An analysis of recent energy news in Canada ~ Hugh Holland

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On November 8, 2018

Canada’s Natural Resource Minister, Amarjeet Sohi, announced that the Ministry is about to release a roadmap on how Canada can participate in the development of next-generation nuclear reactors.

  • 10 Companies have submitted plans to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission for a pre-licensing design review for Small Modular Reactors (SMRs)
  • SMRs ranging from 1.5 to 300 MW are proposed to replace diesel for remote northern communities and mine sites (Russia already has a submarine-power-like floating reactor they can tow to remote northern communities and produce power immediately)
  • Larger advanced reactors are proposed to provide clean electricity and heat for oil sands extraction, and as a more-reliable anchor for less-reliable wind and solar in “energy parks”.
  • SMRs can be mass-produced to lower capital cost and can be widely distributed to lower transmission cost.

Ontario Power Generation announced they are teaming up with Oregon-based NuScale Power to bring SMR designs to Canada.

  • OPG recently projected a shortage of electricity in Ontario in the early 2020s due to increased population and an increase in electrified public transit and electric vehicles.
  • NuScale has $300 million in funding from the US Department of Energy and plans to build a 60 MW reactor in Idaho
  • SaskPower and New Brunswick Power are also involved in those discussions

On November 9, 2018k

  • A Montana Judge put a hold on the Keystone XL pipeline. The hold will likely be appealed, but it is actually good news because Keystone XL would merely tie Canada more tightly to a single US customer that is currently discounting Canadian oil at $40 per barrel or $36 billion per year (Canada spends $21 billion on National Defence). The KM Trans-Mountain pipeline is much more important than Keystone XL because it would diversify our customer base to China and TPP countries and attract full and fair international prices.
  • The Environment Minister of BC said today that BC’s recently announced LNG export plans may be curtailed due to increased emissions from using natural gas turbines to power LNG plants. Once again, the 3-member BC Green Party is holding the BC government hostage on that issue. That problem could also be solved by using small nuclear reactors to power LNG plant sites.

This analogy may help to explain the world’s current energy dilemma –
Suppose that 80 per cent of the world ate potatoes as their only food source. Suppose it was discovered that potatoes should no longer be grown for several good reasons. Suppose it was discovered that bananas were the only viable substitute for potatoes. Obviously, no government could survive cutting off the supply of potatoes until enough bananas could be provided. In this analogy, oil and gas are the potatoes and nuclear, wind, solar and hydro-electric energy are the bananas, in order of year-round global potential.

Canada is the only stable democracy that can supply potatoes (oil and gas) to the world for 100 years. That is why Canada’s oil and gas potential must be developed. Canada is also a leader with a successful track-record in bananas (nuclear technology) and is well positioned to lead in that transition.

Hugh Holland is a retired engineering and manufacturing executive now living in Huntsville, Ontario.

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11 Comments

  1. I agree 100% Hugh. In fact, it would be interesting to know just how much CO is produced by the burning of natural gas and propane by however many households that use gas furnaces in Canada.
    We have the old and new types of furnaces, and thus far it is up to the homeowners if they want to spend the extra dollar for new furnaces and opt for either High efficiency furnaces rather than the Medium efficiency.
    I’m asking if it is feasible to burn fossil fuels to generate electricity which would then be used for domestic heating (which is 100% efficient). We could mandate the Power companies to use scrubbers at their generating plants wherever fossil fuels are used. Could scrubbers be developed to clean and capture CO emissions with the technology we have today to start with??

    • Good question Jim. Other recent news indicates Canada’s CO2 emissions per capita are highest in the world. That is due to 3 factors: We have the 2nd lowest average temperature which requires more energy per person to keep us warm. We have the 2nd lowest population density which means we use more energy per person for transportation of everything. We are one of the top 7 industrialized countries that supplies food, energy and industrial products needed by ourselves and the world.
      The world including Canada needs to the reduce the use of fossil fuels because they are the main cause of climate change and because we will eventually run out of those finite resources. Industrial countries must lead by example. Consequently, we must replace fossil fuels with available clean sources of energy. The mix will contain nuclear, wind, solar and hydro-electric, but availability will differ in every country. At the same time, we must move to more energy-efficient buildings and transportation.
      Heating in our cold country will require a mix of solutions. Ground source heat pumps can work in a few rural areas that have the space and soil depth for underground piping. Electric-powered air-source heat pumps are efficient for both heating and cooling for 6 months but must be supplemented with electric heat for the other 6 months. In cities where 80% of the population already lives, we should move to more district heating like the Scandinavian countries.
      District heating is essentially hot-water heating that uses waste heat from waste-burning boilers that is piped under sidewalks to homes and offices. Those efficient and clean high-temperature waste-burning boilers also eliminate landfill. But if you don’t like waste-burning boilers, waste heat from distributed small nuclear reactors could do the same thing. The 190-megawatt Small Modular Reactor under development by Terrestrial Energy of Oakville, Ontario could supply emission-free electricity and heat to a community of 170,000 people, or equivalent industries. That is the future, but it will take time. In the meantime, there will be situations that will require basic electric heating until older buildings and infrastructure are replaced.

