Flawed engineering input to Ontario’s Long-Term Energy Plan

January 6, 2014

By: Donald Jones, P.Eng., retired nuclear industry engineer.

A condensed version of this article will appear in the 2014 March edition of the Canadian Nuclear Society’s BULLETIN. 
The input from the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers (OSPE) to the Ontario government’s 2013 Long-Term Energy Plan (LTEP) included support for the government’s Community Energy Plan (CEP) program (reference 1). OSPE also wants more flexibility from the nuclear power plants so that their output can be reduced to accommodate wind (reference 2).

From the Ontario government’s News Release (reference 1) the main purpose of the CEP program is to assist municipalities and Aboriginal communities to reduce GHG emissions and promote conservation and clean energy. The euphemism “clean energy” means energy (thermal or electric) generated from frackgas, that over its life cycle is said to have about the same GHG footprint as coal. Not very clean. CEP seems just another way of promoting frackgas-fired power generation on the distribution grid, distributed generation or embedded generation that is supported by the frackgas/wind “clean air” lobby and now apparently by OSPE.

A typical urban municipal energy system promoted by OSPE could consist of frackgas-fired boilers supplying a district heating system to replace the many individual gas-fired furnace units in the district. These individual gas furnace units would be high efficiency furnaces/boilers which will make it harder for the district system to make GHG reductions. The frackgas-fired boilers could be augmented by waste heat from the frackgas-fired reciprocating engines of a combined heat and power (CHP) plant that could be generating some of the electricity to run the energy system. District cooling would be provided by heat driven absorption chillers, and by centrifugal chillers driven by grid power and by electricity from the gas engines. Thermal storage could make use of off-peak overnight power from the Ontario grid. Any possible net reduction in total GHG emissions from district heat/CHP operation compared to what was displaced would come from the waste heat from the engines that will reduce the amount of frackgas burned in the boilers supplying the district heating system and it will not come from the electricity generating portion of the CHP plant. This is because Ontario has one of the lowest GHG emitting power grids in the world since GHG free nuclear and hydro presently provide over 80 percent of its annual electricity, and a much greater percentage overnight. Even the combined cycle gas turbines (CCGTs) on the power grid supplying the balance of the demand have a GHG emission intensity (grams CO2/kWh) lower than that of the typical reciprocating gas-fired engines of the CHP plant supplying the energy system so it would make more environmental sense to use mostly grid power to run the energy system. Detailed analysis would have to be done to quantify reductions, if any, in GHG emissions bearing in mind Ontario’s power grid has an exceptionally low GHG emission intensity. CHP systems alone could be used for providing independent heat and power, say to hospitals, universities, government buildings and commercial/industrial facilities. However despite any possible GHG reductions a district heating system and CHP system that uses frackgas produces GHG emissions and leaves itself open to short and long term fuel shortages and to the inevitable increases in frackgas prices (references 3 and 4). If such systems rely on private sector investment and the profit motive consumers had better look out. On a smaller scale the CEP would also likely support community wind, solar, biogas, biomass.  Wind/solar would need frackgas/diesel support and biomass has been criticized by environmental groups about its GHG neutrality.   Read the rest of this entry »