matching requirements can be met by varing the load connected via the Interruptible Electricity Service. Then the role of fossil fuel generation diminishes to being strictly emergency reserve to meet the Standard Electricity Service load in extreme circumstances when, due to the combination of a nuclear reactor failures and exceptionally low renewable generation, there is insufficient non-fossil electricity generation.

1. By the year 2025 governments throughout the world will have accepted that the world is over heating and will have a political mandate to take corrective action.

2. Evaporation of lakes will convert the dissolved calcium bicarbonate in the lakes into calcium carbonate, releasing yet more carbon dioxide gas. This carbon dioxide plus carbon dioxide released from ongoing combustion of fossil carbon will cause the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to further increase.

3. Melting of permafrost will melt cathrates (methane hydrates) which will quickly release the stored methane. That methane is a strong greenhouse gas. Over a few years that methane spontaneously breaks down to become yet more CO2.

4. Much of the arable land that presently relies on winter snowpacks for summer irrigation will become desert. In the process this land will release additional CO2 to the atmosphere.

5. Many people will be forced to move due to agricultural and livestock failures caused by loss of fresh water seasonal storage in mountain snowpacks.

6. Many important agricultural and forest commercial species will be driven into extinction by runaway pestilences. The rate of temperature change is too great for most biosystems to adapt. eg. Several major commercial tree species in Canada are presently being wiped out by invasive insects, which no longer die off in mild winters.

7. The floating sea ice bordering Greenland and Antarctica will melt. One of the fuctions of this floating sea ice is to contain the high pressure fluid underneath the land borne ice to prevent this fluid flowing into the surrounding oceans. The released fluid will flow into the oceans causing a substantial increase in sea level. The rate of sea level rise from this process will sharply increase from its present value of a few mm / year to several cm / year. Geological records indicate that the sea level could easily rise by as much as 6 m over the coming century. Low elevation countries such as the Netherlands and Bangladesh will be inundated by the rising sea level coupled with extreme storms. The populations of presently populous river deltas and coastal cites will also be forced to move.

8. Over a twenty year period more than 100 million people could easily be displaced by the aforementioned mechanisms.

9. The net Canadian immigration rate will likely increase to about 0.5 million persons per annum so that Canada can absorb a reasonable fraction (10%) of the displaced population. An additional incentive for this immigration increase will be a change in the demographics required to fund Canada's medicare system. Approximately half (250,000 per year) of these immigrants are likely to settle in Ontario causing a 2% per annum population increase. This population increase is twice the population increase assumed by the Ontario Power Authority (OPA). By the year 2025 Ontario's population may reach 17,000,000.

1. In order to attempt to stabilize the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide tax laws will be enacted world wide to make combustion of fossil carbon for primary energy generation prohibitively expensive.

2. The Ontario electricity system will be faced with two major challenges:
a.The net immigration rate and hence the rate of population growth will likely be much larger than anticipated by the OPA in 2006. Even without global warming a larger immigration rate will be required to sustain funding of the medicare system in Ontario as post WWII baby boomers become elderly;
b. The electricity system, in addition to meeting the load categories that exist in 2006, will also have to provide the prime energy required to displace liquid fossil fuels for both transportation and rural heating. Even with no population increase the total non-fossil fuel electricity generation and transmission/distribution will need to be approximately doubled. Much of this new electricity generation will have to be applied to rural off-peak hydrogen production for efficient conversion of biomass into methanol.

3. Single family residences and similar isolated buildings will eventually adopt ground source heat pumps to reduce their space heating and potable water heating related electricity requirements by about a factor of three as compared to electric resistive heating. The potable water heating may involve a combination of solar heating, off peak electric resistive heating and ground source heat pump heating.

4. Concentrations of major buildings will likely adopt nuclear systems to meet their space heating, potable water heating and mechanical cooling requirements.

