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POWER BLACKOUTS IN ONTARIO
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.
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
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