Ontario’s Solar Energy

So it’s the day before I have two midterms back to back, which means that obviously I’ve spent the last few hours getting sucked into the energy section of the Auditor General’s Report. There’s some fascinating stuff in there about solar power, which I’m learning just in time for wowing the bae on Valentine’s day!

-When you make an electrical grid, you need to achieve parity between supply and demand. When there’s too much power in the grid, you need to shut down some generators. When there’s too little, you need to turn some on. The solution that we came up with is to have two tiers of suppliers:

  • base load plants which provide the minimum supply of power in the system, and
  • peaking plants, which provide additional supply during peak hours.

-Nuclear and hydroelectric plants are base load plants; they are large, their energy is really cheap, and they’re very expensive to turn off and on again. 

-Fossil and alternative power sources make peaking plants. Their energy is more expensive, but they’re easy to turn off and on again.

-Solar energy throws a giant wrench into this. They 1) can’t be easily turned on and off, 2) are not reliable enough to be a base load supplier, 3) are also not reliable enough to be a peak load supplier, and 4) is incredibly expensive.

-We have a microFIT program in Ontario, which is when the government pays you to hook your solar panels up to the grid. The government pays in total $491 million per TWh for solar. Compare to the traditional source of peaking power:

  • fossil: $153 million
  • wind: $119 million
  • bioenergy: $200 million.
  • (If you’re curious, base load plants cost around $60 million per TWh)

oh, and 5) it’s actually messing with our energy grid because it’s unpredictable and it must be embedded within our system due to its not-easily-turned-on-and-off-ness. Because of all the panels hooked up now, Ontario has started experiencing a lot of days with surplus energy generation (defined as when base load power generation exceeds demand) – from 172 days in 2011 to 319 days in 2014. On a yearly basis, we waste more energy than the maximum amount that Manitoba can produce.

This is bad because consumers have to eat the costs, exporting power happens at a loss, and some other reasons like wearing down infrastructure.

There’s even more interesting stuff in the Auditor General’s Report, which you should read on a day that is not a day before you have two midterms.

Like how the incentive scheme to get renewable energy off the ground was supposed to have their goal met in 10 years but managed it under one, but the government kept it going anyways, or how it’s apparently not actually the most efficient way to stop GHG emissions.

Embarrassing confession time: through the course of writing this I realized that last year we had a guest lecture about this, but I don’t think I was paying attention. If anyone in my year is reading this, this is apparently supposed to be old news to us? From the notes of that guest lecture though, I rediscovered http://ieso.ca/ which has some rad graphs about the current status of energy generation in Ontario.

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