Sustainability Journal

November 2013 Issue (files are in PDF format)

The response from the Energy Minister

The above link is the response from the Energy Minister to the three questions raised in my letter to him. The response states that the guiding principle is to "maintain a clean, affordable and reliable electricity system" (the italics are mine), and to plan for "an updated supply mix to reflect system changes in the three years since our last LTEP". In other words the "Long Term Energy Plan" has become the "Short Term Electricity Plan" in which the only variation that will be considered is the electricity supply mix. There is no mention of any changes contemplated for thermal energy supply and distribution, which is what I had asked about.

Ontario's buildings sector GHG emissions primarily come from the thermal energy applications (heating, cooling, DHW), not from electricity generation, and those emissions will soon skyrocket as we switch over from conventional natural gas to shale gas. The direct consequences of the Ministry's refusal to consider the changes that are needed to deal with that problem will be very damaging from an environmental point of view. Furthermore, Ontario residents could save tens of billions of dollars if they progressively switched over to the use of storage systems for heat and power, but ExS systems require a partnership between the power suppliers and the energy consumers since they would be sharing the ExS stores, but that option is being blocked.

Since ExS systems are scalable (i.e. they can apply to a single building or to a whole city) they can be applied on a small scale to establish the partnership procedures without the need for making any policy commitment other than opening the door to the possibility of using a single store for both electricity and heat. The Ontario government is protecting the fossil fuel industry by shutting the door to an alternative that would be cheaper, cleaner and better.


Exergy Storage in the Ground, by Ron Tolmie and Marc Rosen

The above paper was presented at the 3rd World Sustainability Forum ( ). It outlines how to design systems that store exergy and that are therefore capable of providing heating, cooling and DHW without drawing electric power during the peak demand periods.

The myth about natural gas. It is widely claimed that natural gas produces less GHG's than other fossil fuels, but that isn't true. When you burn natural gas it produces only 57% as much CO2 as bituminous coal (for a given energy output) but if some of the gas escapes into the atmosphere that advantage is quickly lost because the methane in the natural gas is 72 to 105 times more potent (per unit of mass) than CO2 in its Global Warming Potential (GWP). (Reference: the most recent IPCC report, 20 year averaging period). If as little as 1.64% of the gas escapes the CO2 equivalent is 1.64x72x0.67/1.84 (density ratio) = 43 %, which when added to the 57% CO2 from combustion adds up to 100%. If the escape exceeds 1.64% then the natural gas is "dirtier" than bituminous coal in terms of its GHG emissions. Gas is lost in the exploratory drilling for shale gas, in the fracking process itself, in the collection, processing and distribution of the gas, in the failure to collect much of the gas that is released, and in the escape of residual gas after production stops. If the gas is converted to LNG, as is planned for the gas from Canada's west then there will be a substantial further loss. For shale gas these equivalent emissions are much greater than the GHG emissions from burning coal. Natural gas is thus the "dirtiest" of the fossil fuels, especially if you are considering shale gas, for which it is extremely unlikely that future technology developments will ever reduce the fugitive emissions to an acceptable level.

Recent studies indicate that the GWP factor for methane should be 105 rather than 72 because of secondary effects. A report by Worldwatch Institute goes into considerable detail in comparing coal and natural gas for power generators. In Appendix B the report includes a table for methane GWP values of 72 and 105 in which it concludes that in spite of the higher GWP values the GHG from the plant itself will still be lower by 35% and 27% respectively compared to coal. However, that does not take into account the substantial fugitive emissions from the gas (especially shale gas) that is released underground but not captured during production and the emissions that occur after the wells are taken out of production. A proper comparison requires an accurate knowledge of the total fugitive emissions, but some of the most important values are largely unreported by shale gas operators and many of the reports grossly underestimate the GHG releases. The technology for actually measuring GHG emissions rather than calculating values is beginning to show that the calculations often underestimate the actual emissions, with some cases being reported where the underestimation error was as much as a factor of 15. The conclusion is that shale gas should never be used (for power generation, heating or vehicle propulsion) because it will always release too much GHG, and coal should never be used either because it releases both excessive GHG's and a wide variety of air pollutants. However, conventional natural gas that is produced as a by-product of oil wells will continue to be utilized simply because we have to get rid of it because we need the oil.

How others see Canada: (Climate Action Network Europe)

Off-grid applications

ExS systems can be used on islands or at remote locations because most of their energy is extracted from the air so the buildings need relatively little electricity. Power is needed in the summer to run the exergy-boosting pump but at that time of year solar PV panels will provide their maximum output. In the winter the system needs only enough power (and battery capacity) to run the circulation pumps. The electricity source can optionally be irregular, like the output from a wind turbine, or weak but steady (like the power from a small water turbine). Since ExS systems make very efficient use of the heat extracted by AC systems in the summer a district network can balance the excess heat from large buildings against the heat deficit of small buildings so no air-heat exchange is needed at all. Any imbalance in that case is made up by ground heat transfer. Note that the air has an almost unlimited capacity to provide energy so it is not necessary to add insulation to buildings that are retrofitted with ExS systems. That makes it possible to adapt the existing housing stock to make the buildings GHG free, an essential step if we are to achieve the desired GHG reductions in the short time that now remains.

Ontario Energy Board comment OPG has applied to the Ontario Energy Board for their approval for some substantial rate changes. A letter of comment has been submitted.