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Mr. Chairman

Power Blackouts in Ontario : How can they be prevented? October 2003

This past summer on August 14 .in this part of North America

It took 9 secs for 61 billion watts of electric power to disappear

50 million residents. were left in the dark

This is the 5th blackout in Ontario on this scale.since the 1960's

The ice storm of 1998 & the solar storm of 1989were previous examples

The question that I am putting this evening is.How can Blackouts be prevented?

At present, Electric utility companies.(rather surprisingly)

operate under voluntary guidelines ..which they set themselves ..(NAERC)

A government report is about to be released.which will probably recommend..

The introduction of enforceable standards of operation

The question is, is this really going to solve the problem?

One person who does not think so..is Mr. Amory Lovins

Lovins ..is an American energy conservation expert

He founded the Rocky Mountain Institute .some 20 years ago

Lovins says ..that the cause of blackouts

Is not lack of enforceable standardsbut rather

Poor - overall- energy - management -planning - and strategy

He says that the weakness ..of the power grid in North America

Is not so much.. in the technical aspects of its structure

But rather with the economics of energy sale & distribution& use

What is the power grid ? . It's complex framework.

In the NE US there are . 34,000 miles of transmission lines

6000 power plants. 3000 utility companies

142 control rooms.10 "reliability councils". (under the NAERC umbrella)

This very complexitysuggests that the power grid

is therefore. vulnerable to failure.which has a variety of causes

One cause of power failure is ..overloading of power lines.

Overloaded lines.. get overheated, especially in hot weather

And then they melt & sag .& stretch ..

Resistance in the power line goes up. Circuit breakers close

And the result can bea local power shut down

Another cause. has to do with something called phase shifting

Electricity generatorsare rotating Turbines

Which produce Alternating current ..at a frequency of 60 cycles per second

All of the 6000 generators in the grid have to be synchronized with each other

They have to operate at the same frequency.

and the waves of Alternating current have in phase with each other

As you can imagine.this is quite a technical challenge

Rather like asking 6000 hockey fans in the Quinte Sports Centre

To stand up and sit down at exactly the same time.at a rate of 60 times per second

If one generating stationdrifts away from this frequency

Or gets out of phasewith the others

Then neighbouring stations can be affectedand this can lead to shut downs

Another cause of power blackouts ..is malfunction of Circuit breakers

e. g. in a lightning strike or a solar storm.. when breakers do not close fast enough

So these are some examples of the causes of power blackouts

Which have to do with..the technical structure of the power gird

But Another major weakness in the system

is its Economic structureWhich discourages energy conservation

In the United States electricity generationis Deregulated

Which means that power companies compete with each other to make a profit

Huge amounts of power are sold .by one utility to another

This power is sent hundred of miles. along transmission lines

from the seller to the buyer

So the driving force in the system.is the production and sale of more power

As a result. Conservation of energy is discouraged..as it only reduces profits.

In Ontario.there is no incentive to conserve either.but for a different reason

Until last week ..the Ontario government has fixed the price of power

at an artificially low rate . 4.3 cents per kwh.

Which only covers about ..2/3 of the actual cost of production

So naturally, at such a low price... nobody has bothered with energy conservation

When power blackouts occur..What has been the traditional response ?

Well, In the past .the response has been

to build more power plants.and more and heavier transmission lines

For example here in Ontario ..in responses to the situation

Our new Premier has recently declared.."Let's build more generators"

So the system keeps growing.. using the same basic architecture

But our friend Mr. Lovins.. says this is as wrong headed

He says it reveals a fundamental misunderstanding .of what is wrong with the system.

More wires just make cascading failure ..more likely.

How then do we avoid blackouts? Lovins names two ways.

First of all he emphasizes (guess what?) conservation of energy.

The cheapest, fastest way to avoid blackouts. is to avoid wasting energy

One way of doing this is. through the use of a technology called "smart meters"

e. g. Individual appliances can be programmed ..To work more efficiently

Another example is the use of Demand Response

Where Customers are charged higher rates. during times of day when

demand is highest.. and power is more scarce.

So there is an incentive at those times. to conserve

In Ontario these "smart meters" .. are being used commercially

And there are pilot projects underway ..for residential use

Lovins second suggestion is what he calls 2. Decentralized (Distributed) Generation.

The current centralized power grid system. is fed by these large generators

Powered by nuclear (most commonly).. or oil, gas, hydro or coal

HoweverElectricity can be produced locally

Using engine generators, solar cells, wind generators, hydro dams, microturbines,

And it is actually becoming cheaper to produce power locally.

But in Ontario. there is still no economic incentive to do so

Because of the single price structure that we have.

In Conclusion..

Blackouts are not caused by lack of power lines

They are caused by an economic structure

which perpetuates a power grid ..which is vulnerable to failure

Lovins says the answer is ..to let all energy options compete fairly,

whether they save energy or produce energy no matter how big or how small,

no matter what kind they are. or who owns them.

This will gradually build a power system ..which is diverse and resilient

So that major failures.will be less likely

Mr. Chairman

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