Chapter 4 : Walk the Walk, Talk the Talk.

Chapter Four

Walk the Walk, Talk the Talk

We have had it lucky in North America. We have been the envy of many nations. Our comforts have come easy. Credit goes to the engineers and designers for their clever innovations and inventions. But we are spoiled with energy. The first big lesson we need to learn is getting a sense of what it’s like to have energy poverty. We understand very well what it’s like to have energy wealth. Televisions, computers, stereos, microwave ovens, dishwashers, giant freezers, heating, air conditioning, battery chargers and the list goes on and on. If you live in a city you have traffic lights, sports bars running eight or more giant TV screens with different games being broadcast, elevators, escalators, coffee makers, electric trains, electric pumps to send water into all those high rise buildings.

The United States and Canada have been the worlds biggest energy consumers in the world per capita. According to World Bank

Equivalent of Gallons of oil/yr/capita. (2011)

US - 7,000 (Canada slightly higher)

China - 2,000

India -  600  

The metric tons/yr/capita of carbon dioxide emissions:

US 17

China 7

India 2

In the next 20 years power demand in developing countries is expected to increase by more than 250%, in industrialized countries, however, only by 37%.

Per capita energy consumption for India shows you what energy poverty looks like.  Blackouts and brownouts are normal in India.

Apparently they are pretty common across the U.S. as well. Facts on blackouts from Issues in Science and Technology magazine:

“The average U.S. customer loses power for 214 minutes per year. That compares to 70 in the United Kingdom, 53 in France, 29 in the Netherlands, 6 in Japan, and 2 minutes per year in Singapore. These outage durations tell only part of the story. In Japan, the average customer loses power once every 20 years. In the United States, it is once every 9 months, excluding hurricanes and other strong storms.

Despite decades of sober technical reports written by investigation teams in the aftermath of blackouts, the frequency of electric power outages in the United States is no less today than it was a quarter-century ago. Whether measured in terms of city-sized blackouts or smaller events, the statistics show that reliability has not improved. Indeed, if the data show any trend in the past few years, it is toward lower reliability.

The causes of outages in the United States show there is considerable room for improvement. If outages from major storms are excluded, the causes of each hour of outage include equipment failure (24 minutes), as in the 1965 Northeast blackout; untrimmed trees near power lines (6 minutes); and mistakes by power company personnel (4 minutes), as in the 1977 New York blackout and the 2005 Los Angeles outage. This history of blackouts creates ample public demand to increase reliability, opening a window of opportunity for the industry.”

Summer 2006 issue

We get some spectacularly cold January and February weather in Canada and northern parts of the U.S. We need to heat our homes to survive. We have been getting freak winter storms in recent years. My story was before the worst cold but still pretty bad.

Diary of an Ice Storm Blackout (from Energy Reality Blog Dec 23/14)

Toronto needs reliable power.

Apply pressure at all gov. levels to upgrade.

Recent power outages are outrageous.

I'm not sure what is worse. Sitting alone at a table for two in a very noisy bar waiting for my phone to charge or going home to a dark apartment with a flashlight and candles.

I am sitting at one of the noisiest bars in Toronto. I am here on a Sunday night because the power is out for the 4th time in 3 years. Yet this bar, across the street from where I live has had all its power all day. Why do the stores along Bloor on both sides all have power? The power infrastructure in Ontario is seriously out of date.

The temperature is hovering around freezing but will get colder tomorrow. Many of the locals have so much ice on their cars that they gave up on de-icing.

I spoke to Steve Foster, my new friend from Barrie, who has power yet 300 thousand others need to wait a few days while Christmas is around the corner.

Steve said Barrie has no visible power lines (meaning they have been wisely buried underground). Why we continue to suffer 19th century style inconveniences has to do with mismanaged government at all levels.

Extreme weather is no longer a freak event. We should expect these events to happen. I see no reason why we should suffer or worse, have our lives threatened. The cold, if not prepared for properly, can be lethal.

We also need to update our power facilities so that they don’t flood in extreme weather like what happened July 2013. What is really ironic is that I’m sitting right across from a wall of 100 year old enlarged black and white photos of my neighbourhood. If it was 1913 I might have electricity right now.

1913 - King and Yonge - Toronto

Jacques Boissinot/CP PHOTO

Toronto’s first electric company started up 130 years ago. It ran on boilers. 20 or so years later Niagara Falls generated power to the city. 60 years after that nuclear power was added. But 50 years of nuclear and we still have power lines above ground.

How much business is lost on account of power failures?

Each year the US loses over $100 Billion due to power failures. Ontario’s losses must be in the $billions. Besides robbing us of our rights to normal comforts we also lose business. Our power infrastructure is also expensive and less reliable because we are forced by law to include wind and solar energy into our grid. We need to subsidize the unreliable, “natural gas” dependent so-called “renewables” because of a perceived need for an "all of the above" energy mix. Our energy bills are higher because of this idealist yet proven-to-fail method of powering the grid have become the norm.

Germany now has the highest electricity rates in Europe because they have decided to go “green” and discontinue nuclear energy. Germany has been forced to increase the building of coal plants to make up for the lost nuclear energy. Italy will face the same consequences. Just like California who shut down San Onofre Nuclear Plant over irrational fears over a possible accident their energy bills have gone sky high. An interesting fact is that worst ice-storm in Ontario’s history did not affect the nuclear plants at all.

With three levels of government having elections in the near future it is now a good time to put pressure on them to upgrade our power system. i.e. put power lines underground and make the power stations flood proof and allow new build of nuclear to replace the plants that will be decommissioned because of age.
(end of blog post)


Quick Facts

Government has always played a role in energy supply. This is a handy list to keep when accusations fly about expensive nuclear getting subsidies:

Subsidies provided in the US from 1950 - 2006  (56 yrs) from NEI

  • Nuclear energy > nine percent ($65 billion),

  • Renewable energy > six percent ($45 billion) (~30 yrs)

  • Coal > thirteen percent ($94 billion)

  • Hydroelectric > eleven percent ($80 billion)

The components of a wind turbine are not as clean as you imagine

- 200-378 Tonnes of steel

- 1 tonne of coal used to make 1 tonne of steel  ( we know coal kills )

- 1000 tons of concrete for the base

- 200 kg of coal per tonne of cement  

- 200 tonnes of coal for the concrete base

- 400 tonnes or more of coal for a single wind turbine

- 131 tonnes of coal kill one person

- before the windmill even begins to operate it has effectively killed 3 people

- for the same amount of electricity produced, wind turbines require 50 times more steel and 60 times more concrete than nuclear reactors.

700 lbs of coal will keep a 100 watt light bulb glowing for a year

A ball of thorium the size of a golf ball can supply one person's energy needs for a lifetime.(assuming it is a molten salt reactor)

One ton of natural uranium can produce more than 40 million kilowatt-hours of electricity. This is equivalent to burning 16,000 tons of coal or 80,000 barrels of oil.

How long could you keep a 100 W bulb shining with 1 tonne of:

a uranium pellet the size of your finger tip

produces (with zero emissions)

the same energy as 1,780 pounds of coal