Energy Sources - Alternative or Proven ?
Iceland is the country of my ancestors. Modern Vikings there are well-educated, hard working and technically sophisticated. They have all the non-polluting energy they need, provided by the resources of their environment -geothermal energy is abundant and is used to generate steam that drives electricity generation. Homes are heated by hot water that streams to the surface from underground volcanoes. In countries that lack such abundant sources of natural energy, other methods of energy production have evolved. The most available and most undesirable energy sources are fossil fuels. Coal burning generators of electricity are found worldwide and must be shut down as soon as possible. Replacing coal with natural gas does reduce toxic gases and carbon particles in the emissions, but CO2 is generated at the same rate. Canada has many non-polluting hydroelectric generators that require dams across major rivers and huge constructions. Once built these generation plants provide clean energy at low cost for decades. Where hydroelectric power is insufficient nuclear, coal, diesel and natural gas generators are used. The province of Ontario supplies over 30% of its electricity needs with nuclear reactors that have operated safely for several decades.
I am fortunate to have electricity delivered from a clean energy hydroelectric generator. The energy supply is low cost and reliable. I live in British Columbia, a land of mountains and rivers where dams and reservoirs can be built to harness the energy of falling water. The low cost of hydroelectricity is very competitive; the cost of electricity delivered can be as low as 3 U.S. cents per kilowatt-hour. A hydro station uses no fuel and emits no harmful gases into the atmosphere. The falling water that generates the energy is 100% conserved. With an adjustable flow through a dam from the water reservoir the plant is a flexible source of electricity that can be changed quickly to adapt to changing energy demands. Once a hydroelectric complex is constructed, the project produces no direct waste. Addition construction costs are spent of transmission lines and can be thousand of kilometers long.
Poorly contracted dams and dams in inappropriate areas have failed, releasing large quantities of water causing damage and death downstream. These are uncommon events that can be avoided with proper engineering. In 2015 hydropower generated 16.6% of the world’s total electricity and 70% of renewable electricity. China has the largest generating capacity with Canada as the second largest hydroelectric producer.
Sun and Wind
There is interest in sun and wind energy in Canada. Wind turbines have been constructed in areas with sustained winds and solar panels are being installed wherever sun exposure is adequate. The well-know problem with these energy sources is their intermittent productivity. In the best case, sun energy is off during the night but winds may blow and continue energy production. To create a sustainable energy system with sun and wind, you have to store electricity in batteries. Elen Musk of Telsa fame is building the world's largest lithium ion battery manufacturing plant hoping to have battery modules available to consumers at reasonable cost. The cost of sun-wind installations is high and wind turbines require monitoring and frequent maintenance. Neither system will replace current electricity supplies.
Schalk Cloete summarized our recognition that solar and wind energy production will not replace fossil fuels anytime soon. He wrote:” If intermittent renewables like solar and wind are ever to contribute a sizable portion of our global energy mix, a large amount of additional infrastructure will need to be deployed in order to counter the large fluctuations in output varying over timescales ranging from seconds to years. The variability of wind generation in Germany for 2012 is an example. The output varied over more than two orders of magnitude from a minimum of 0.115 GW to a maximum of 24 GW. It is clear that a large amount of extra infrastructure will be needed in order to smooth out this erratic output to something that better resembles the demand profile. Solar power is even worse because it generates no power whatsoever for the majority of the time and delivers most of its energy in the few hours around noon. We have to conclude that an ideal renewable energy storage solution is still about one order of magnitude away from challenging fossil fuels on a level playing field…, it appears unlikely that we will see a large scale market driven displacement of fossil fuels by renewable energy in the first half of this century.”
Nathan Lewis, a chemist at Caltech stated:” adoption of renewable electricity is growing, but it won’t be enough. There is a gap in the clean energy picture. For example, an estimated 40% of our transportation and shipping infrastructure cannot be electrified, says. Today’s batteries don’t store enough energy by weight—especially in the case of planes. Batteries are too heavy. fuels’ ability to store tremendous amounts of energy in chemical bonds just can’t be beat: The best batteries today store 200 watt-hours per kilogram; gasoline’s chemical bonds store 12,000.”
The single source of emission-free, renewable energy is a nuclear reactor. Canada has an enviable history of designing, building and operating safe nuclear reactors for several decades. The CANDU reactor design is a proven, safe and affordable method of electricity generation. Nuclear disasters in other countries are few but receive relentless media attention. The lessons learned from reactor failures have been incorporated into new and better designs and operating procedures. The Ontario reactors now operated by Bruce power are examples of excellence in design, operating procedures and emergency preparations.