1. Assume that the residential space and domestic hot water heat required per person is 6000 kWh thermal per year (typical for existing well insulated one bedroom apartment suites). The corresponding average power is 0.685 kW / person. For a population of 17 X 10^6 people the corresponding load is 11.645 X 10^6 kw. Assume that heat pump or like technology is used to reduce the electrical component of this load 3 fold. Then the corresponding residential electricity requirement is:
(11.645 X 10^6 kW) / 3 = 3.882 X 10^6 kW

2. The dominant automotive technology will likely be plug-in series hybrid vehicles with rechargeable batteries and synthetic liquid fuel internal combustion engines for range extension. The synthetic liquid fuel provides no net energy because it requires approximately its own energy content for production.

3. On average each vehicle directly or indirectly draws 10 kWh per day from the electricity grid. This estimate is based on present plug-in hybrid vehicle performance, each vehicle going 110 km per day.

4. Assume that in 2025 there are 10 million automobiles in Ontario. Then the average electricity load increase due to vehicles is:
10 kWh /day-vehicle X 10 X 10^6 vehicles = 100 X 10^6 kWh / day.
Thus the average grid power requirement for powering automobiles in 2025 is about:
100 X 10^6 kWh / day X 1 day / 24 h = 4.17 X 10^6 kW.

6.Thus the total increase in the average electricity load due to displacement of fossil fuels for heating and automotive purposes is estimated at (3.882 + 4.17) X 10^6 kW = 8.052 X 10^6 kW.

7. Allowing for a 80% availability factor of generation plant gives an additional daily average generation plant requirement of:
8.052 X 10^6 kW / .80 = 10.06 X 10^6 kW = 10,646 MW

8. This additional generation plant requirement could be met by a combination of distributed non-fossil fuel generation, central nuclear reactors and out of province hydraulic generation. There is no possibility of meeting this load increase from conservation.

9. In addition to the aforementioned urban driving there is a comparable amount of rural driving that requires synthetic liquid fuels. Hence about another 10,000 MW of non-fossil electricity generation capacity will likely be required just to meet the electricity requirements for synthetic liquid fuel production.

10. Almost every building will need a peak demand controller to assist in maintaining a high load factor. The sheddable loads will include charging of vehicle propulsion batteries, charging of stationary energy storage systems, off-peak hot water heating, off-peak ice making for comfort cooling, clothes dryers, dishwashers, and generation of hydrogen for cooking and/or methanol production.

11. Some vehicle battery charging and hydrogen production for making methanol and ammonia will be under central dispatch control via an Interruptible Electricity Service to regulate grid voltage and to match the electricity load to the available electricity generation capacity. The electricity generation capacity is anticipated to be highly variable due to a larger component of wind generation. Some of this variability will be filtered by energy storage systems.

12. Pumped energy storage between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario will be used to filter the weekly and seasonal variations in wind energy generation and run-of-river hydraulic generation. Behind the meter energy storage will be used at wind generator sites to more efficiently utilize electricity transmission.

13. If implementation of Fusion is delayed the required amount of additional electrical generation increases because Fusion is required to reduce the heating/cooling related electricity consumption of rural loads.

14. The estimated extra non-fossil fuel generation requirement of 2 X 10,000 MW = 20,000 MW is in addition to the extra generation that is anticipated by the OPA in its September 7, 2006 load forecast.

In the non-fossil fuel future the principal generation types are:
Run-of-river hydraulic:
The main problem with Run-of-River hydraulic generation is that it is seasonal being high in the spring and low in the late summer and early fall.

The primary role of nuclear generation is to meet the high priority Standard Electricity Service load and winter base heating load. Maintenance of nuclear generation should be scheduled for the late spring when there is a reliable surplus of hydraulic generation.

Hydraulic plus daily energy storage:
The primary role of hydraulic generation in combination with a dam that can provide daily energy storage is to provide (1/3) base load generation and (2/3) daily load following generation. The load following generation can be used to balance short term variations in wind generation.

The primary role of wind is to provide energy for synthetic hydrocarbon fuel production.

Hydraulic plus weekly or seasonal energy storage:
The primary role of hydraulic generation with weekly or seasonal energy storage is to provide load following generation. A secondary role is to make up for shortfalls in the other generation types. A tertiary role is to operate as storage to absorb excess energy generated by wind during times of insufficient grid demand.

