Every Canadian knows that you’re supposed to skate to where the puck is going, not where it is right now.
So as we replace our aging electricity system, we need to look at how to rebuild it as a climate- and future-friendly energy system (hint: decentralized, smart grids that are based on the highly efficient use of renewable energy 24/7), rather than simply replicating the old system dominated by large, centralized coal and nuclear stations.
Think of it as the energy equivalent of laptops and the internet replacing mainframe computers with punch-cards (I have a tortured hockey metaphor to explain the difference, but I’m limiting myself to one sports analogy per post).
This choice is particularly pressing in Ontario, where the coal phase-out is already well underway and we are currently trying to decide how to replace the 3,000 MW Pickering nuclear station.
The Ontario government and the official opposition party both want to build new nuclear reactors at the Darlington station to replace Pickering’s six reactors as they go off-line over the next decade. Greenpeace, on the other hand, has put forward a proposal for replacing the output of the Pickering station with a mix of greater energy efficiency and a mix of renewable energy sources.
One of the big issues is, of course, cost. In spite of the fact that no nuclear project in this country has come in on-budget, and that the government put the purchasing process on hold when the reported price of the new reactors at Darlington came in at $26 billion (more than 3 times what was expected), many politicians are still arguing that nuclear is cheaper than renewables.
We have already noted that renewable are already overtaking nuclear power globally as a source of new energy, with wind power alone adding more new electricity generation capacity than nuclear for the last five years. But we would also argue that it costs less, particularly when you look at where costs are going.
The graph below is from our Energy [R]evolution report, with the expected price of new nuclear power superimposed on the prices we expect to pay for renewable energy through “feed in tariffs” such as those in Ontario’s Green Energy Act:
And we are not alone in thinking that renewable energy costs will come down as nuclear costs go up. As the (emphatically non-tree-hugging) analysts over at Moody’s Investment Service wrote in their report on the economics of new nuclear reactors: “our concerns reside in the fact that nuclear generation has a fixed design where construction costs are rising rapidly, while other renewable technologies are still experiencing significant advancements in terms of energy conversion efficiency and cost reductions.” (p. 15)
So bring on the Green Energy Revolution.
Lower bills. Cleaner Air. Cooler Climate. No radioactive waste or accidents. What’s not to like?