Picturing science-y stuff

Data journalism was becoming a thing about the time I started blogging a little over a decade ago. One format for that once-novel data-driven journalism was presenting a single powerful graphic accompanied by text explaining the graphic in depth. Jump ahead 10 years and we see data hasn’t sparked the interest some of us hoped. Instead of building a narrative to explain data, it’s far more common to invent numbers to explain a narrative. I will use a single slide to illustrate, from a recent presentation of the “Science Table: COVID-19 Advisory for Ontario.

I tracked down this information after reading a ridiculous sentence in a report from the mainstream media:

“If strong measures stay in place, the daily total could drop to below 1,000 at the beginning of June and a high of 2,000 by mid-July.”

Why would cases start to rise after June begins “if strong measures stay in place.” The linked report includes an embedded video which shows only the graph section of the above slide, but it’s text of the slide that explains the bizarre forecast.

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Hurting Michigan

Parker Gallant has called for the Ontario government to “shutdown the intertie line with Michigan” – in an article that notes some of my work. I feel I should offer some support as Michigan is being a lousy neighbour and it would feel therapeutic, if nothing else, to respond.

I’ll try to stick to data.

The system operator in Ontario (IESO) data indicates the Michigan intertie is the most lucrative for exports – but that’s not saying much: exports at that intertie were bought in Ontario for an average of just 1.2 cents/kWh ($12/MWh) in 2020 – but were in such high demand another 0.9 cents/kWh of congestion rent was paid. Over the past 5 years congestion rents comprise 46% of the revenue on the Michigan intertie. The IESO’s insiders’ committees are considering sharing this revenue with exporters, whereas in the past its only benefitted internal Ontario consumers.

Action #1: hell no. Issue a ministerial directive that congestion rents will only benefit consumers in Ontario.

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Thee to WE: the foundations of Canada’s Green Stimulus – part 2

The following is the second section of a work I’ve been preparing for my main site. As rumours of the federal government proceeding with the externally-developed policy framework I have been researching, and because of the length the work has grown to, I decided to post the work in parts here as sections are completed.  (Part 1)

The May 19th announcement of the Task Force for a Resilient Recovery (TFRR) ended with, “The work of the Task force will conclude in July with the release of a final report,” but by August only a “Preliminary Report” had been shared, and that document is more of a mind mapping exercise than a reporting one. The mapping listed, as Funders, the Ivey, McConnell, Schad and Echo Foundations. The appearance of Ivey wasn’t unexpected as the task force included Bruce Lourie, who is the President of the Ivey Foundation and a key player in previous “green” campaigns including ending coal-fired electricity generation in Ontario and the Green Energy Act.

The Ivey Foundation is built on very old money: The raw material for the Ivey family’s prosperity lay in the tin-mining industry that enhanced the value of their Cornish lands in the late 1700s.. The Foundation was created 73 years ago, in 1947 (although the younger Ivey co-founder lived until last year). Until researching this work I was most familiar with the Ivey as a co-founder of the Green Energy Act Alliance, and its relationship with Bruce Lourie. 

I’ve estimated the cost of the procurement inspired by the Ivey-supported Green Energy Act at $4 billion a year, for 20 years. Ivey associated damage could have gone well beyond that as the Financial Accountability Office Of Ontario estimated “a net cost to Ontarians of $21 billion” due to a Fair Hydro Plan defended by, and probably developed at, the Ivey Energy Policy and Management Centre.Read More »

Thee to WE: the foundations of Canada’s Green Stimulus – part 1

The following is the beginning of a work I’ve been preparing for my main site. As rumours of the federal government proceeding with the externally-developed policy framework I have been researching, and because of the length the work has grown to, I’ve decided to post the work in parts here as sections are completed.


2020 is throwing a lot at us. 

The pandemic is the feature event for most, but there’s no shortage of other issues long discussed on my blog re-emerging. I started writing in 2010, not long after the passage of the Green Energy Act (GEA) in my province of Ontario. The GEA was the cornerstone of a “building back better” recovery plan the last large economic downturn, and should therefore be a warning signal this crisis around. And yet… today many of the same people that lobbied for that failed experiment provincially have regrouped to push for a “resilient recovery” policy portfolio at the federal level. These weren’t good policies in 2010, and they haven’t got any better, but this work will be more interested in how bad policy is built, and who is behind its construction.

