Tag Archives: Independent Electricity System Operator

Solar is booming in Ontario, but you’d never know it from the data

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 12.43.29 PMOntario’s Independent Electricity System Operator released its annual “Electricity Data” report on Tuesday, and it breaks down the supply mix in 2015, 2014 and 2013. On the surface there hasn’t been a big shift over the past three years. We see that nuclear and hydro output has been fairly consistent. Natural gas generation was up slightly in 2015 compared to 2014, but was still lower than 2013 levels. Coal has been completely phased out, but at only 2 per cent of the mix in 2013 it wasn’t a dramatic change.

Wind as a share of the electricity mix has doubled to 6 per cent since 2013. Electricity from biofuels more than doubled, but still represents less than 1 per cent of the mix.

Then there’s solar. Looking at 2013 data, you might be confused to see Ontario didn’t have any solar on the grid. A teeny weeny bit appeared in 2014 and that increased 14-fold in 2015, but still represented a measly .25 terawatt-hours of electricity in a system that generates 154 terawatt-hours a year. In other words, a rounding error.

It’s a misleading figure, and it makes solar look like an insignificant contributor to Ontario’s electricity system, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

So what’s the deal? The above figures are for transmission-connected generation, meaning only the biggest solar projects connected directly to the transmission system are recognized. Those projects total 140 megawatts on a grid with 27,000 megawatts of capacity.

But look under the hood and you see something quite different. When accounting for solar that is connected to the local distribution system, the figure is an impressive 1,766 megawatts.

“So over 90 per cent of solar in Ontario isn’t being included in their annual figures,” points out Keith Stewart from Greenpeace Canada. “If we did include it all, solar would be about 2 per cent of total generation. It’s a clear example of how conventional power-sector thinking is blinded to the role of renewables and the evolution towards a more decentralized grid.”

In other words, this so-called “embedded” solar generation is making a big difference, especially during times of summer peak demand when the sun is shining strong and air conditioning loads put stress on the grid.

 

Canada’s biggest industrial emitters make progress on CO2 reduction, and economy still grows — imagine that!

Corporate Knights, Canada’s sustainable business magazine, crunched some recent numbers from Environment Canada and found that the country’s Top 10 industrial CO2 emitters reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by 9 per cent in 2008 compared to 2007. At the same time, the Canadian economy grew by 0.5 per cent. Given that the impacts of the economic downturn were felt mostly in 2009, an even greater drop is expected this year. Canada’s Top 350 emitters reduced greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 6 per cent during the same period. Toby Heaps, the magazine’s editor, said it’s proof that Canadian industry can meet carbon-reduction obligations while maintaining economic growth. “While our government says that reducing emissions by 20 per cent over 15 years is a heavy lift, our companies are showing the art of the possible: how almost half of that target can be pulled off in just one year,” said Heaps in a statement issued out of Copenhagen, where he attended the recent international climate talks. Corporate Knights is expected to have a more thorough analysis of the numbers in its January issue.

Ontario is pulling its weight, largely as a result of its coal-phaseout strategy, renewable energy deployment and conservation initiatives. As of the end of October 2009, greenhouse-gas emissions from fossil-fuel (coal and natural gas) power generation is down 40 per cent compared to same 10-month period the previous year, according to Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator. What can we expect with the introduction of carbon prices and a cap-and-trade system?

A recent research brief of New Energy Finance looks to Europe for answers. It found that five years after the introduction of a greenhouse gas emissions-trading system the European power sector is factoring carbon prices into future investment decisions. It also found that carbon prices are pushing the sector toward lower-carbon sources of electricity and accelerating the closure of the oldest and dirtiest fossil-fuel plants. “The answer is clearly that European power generators see that the EU ETS is here to stay and that it is starting to affect how they make multi-billion euro investments in new generation capacity,” said Guy Turner, the research firm’s director of carbon market research. “By 2020 the European generating fleet will be materially cleaner than it is today.”

Something to hope for? Let’s hope so. I’m more a fan of carbon taxes than cap-and-trade, but if the latter is designed correctly, and if we can learn off some of the early mistakes made by the Europeans, clearly it will drive emissions down. The question, then, will be how much it will drive them down, and whether it will be fast enough. That will ultimately depend on the price of carbon, and how many freebie carbon allowances are handed out to industry.