Nuclear vs Green Energy: Share the Wealth or Get Your Own?

December 12, 2013
By

(This article was first published on Data and Analysis with R, for Fun (and Maybe Work!), and kindly contributed to R-bloggers)

Thanks to Ontario Open Data, a survey dataset was recently made public containing peoples’ responses to questions about Ontario’s Long Term Energy Plan (LTEP).  The survey did fairly well in terms of raw response numbers, with 7,889 responses in total (although who knows how many people it was sent to!).  As you’ll see in later images in this post, two major goals of Ontario’s LTEP is to eliminate power generation from coal, and to maximize savings by encouraging lots of conservation.

For now though, I’ll introduce my focus of interest: Which energy sources did survey respondents think should be relied on in the future, and how does that correlate with their views on energy management/sharing?

As you can see in the graph below, survey respondents were given a 7 point scale and asked to use it to rate the importance of different energy source options (scale has been flipped so that 7 is the most important and 1 is the least).  Perhaps it’s my ignorance of this whole discussion, but it surprised me that 76% of respondents rated Nuclear power as at least a 5/7 on a scale of importance!  Nuclear power?  But what about Chernobyl and Fukushima?  To be fair, although terribly dramatic and devastating, those were isolated incidents.  Also, measures have been taken to ensure our current nuclear reactors are and will be disaster safe.  Realistically, I think most people don’t think about those things!  A few other things to notice here: conservation does have its adherents, with 37% giving a positive response.  Also, I think it was surprising (and perhaps saddening) to see that green energy has so few adherents, proportionately speaking.

Survey: Importance of Energy Sources

After staring at this graph for a while, I had the idea to see what interesting differences I could find between people who supported Nuclear energy versus those who support Green energy.  What I found is quite striking in its consistency:

  1. Those who believe Nuclear energy is important for Ontario’s future mix of energy sources seem to be more confident that there’s enough energy to share between regions and that independence in power generation is not entirely necessary.
  2. On the flip side, those who believe Green energy is important for Ontario’s future mix of energy sources seem to be more confident that there isn’t enough energy to share between regions and that independence in power generation should be nurtured.

See for yourself in the following graphs:

Survey: Regions Should Make Conservation their First Priority

Survey: Self Sustaining Regions

Survey: Region Responsible for Growing Demand

Survey: Regions buy Power

Does this make sense in light of actual facts?  The graph below comes from a very digestible page set up by the Ontario Ministry of Energy to communicate its Long Term Energy Plan.  As they make pretty obvious, Nuclear energy accounts for over half of energy production in Ontario in 2013, whereas the newer green energy sources (Solar, Bioenergy, Wind vs. Hydro ) amount to about 5%.  In their forecast for 2032, they are hopeful that they will account for 13% of energy production in Ontario.  Still not the lion’s share of energy, but if you add that to the 22% accounted for by Hydro, then you get 35% of all energy production, which admittedly isn’t bad!  Still, I wonder what people were thinking of when they saw “Green energy” on the survey.  If the new sources, then I think what is going on here is that perhaps people who advocate for Green energy sources such as wind and solar have an idea how difficult it is to power a land mass such as Ontario with these kinds of power stations.  People advocating for Nuclear, on the other hand, are either blissfully ignorant, or simply understand that Nuclear power plants are able to serve a wider area.
MOE: Screenshot from 2013-12-08 13:28:04

MOE: Screenshot from 2013-12-08 13:41:06

All of this being said, as you can see in the image above, the Ontario Provincial Government actually wants to *reduce* our province’s reliance on Nuclear energy in the next 5 years, and in fact they will not be building new reactors.  I contacted Mark Smith, Senior Media Relations Coordinator of the Ontario Ministry of Energy to ask him to comment about the role of Nuclear energy in the long run.  Following are some tidbits that he shared with me over email:

Over the past few months, we have had extensive consultations as part of our review of Ontario’s Long Term Energy Plan (LTEP). There is a strong consensus that now is not the right time to build new nuclear.

Ontario is currently in a comfortable supply situation and it does not require the additional power.

We will continue to monitor the demand and supply situation and look at building new nuclear in the future, if the need arises.

Nuclear power has been operating safely in our province for over 40 years, and is held to the strictest regulations and safety requirements to ensure that the continued operation of existing facilities, and any potential new build are held to the highest standards.

We will continue with our nuclear refurbishment plans for which there was strong province-wide support during the LTEP consultations.

During refurbishment, both OPG and Bruce Power will be subject to the strictest possible oversight to ensure safety, reliable supply and value for ratepayers.

Nuclear refurbishments will create thousands of jobs and extend the lives of our existing fleet for another 25-30 years, sustaining thousands of highly-skilled and high-paying jobs.

The nuclear sector will continue be a vital, innovative part of Ontario, creating new technology which is exported around the world.

Well, even Mr. Mark Smith seems confident about Nuclear energy!  I tried to contact the David Suzuki Foundation to see if they’d have anything to say on the role of Green Energy in Ontario’s future, but they were unavailable for comment.

Well, there you have it!  Despite confidence in Nuclear energy as a viable source for the future, the province will be increasing its investments in both Green energy and conservation!  Here’s hoping for an electric following decade :)

(P.S. As usual, the R code follows)


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