Ontario’s Record Day Examined

For the 48 hours on Tuesday and Wednesday, October 26-27, 2010 Ontario’s wind projects generated a record amount of energy.  A massive record-setting storm system moved mostly to the south, providing Ontario with just about the best two days of production that could feasibly be expected.  Not surprisingly CanWEA crowed about it [backup link], and even the wire services [backup link] picked up on it.  As always, me being me, I took a closer look to see just how wonderful these days were for Ontario’s electric users.  And after looking at it, I’m not so sure I’d like to have many more record days.

I went through the Ontario IESO’s numbers and I am sure there are nuances to them that I don’t understand. For example, my calculated export numbers are somewhat off from what they reported, but they are close enough to come to some conclusions.   The facts as reported by CanWEA are accurate enough.  On Tuesday wind generated 20653 MW-Hr and on Wednesday 24022 MW-Hr.  These represented about 5 to 6% of Ontario’s demand.  The peak hour was on Tuesday, with 1054 MW-Hr, or 91% of capacity.

What CanWEA didn’t mention was the rest of the story.  The total capacity factor for Tuesday was 71% and Wednesday 86%.  Those are pretty good numbers, but they were exceptional enough to warrant press releases.  As I am writing this post, on November 1 in the afternoon, Ontario’s wind generation stands at 4.6% for the day.  I’ll bet CanWEA won’t be releasing a statement about that.

Regardless of how well they produce (or don’t), the larger question is: do they affect the overall operation of the grid in a positive way?  I gathered up some hourly numbers for both Tuesday and Wednesday. with the picture below copied from Wednesday’s numbers.

The main thing to look at is how the other generation facilities are affected by the onslaught of all this wind.   Recall that Wednesday was the about the very best day for wind generation imaginable, demonstratively a 1-in-1000 occurrence.  You’d think the IESO would take advantage of wind’s steady output that day to reduce the generation from coal.  The picture below shows what actually happened.

Ontario Generation for 10-27-10Just like every other day, and in spite of all that wind energy, the IESO still brought a typical amount of coal generation online to meet the afternoon peak, along with a typical day’s amount of gas. Ontario’s emissions were the same as always.

So where did this wind energy go?  On Tuesday, wind produced the 20653 MW-Hr and Ontario exported a net of 22540.  On Wednesday, wind produced 24022 MW-Hr and Ontario exported 38280.  The conclusion is pretty inescapable, whatever wind is produced is pretty much ignored by the IESO for supplying Ontario’s needs and is placed on the ties for export.

Another conclusion that is almost inescapable is Ontario pretty much can’t produce much less than about 12,300 MW plus whatever the wind produces.  Nuclear can’t run less than 9000 MW, Gas 1200 MW (probably to keep spinning reserve and/or CHP users happy), Hydro 2000 MW (run-of-the-river and/or other users) and “other” 100MW.  How else do you explain the Wednesday 3AM exports with a negative price of 16.05/MW-Hr, where you are paying your neighbors to take your excess.  During that one hour, the extra wind energy CanWEA was bragging about cost Ontario an additional $15,600 to dispose of.

What CanWEA should be bragging about, but won’t, are the subsidies its members received during those good days.  Current wind projects are being paid about $110.00 per MW-Hr which is being sold on the wholesale market for around $30.00.  Tuesday cost the ratepayers, people like you and me, some $1.7 million in excess costs, while Wednesday was an even better $2.0 million.

The alert reader might think to ask about a day when wind doesn’t supply much energy to see how it compares.  Maybe the differences then would manifest themselves.  So I went back, looking for a work day when the winds were much calmer.  On October 14 wind produced only 3210 MW-Hr all day, just 12% of capacity.  What differences do we see?  Was more coal and gas used?  For ease I moved the daily totals to one chart.  If there’s a emission-reducing pattern there, I don’t see it.  The coal and gas usage still seems to be independent of wind.  The main difference, besides wind being just 3000 MW-Hr instead of 24000, is that more nuclear was running, which seems responsible for the relatively high exports that day.

In one sense, CanWEA was being honest.  They mentioned the amount of energy the wind produced; they never said it had any value.

Hat tip to Scott at WCO.

Update December 23, 2010.  I ran similar numbers for the entire month of October and this 3-day conclusion stands.

One thought on “Ontario’s Record Day Examined”

  1. Have you taken a walk in the park – any park – lately and asked the gardeners about the unprecedented growth of shrubs and trees. Then, looked at the data on the rising concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. And, since neither you nor I will be around when CO2 snuffs out life, perhaps dwelled on whether it’s worth trying to save the Earth for our descendents.
    What alternatives are you offering to wind turbines to generate electricity?

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