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Martin Laplante

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Tue, 24 Feb 2009

This Year Ontario No Longer Needs Coal

2009 is the first year in which Ontario no longer needs any coal-fired generators. For the first time, non-coal generating capacity will be greater than peak demand for electricity.

This doesn't mean that the coal-fired plants are being shut down, just that they could be shut down if we and the rest of North America were ready to accept some risk. The reason that the plants will still be operating this year is to provide a reserve and an insurance policy in case of severe weather or equipment outages. You can't just shut coal plants off, in the case of an emergency or low wind conditions it takes a while to start up these suckers. Also, the transmission network can't always reliably ship the electricity from where it is produced to where it is consumed, so even though in total capacity exceeds peak demand, you still have to burn some coal in some areas for a few more years. But for the first time, non-coal resources will be supplying not only all the forecast demand but some of the reserve as well. The NPCC (Northeast Power Coordinating Council) reserve is essentially Ontario's contribution to helping the rest of the North American power grid remain stable in times of crisis.

Ontario IS adding and in fact HAS added some natural gas plants which besides emitting a fraction of the pollution, are a lot easier to switch on and off and therefore make the use of renewables like wind and solar more cost-effective and less risky. However it is still on track for a 2/3 reduction in emissions relative to 2003 and for a complete shutdown of coal plants by 2014, where even the use of coal for a reserve, an insurance policy and a buffer will be gone.

Nearly 4,000 MW of new supply and 1,250 MW of ability to import hydro electricity from Quebec are expected to become available in the next year or so. Since the table (below) was released, a new forecast of even lower demand due to conservation and lower industrial demand has further reduced the total required. The economic recession, and the provincial Green Energy Act are two new pieces of data that may reduce demand even further and increase non-coal supply. Right now, wind capacity is being added at a rate of a few hundred MW a year, but the new legislation should accelerate this new capacity. In 2008, wind energy contributed several times more power than predicted at time of peak demand, and predictive models have been adjusted in consequence. As a result, Ontario was a net exporter of electricity almost all the time last year. Even weather-corrected, demand for electricity has been going down despite greater population and the purchase of more electric-powered stuff.

Forecast of Coal-Fired Capacity Requirements for NPCC Reserve and Insurance 2008-2014 (Effective MW)

Maximum Demand26,51526,74926,98627,20527,42627,64827,873
NPCC Reserve4,5074,5474,5884,6254,6624,7004,738
Maximum Demand + NPCC Reserve31,02231,29631,57331,83032,08832,34932,611
Non-coal capacity available24,06627,82029,49530,41932,24834,42535,544


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