The novel coronavirus COVID-19 has sucked much of the oxygen away from other topics, particularly since March (when I wrote on it and developed a report which continues to update daily). I’ll note that I hope people try the app, wear a mask indoors in public places, get outdoors, wash your hands when possible, use hand sanitizer when not and try to stay fit physically and mentally, – so you can continue to live your life having tried to protect yourself and others while recognizing all life should not be paused. Aside from that, I mention the pandemic as it’s the crisis featured in today’s “Never Let A Good Crisis Go to Waste” machinations.

As Canada comes out of the COVID-19 crisis, governments and the private sector will turn their attention to building a long-term economic recovery. Let’s make that recovery … Task Force for a Resilient Recovery

2020 hasn’t just thrown the pandemic at us. In Canada, bystanders like me are currently enjoying the WE charity[?] scandal. In a summer where Black Lives Matter movement has re-emerged I’ve, coincidentally, half-joked WE could stand for White Entitled. I’ll leave the non-joke half as a sub-text for what follows about the communications campaign, and related politics, powering the “Task Force for a Resilient Recovery” (TFRR) vehicle. It could be seen as part 3 in my ‘Carbon Con” series (parts 1 and 2),  or as a case study in how to develop experts to create the appearance of consensus among apparent experts  for the purpose or exercising power in setting government policy that is likely to work against the broader welfare of the public.Read More »

The Case for Near-term Commercial Demonstration of the Integral Fast Reactor

This is a 2012 post from Barry Brook’s Brave New Climate, which was a tremendous blog but one that is no longer maintained – and was left with a presentation scheme that is illegible.

I’m currently in Dubai at the 2012 World Energy Forum, as part of a delegation from the Science Council for Global Initiatives. Tomorrow (24 Oct) we will run symposium on “New Nuclear”, which will be chaired by Tom Blees and feature talks from Dr Eric Loewen (GE), Dr Alexander Bychkov (IAEA), Dr Evgeny Velikhov (Kurchatov Institute) and me (Dr Barry Brook, University of Adelaide). I will also chair a session later in the afternoon on “Vision for a Sustainable Future”, just before the closing address.

Tom and Nicole Blees of SCGI stand in front of the World Trade Centre in Dubai, during the World Energy Forum, Oct 2012. The sign behind them makes for some interesting reading…

In preparation for this meeting and as a result of a focussed conference at University of California Berkeley in early October, a white paper on the Integral Fast Reactor was prepared by Tom and me, on behalf of SCGI, and has garnered signatories from 8 key countries, including prominent people not attending the Berkeley meeting, such as climatologist  Jim Hansen. The white paper is given below.


The Case for Near-term Commercial Demonstration of the Integral Fast Reactor

Demonstrating a credible and acceptable way to safely recycle used nuclear fuel will clear a socially acceptable pathway for nuclear fission to be a major low-carbon energy source for this century. We advocate a hastened timetable for commercial demonstration of Generation IV nuclear technology, via construction of a prototype reactor (the PRISM design, based on the Integral Fast Reactor project) and a 100t/year pyroprocessing facility to convert and recycle fuel.

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Rants about Ontario’s electricity system

“I personally hope those of you who read this will forgive my rants and start ranting with me and the others who do the same!”

I particularly enjoyed Parker’s first point, and the last two sections.

Parker Gallant Energy Perspectives

Canada Day came and went without parades or fireworks to celebrate the 153rd year of Canada’s birth as the Covid-19 pandemic lock-down kept many of us confined to small social bubbles.  The exceptions were those who chose to defy regulations and participated in anti-racism protests, both indigenous and anti-black ones across the country.  To most it seemed a strange way to celebrate our country’s successes. At least the weather was sunny and very warm in Ontario on July 1st!

Industrial Wind Turbines on Canada Day In Ontario

As is often the custom in Ontario on hot humid summer days, most of the IWT (industrial wind turbines) took the day off so the 4,800 MW of capacity they have was virtually silent.  Had they operated at 100% of capacity they would have delivered 115,000 MWh but instead they only managed to puff out 7,440 MWh and had 400 MWh curtailed…

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different perspectives: The Ontario Energy Association, and me

I saw a tweet the other day that seemed like the Ontario Energy Industry would be addressing an issue of interest to me:

Turns out it was a lot less interesting than I thought.

