Sufficiently electrified?
When these guys get too hot they cannot carry as much power.
Stuey Logo

Sir Adam Beck, founder of Ontario Hydro.
He looks urinated (pissed) and so he should.

 Hydro Transmission Tower Lines
  1. Let's get a better understanding of how the electricity system works and
  2. let's see what we could do better
  3. How could it fail us with climate change?
  4. What Ontario's hydro one is doing to reduce power consumption and why.

1. The Grid System.

The most important feature of our electric system is the method by which we are all hooked together.  If you picture a huge spider web then you have a pretty good idea of what the electrical grid system is all about.  Every generating station, be it nuclear, coal, hydro, oil, gas, solar, wave motion, tidal, or wind is tied into the web.  Every customer is also tied to the web.  The generators spin idly until someone wants power and turns on a switch, then power flows to them from the generators. (Someone always wants power)  Power flows through the web arbitrarily unless the electric company adjusts the voltage at one generating plant to force it to take more or less of the total load.  Naturally this is done to let the cheapest sources to take as much of the load as they can handle.  It is very inefficient to send power over long lines but the grid was originally intended not as a conduit for steady power supply but rather as a safety measure to keep power on in areas where the generation could not handle the local requirements due to extenuating circumstances such as repairs, generator failures and a myriad of other situations that can arise on this very complicated system.

2. How we've screwed it up.

Unfortunately by not putting generating stations close to large consumers the grid has become corrupted over time.  For example the Pickering Nuclear station should have been built on the Toronto shoreline, not at Pickering.  It should have been very small with other stations built to the east, west and north of Toronto.  For Ontario Canada there should be generating stations in Kingston, Ottawa, Sudbury, London, Sarnia, and many other places.  No shipping of vast quantities of electricity over many miles but links to provide for that shipping when required.  That is how a grid is supposed to work.  Generation and shipping power as it is now done is less than 10% efficient.  Or another way of saying this is that 90% of the power is wasted.

3. What could go wrong?

Climate change will, or so we're told, bring Canada so very volatile weather conditions.  Not necessarily very hot all the time, or very cold all the time, but rapidly fluctuating, higher winds and deeper extremes.  That said then when the temperature goes very high we will need, for survival, to crank up our air conditioners.  Because of the inefficiencies in the system the generators and lines will not be able to handle the expanded load.  The generators or the power lines will overload and shut down. 

Now another little niggling problem comes into play here.  Most of the time when peek load conditions arise the electric companies run the power system in an overloaded condition to meet the excess demand. (Nothing wrong with this).  As the load increases the lines run hotter and as long as they are not overloaded for too long or by too much the only thing that happens is that their efficiency is reduced even more than usual.  More power is wasted in the line losses.  So what's the problem?  Well just this.  When the outdoor temperature rises above the normal design specs of the line then it can not be overloaded as much as under cooler ambient conditions so it is capable of supplying less power than normal at a time when air conditioning requirements are at their highest.  Result?  The lines drop out or disconnect and the power to your air conditioner is lost.  You in turn get too hot.  With temperatures seen as high as 126 degrees F in the US in 2006 this should be of some concern.  We have, hopefully, resolved this problem at Stuey's Place by designing a simple air conditioner that stores cold and can run when power requirements are low.  We will test it this summer.  We plan to air condition only one small space when temperatures are extreme.  We also maintain an army surplus continuous duty generator set for real emergencies.

4. What is 'Hydro One' doing? (The Ontario, Canada Electrical system)

Probably the most significant change in our hydro system is the ongoing replacement of all antiquated billing meters with Smart Meters.  These meters allow for billing at a time used rate which means that a customer can use power during off peak periods and get a better rate per kilowatt hour.  The customer can see how much power is he is using at a given time and decide to turnoff a few things that are not needed.  In turn the utility company, by giving a flexible rate that encourages the use of power at off peak times, can reduce the peak hour demands and thus reduce the risk of overloading the power grid or requiring a heavier power grid to meet very short term demand.  In simple terms the usage is spread more evenly over time.  A win win situation for supplier and customer.

Now the truth is that a few years ago I wrote to the minister in charge of the system suggesting the use of meters exactly like these and after tests were done on London, Ontario my suggestion was adopted by Hydro One.  I, no doubt, will have been sent a letter of thanks for this suggestion, however it seems to have been lost in the mail.  I do have a couple of other suggestions that could actually eliminate the need for our coal fired generators, and maybe a few others, within a few months of implementation at practically no cost.  Once I receive the thank you letter for the first suggestion I will forward the others.  We all like to feel helpful rather than used.

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