      • Central heating powered by solid waste incineration is certainly the answer to space and process heating in urban settings. Regional incineration plants could also generate electricity.
        The way to make this happen is to mandate that every municipality must dispose of its own waste within its own municipal boundaries.
        That would eliminate the insanity of trucking trash hundreds of kms and even to the US. Time to jettison the political correctness which presently prevents us from truly solving our solid waste problems.

  2. Good article Hugh. There is new nuclear technology that is not only more scaleable, but also safer with less hazardous waste issues. It is the best bet for coal base-load power replacement. (still about 10% of the total electric power generation in Canada).
    Jim, a few points to consider regarding your comments. First, electric heating is less than 30% efficient, on average, after factoring in the losses in source generation and power transmission. Modern natural gas furnaces now run at over 95% efficiency, and gas delivery is over 90% efficient, so its GHG foot print has improved significantly. Comparing the CO2 of the 2 depends on the mix of power source generation. Hydro electric is best, coal is worst.

    Also, well over 60% of home heating in Canada is gas/propane. Replacing that much energy with electric power generation would require huge investment and infrastructure upgrade of the hydro grid to deliver the power, and would take many decades to accomplish. It was likely this analysis that forced the last Ontario liberal government to ditch their reported idea of mandating all new houses to be hydro heated after 2030… just part of the reason their energy planning was poor, and so unpopular…
    As Hugh points out, this transition to a lower emissions future will take many decades.

  3. Hugh and all,
    I write from Halifax where the environment is dominated by the ever present sea with its never failing tides.
    It has always seemed to me that tidal powered hydro generation could be an environmentally friendly source of huge amounts of electrical power.
    The Bay Of Fundy would seem an obvious place for such generation.
    A huge rock fill dam with locks, fish ladders and double directional flow generators could be built and supply an immense amount of power. We built the railways and the seaway and massive hydro projects and we could build this too.

    • Yes tidal power is indeed a potential source of hydro-electric energy. Google Cape Sharpe Tidal Force to read about a successful 4 MW tidal power project in the Bay of Fundy. To date these have been relatively small projects. 4 MW is the same size as the Bala Falls hydro-electric project that is now under construction in Muskoka. And there are also many opportunities in the fiords and inlets along the coast of BC. But it is increasingly difficult to see how we can replace fossil fuels without the vast potential of nuclear power.

      • Marlene McBrien on

        Hugh
        I am grateful for your insightful commentary. Truly. Thank you and please keep it up! I also appreciate the general agreement in this conversation thread that a diversity of energy generation approaches is key for climate change and energy crises action. I cannot however get past the risk v. benefit piece for nuclear power. The potential for harm is too catastrophic and for too long a time thereafter. I also disagree with the general belief that nuclear power is a “clean” source of energy when it is truly not. Comparative emissions yes, but for generation and waste by-product, no way. I am not convinced that Nuclear Energy should be part of the energy package. You on the other hand, have a lot of faith in the industry. In all sincerity, how does one put aside any underlying anxiety to create a path for developing and living with more nuclear power? How do you do it? I am not being cheeky. I really want to know.

        • Good questions Marlene. Electricity is produced by a turbine driving a generator. The turbine can be powered by water, by wind, by steam from burning combustible fuels, or by steam from a nuclear reactor. Nuclear heat energy originates from the splitting of uranium atoms inside a reactor vessel.
          It takes more time and work than the general public can invest to understand brain surgery, climate change, how micro-chips store giga-bites of information, and how the splitting of atoms makes heat. That makes it easy for skeptics to argue against things they do not understand. But sometimes we just have to trust the experts and consider whether their work is showing credible results over time.
          Over the last 60 years, nuclear reactors have supplied 76% of the electricity in France, 50% in Ontario, 24% in Japan and Germany, and 20% in the USA and Russia. During that period, the number of injuries and fatalities per kilowatt-hour produced by nuclear has been infinitely lower than any other source. In those 60 years, there have been only 3 significant incidents, none of which has resulted in the kind of apocalyptic scenario predicted by anti-nuclear advocates.
          So-called “nuclear waste” is also not widely understood. In fact, it is not waste but a valuable resource that can be used as fuel for advanced reactors being developed in several countries including Canada, that can extract up to 90% of the energy from the uranium fuel vs 5% from the earlier reactors. In the meantime, it is being safely stored on site at nuclear plants. The total amount of so-called “nuclear waste” from Ontario’s 3 nuclear plants is being stored in an area the size of a single hockey rink.

