Why is Ontario’s electricity system cleaner than other jurisdictions?
Many grids in North America and around the world still use coal-fired generation methods to produce electricity. Ontario’s nuclear and hydro generation has always provided most of our clean and reliable energy. By phasing out coal-fired generation, refurbishing laid-up nuclear units and adding efficient natural gas fired generation as well as more renewable energy, Ontario has created one of the cleanest electricity grids in the world. In fact, since the phase-out, greenhouse gas emissions associated with electricity generation in the province have dropped by over 90 per cent, accounting for the removal of nearly 34 million tonnes of GHG, or the equivalent of taking over 9.4 million cars off the road.
You mentioned the coal-fired phase-out removed over 34 million tonnes of CO2. Is 34 million tonnes a lot?
Yes. In fact, according to the Institute for Sustainable Development, the phase-out of coal-fired electricity generation in Ontario's energy transition is “the single largest GHG reduction measure in North America”.
Just how clean is our electricity system?
Today, Ontario’s electricity system is 90 per cent emissions free, accounts for just 3 per cent of the province’s total GHG emissions, and is one of the cleanest energy grids in North America.
What impact does a clean electricity system have on me?
Access to one of the world’s cleanest electricity systems offers a huge advantage for Ontario consumers, communities, and businesses as we consider what’s needed to reach our 2030 emissions targets. Take for example, the mass adoption of electric cars. Canada has announced plans to ensure all new sale vehicles will be electric by 2030. But the energy mix used to power those vehicles matters. In Saskatoon for example, the average battery or plug-in electric vehicle powered from the grid emits 146 grams of CO2 for every kilometre driven. But in Toronto, that same car powered from our cleaner grid would emit just 8.1 grams of CO2/km. With one of the cleanest grids in North America, we are maximizing the impact of the climate-conscious decisions Ontarians make and reducing our provinces overall carbon footprint.
Is it possible to have an electricity system with zero emissions?
We should aspire to zero carbon emissions, but we must be smart and practical in how we approach the goal. As a recent IESO report noted: "a complete phase-out of gas generation by 2030 would lead to blackouts, as electricity would not always be available where and when needed. Gas generation offers a set of services, including quick response time and availability, that keep the grid reliable and help balance the variability of wind and solar output." Moreover, the report also noted that replacing gas by 2030 "would require more than $27 billion to install new sources of supply and upgrade transmission infrastructure. This translates into a 60 per cent or $100 increase on the average monthly residential bill. High electricity costs may deter consumers from investing in carbon reduction, such as through electric vehicles or new equipment.”
To make the greatest impact, we should focus on the largest emitters: transportation, buildings and industry. That will mean large scale electrification of those sectors which will result in greater demands on our power grid. Ontario’s clean, diverse and reliable generation system can meet those demands. On a given day, Ontario’s natural gas generators must be able to respond to an 8,000MW swing in power demand over a 12-hour period while providing security for the rest of the electricity system – the equivalent of adding the demand of the City of Kingston to the grid every 10 minutes. Diversity in Ontario’s energy resources strengthens the reliability of Ontario’s power system as different energy resources serve different functions. But no single energy resource option can meet all system needs at all times. Maintaining a diverse supply mix, where the different resources are complementary to each other, is an effective and efficient way to provide the services necessary to balance the supply and demand of electricity and maintain the reliability of Ontario’s power system (source: IESO).
I’ve heard some groups call for Ontario to invest in energy imports from places like Quebec to offset production in Ontario. What impact would that have on our energy mix?
Being connected to a large, stable, continental power system plays an important role for Ontario, enhancing the reliability of our system while providing operational flexibility and economic value to Ontario consumers through the hourly trading of energy -- exporting power when there's surplus supply and importing power when there's a shortfall.
It is important to understand that we do not currently have the transmission capacity to handle large-scale imports of power from Quebec or Manitoba. Building major new transmission corridors is a lengthy, complicated process that takes many years and entails regulatory proceedings, and challenging negotiations with landowners, including First Nations.
In addition, relying too heavily on imports from other jurisdictions at the expense of investing in our own Made-In-Ontario supply is risky. For example: a recent report from Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) noted that “year-round electricity supply would need to be available from Quebec, which is unrealistic given that it is reliant on electricity imported from Ontario and other jurisdictions during the winter months." In short: there is no guarantee that jurisdictions like Quebec could supply the amount of energy needed to account for the kind of demand swings Ontario sees today -- let alone as we consider how to maximize our clean electricity system to scale our climate change efforts. Even Hydro Quebec has said that to meet its own growing demand they will need to explore new long-term energy supplies while launching new energy efficiency programs. In short: putting all our eggs in the energy imports basket as a supply solution risks creating a substantial gap as our demand for clean energy grows.
Why is a diverse supply mix so important?
Having a diverse supply mix to power one of the world’s cleanest electricity systems creates stability and reliability for consumers and companies. Think of our province’s energy supply as a stock portfolio. Investing all your funds into a single stock would be considered risky; if that stock crashes, then you’ve lost your entire investment. But diversifying your investments, investing in different stocks and different sectors, protects your total investment against any single one of them losing value. Energy supply is similar. As demand for clean energy increases, relying on a single supply is risky; if that supply can’t meet demand or scale to meet a clean economy’s needs, that limits our province’s potential to meet our climate change targets. But a diverse supply from nuclear, hydroelectric, biomass, solar, renewables and natural gas ensures that on any given day our clean electricity supply can always provide reliable power for Ontario and grow to meet a clean economy’s needs.