An important issue is that during the hottest days of the summer the daily average run-of-river hydraulic generation and the daily average wind generation are both at seasonal minimums whereas the daily average grid load is at a seasonal maximum. Hence the capacity of hydraulic generation with energy storage must be sufficient to meet the difference between the grid peak load and the grid peak coincident supply from nuclear generation.

In Ontario the issue is that the water flow from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario during peak demand periods on a hot summer day must be several times the average water flow. Conversely, at night during a low load time in April or September, when the wind is strong, it will be necessary to stop the Niagara river generation and possibly to pump water up hill from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie to usefully absorb excess wind power. There may be implications and constraints related to changes in the levels of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. Note that the average water flow from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario must remain unchanged to keep the St. Lawrence River flow constant downstream from Cornwall. This constant flow is required to maintain navigation through the St. Lawrence Seaway. In effect it is contemplated that Lake Ontario and Lake Erie together will comprise a giant pumped storage system that can be used for daily, weekly and seasonal energy storage and load following.

A further complication is that due to global warming and excessive water flow through the St. Clair River, the levels of Lake superior and Lake Huron have fallen. Restoring these lake levels means reducing the average water flow downstream from Cornwall, regardless of the consequent implications on St. Lawrence Seaway traffic. Some of the present lake freighter cargos may simply have to move by rail.

A key issue is implementation of a daily load factor dependent electricity rate structure with a seasonal component. Without such an electricity rate structure there is insufficient economic incentive to store energy when electricity is plentiful and to minimize grid load at peak demand times. These measures are necessary to reduce the cost of the transmission/distribution grid which otherwise will escalate rapidly due to the low average capacity factor of most new renewable generation and the increased average distance of this generation from loads.

1. The September 7, 2006 OPA load forecast does not take into account the electricity load increase that is necessary to limit global warming. The principal components of this electricity load increase are:
a. A 2% per annum increase in population;
b. Displacement of fossil fuels for space heating and potable water heating;
c. Displacement of fossil fuels for vehicle propulsion;
d. Increased use of mechanical cooling to combat local and global warming.

2.At present the OPA and the Government of Ontario are both pretending that relatively inexpensive liquid fossil fuels will be available indefinitely, in spite of abundant evidence to the contrary. Neither organization is taking serious leadership role on this issue. Another few years of severe climate impact in the USA could suddenly change US and hence Canadian government policy with respect to fossil carbon taxes. Such taxes would make continued reliance on fossil fuels very imprudent.

3. Meeting the projected electricity load related to displacing transportation, space and water heating fossil fuels in Ontario will require at least 20,000 MW of electricity generation capacity above and beyond the amount of generation projected by the OPA in its September 7, 2006 load forecast.

4. The present long term energy plan recently adopted by the government of Ontario does not reflect any of these realities. There is a provincial election scheduled for June 2014 that may lead to major changes in Ontario government policy.

1. The problem of rising sea levels manifests itself at coastal cities around the world. The flooding of New Orleans and then New York-New Jersey was but a foretaste of what is to come.
2. This web site identifies the electricity rate changes that are necessary in order to make environmentally acceptable distributed electricity generation in Ontario economically viable, thus reducing the required amount of central nuclear generation capacity.
3. The present Canadian Conservative federal government, which reflects the near term interests of oil producers, has had the opportunity to implement an effective fossil carbon emissions tax but has failed to do so.
4. The present government of Canada has shown itself unwilling to meet the challenges of global warming. Consequently this author does not anticipate any significant improvement in Canadian carbon dioxide emissions or the Ontario electricity supply until after the voters implement changes in these governments.
5. The delay associated with implementing these governmental changes will simply exacerbate existing problems. The consequences of Canadian inaction are exceedingly grave because other nations, with collectively with more than 100 times the population of Canada, are emulating Canadian government energy policies.
6. The greater efficiency of energy usage by the EU countries, UK, USA, Japan, China, India and Brazil is leaving Ontario's manufacturers in an uncompetitive position. Much work is necessary to catch up. There is no alternative but for Ontario to increase its on-peak electricity price and decrease its off-peak electricity price to encourage energy efficiency, to improve load factor and to reduce the average electricity cost and the electricity system debt.

This web page last updated May 27, 2014

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