          • Marlene McBrien on

            I read a few online reports from Europe such as Chernobyl’s Legacy: Health, Environmental and Socio-Economic Impacts, and determined the majority of the millions of people living in contaminated areas, thousands of workers exposed in the early days of the accident who received very high radiation doses, the thousands more stricken with cancer, the 200 000 emergency workers from 1986-1987, 116 000 evacuees and 270 000 residents of the most contaminated areas, those who ate food contaminated with radioactive iodine in the days immediately after the accident, the children who drank milk from cows who had eaten contaminated grass (a major cause of the high incidence of thyroid cancer in children), those traumatized by rapid relocation causing persistent psychological or mental health problems, and some 10 million people exposed to nuclear radiation in the surrounding countries, would have a very precise definition of an apocalyptic scenario.
            The country of Ukraine just as an example, is still suffering from the consequences of the1986 Chernobyl disaster today. Associated costs are roughly $700 billion over 30 years. Five to seven percent of government spending each year is still devoted to Chernobyl-related benefits and programs. The health, environment, and socio-economic impacts of this nuclear accident are proving unsustainable and you can’t deny that is a scary fact.
            Summarizing your answer to my question ‘how does one put aside any underlying anxiety to create a path for developing and living with more nuclear power?’ is to trust the experts and wait and see. Not sure I am comfortable with that. Choosing to expand nuclear technology is like determining that it is acceptable that some people are expendable.

  4. Great comments all of you!
    Personally, I like better thermal insulation as a starting point. If we can manage and save then we don’t need any other energy source but of course this will never do the whole job.
    All sources of energy have their up and down sides but here in Canada we need a LOT of energy since we have to live in a season called Winter for half of each year.
    Water, Nuclear, solar, biomass/waste, wind and where possible tidal are all better than just burning fossil fuels.
    Ultimately all the green sources of energy end up making electricity and that is what the consumer will see as the product they use. We are going to need to revamp our electrical grid in a major way. It needs to be way more robust and reliable (The nickname Hydro-None has to go!)
    It needs to be able to accept huge numbers of small generation projects rather than just a few large centralized plants as it is now set up.
    This will be a big challenge but it will provide work for thousands for decades and that is all good, better than fighting in the far off middle East over the last scraps of Arab oil.

    We will always need oil for some uses. Electric airplanes are just a no-no as they just don’t make really good extension cords for this! Trains, ships and some trucking will always need to be fossil powered and lubrication of all machines is an oil based item that can’t be ignored but it does not make a lot of waste.

    I looked at the Annapolis tidal power plant in Nova Scotia some years back. It was a real eye opener as, due to the way the tide flows it can only make power about 25% of the time but it does work and has potential to be expanded. I would suggest anyone interested in tidal power google this and check out the details as I am working from an old memory and am probably not very exact on this but in the ball park.

    Canada is unique. We have a relatively small population, vast areas, lots of water, wind and fossil fuels and we are smart enough to know how to build some of the best nuclear facilities in the world too. We could, with some hard work and good government, show the world how to operate a modern economy in a harsh climate with almost no fossil fuel consumption. We need to do this, if only to show the rest of the world that it can be done. Just, for God’s sake don’t put the current Ontario Ministry of the Environment in charge or there will be no hope!!!

  5. Brian, even the Crown Prince has no faith in Saudi Arabia’s oil resources in the long run. He is desperately trying to lure outside investors to his country; in the wake of the murder of Mr. Khashnoggi. He has distanced himself from this despicable act, and has promised to hang those found to be guilty.
    .
    Hugh, please keep these articles coming: We are so fortunate that you chose to retire in Muskoka. Query: is it true that the world has its largest potential supply of fossil fuels at this time? I heard that a “second generation” source had come on line; more vegetation-oriented than simply fossil-oriented.

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