My quick scan of the OEA’s “Help those who need help” paper finds little I agree with presented from a perspective that is foreign to me – and yet I agree with the action option they steer people to agree with:

This option is the lowest cost option for provincial taxpayers. It would see bills remain stable, increasing by about 1.5% more than inflation each year until such time as electricity bills cover system costs. This option would result in electricity bills for Ontarians that are, on average, 13% below the cost plan inherited by the government, exceeding the government’s commitment.

I’m pretty sure the current Premier campaigned on actual cost controls, and not more interesting accounting –  not that accounting is useless.

The industry perspective that sees cost savings as raising consumer rates above inflation deserves to, at least, have it’s historical presentation challenged.

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Lessons from the UK’s August 9 blackouts

An interim report is out from National Grid on the “Low Frequency Demand Disconnection” (LFDD) experienced in the UK on August 8th. There were a number of contributors to the LFDD. Instead of looking for a single culprit it would be better to list the contributors, because it’s the interaction that resulted in the event. I’ll review the failures in the UK to highlight a recent report from Ontario’s system operator (IESO) that has received too little attention.

Many suspected wind as the primary factor on August 9th, and the Hornsea offshore wind facility was heavily involved. So far that involvement has simply been identified as its failure to ride through a voltage dip caused by a lightening strike to transmission wires elsewhere.

From a useful infographic accompanying the report:

  • “There was a lightning strike on a transmission circuit north of London …”
  • “There was a small loss of embedded generation (c.500MW) due to the lightning strike. This is normal …”
  • Little Barford gas power station and Hornsea wind reduced supply to the grid by 1,378 MW

The last bullet point grabs the most attention, the first triggered the event despite being a common occurrence which was typically handled; but it is the middle point that should instigate changes in the operations of the grid.

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Litterbug: selling and ERoEI

I was surprised to read something nonsensical onTwitter yesterday morning only as it was put there by a fairly well respected renewables slogger, and (after a day of sanity away from social media) annoyed to see the poster claiming the nonsense was to illustrate some financial point.

“an ERoEI of 60 over 60 years and 25 over 25 years are identical!”

ERoEI is Energy Returned on Energy Invested. It’s an important metric in places. According to twittering huckster’s thread he was thought riffing on it as a public service:

“So next time some armchair nuclear power hero hails #ERoEI as the reason only nuclear can power the world, you can straighten them out. 

I haven’t seen many nuclear proponents hammering away on ERoEI. I did know the World Nuclear Association published an exploration of nuclear’s ERoEI, but I had interpreted that as defending itself from frivolous claims – which has long been made by travellers of the soft path. The first link I checked on when googling “ERoEI of nuclear was a 2013 article at the currently reputable Carbon Brief – which is apparently a huge change over just half a decade:

…the range of estimates for nuclear’s EROI is very large indeed, ranging from an estimated 40 to 60 – from the World Nuclear Association – to less than one. Inman tells us he used a paper that reviewed many studies, which puts nuclear’s EROI at five.

My own little thought experiment will revisit this 1970’s approach, using Germany’s history with renewables to explore the impact of Germany’s renewables surge on systemic ERoEI:

Many energy analysis studies done in the 1970s seem to have assumed that a rapid expansion of nuclear generating capacity would lead to a temporary net energy deficit in an overall system sense. However, this requires dynamic analysis of whole systems…

I won’t discuss the half-a-century of hammering nuclear on ginned-up claims, or the current carnival barker’s petty use of “60 over 60 years” – when the WNA essentially has 60 (59) over 40 years as a claim (and 79 over 60 years), but this idea of systemic ERoEI to demonstrate a far more relevant metric for value.

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Monthly Ontario Electricity data – presented with Tableau

I saw an opportunity for presenting Ontario electricity data in trying out the free public version of the Tab|eau business intelligence tool.

I’m not sure I have the patience, or the smarts, to learn how to do all I’ve learned with Microsoft’s Power BI, but maybe I should. I’m astonished with the power of this map in filtering the data table!

(afraid the attempt at embedding on wordpress was a failure – but the link works!)