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Ottawa's reliance on batteries to back up wind and solar power: A cautionary tale for governments everywhere

By Tom Harris with contributions from Mary-Jean Harris
web posted July 31, 2023

As demonstrated in the report issued by the International Climate Science Coalition - Canada, the City of Ottawa's Climate Change Master Plan is costly, infeasible and ultimately dangerous to the public. Arguably its most insane element is the plan to introduce batteries to backup wind and solar power for windless periods or when it is cloudy (or at night). In its all-encompassing and nonsensical plan to 'stop global warming,' the City has adopted short, mid, and long-term greenhouse gas reduction targets based on 2012 levels. The brain trust at the city actually think they can, and will, reduce Community emissions by 100 per cent by 2050, and city operations emissions by 100% by 2040. All this in a city of one million souls with temperatures often down to minus 30 degrees Celsius.

The magnitude of the "renewable" energy projects that Ottawa plans to engage in to meet its net-zero targets are astonishing: 36 square kilometres of rooftop solar will be required, a 161,485% increase over today's levels, 710 industrial wind turbines, each taller than the Peace Tower, and 122 large shipping containers of lithium batteries for power storage. Each of these projects will be devastating to the City.

To reduce emissions by 100% by 2050, we would need enough electricity storage for renewable power to meet demand and offset emissions on the provincial power grid. The model relied upon by the City indicates that the following will be needed:

  • Solar photovoltaic (PV) reaches 1,060 MW by 2050 (approximately 36 km2 of solar PV47)

  • Wind generation reaches 3,218 MW by 2050 (approximately 710 large scale turbines)

  • 310 MW of local energy storage by 2030 and 612 MW by 2050 (122 large shipping containers of lithium batteries)

It is extremely expensive to provide bulk electricity storage using batteries as well as inefficient. David Wojick, a Virginia-based Ph.D. in the logic and philosophy of science, explains in his article "California secretly struggles with renewables" (January 19, 2021):

"California has hooked up a grid battery system that is almost ten times bigger than the previous world record holder, but when it comes to making renewables reliable it is so small it might as well not exist. The new battery array is rated at a storage capacity of 1,200 megawatt hours (MWh); easily eclipsing the record holding 129 MWh Australian system built by Tesla a few years ago. However, California peaks at a whopping 42,000 MW. If that happened on a hot, low wind night this supposedly big battery would keep the lights on for just 1.7 minutes (that's 103 seconds) …The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that grid scale battery systems have averaged around $1.5 million a MWh over the last few years. At that price this trivial piece of storage cost just under TWO BILLION DOLLARS. At 103 seconds of peak storage that is about $18,000,000 a second. Money for nothing."

These huge expenses are not only unwarranted, but futile in providing power to a large city. While California can benefit from air conditioning in its hot summers, Ottawa requires dependable very high-quality heat in its bitterly cold winters. It truly becomes a matter of life or death, especially for the elderly or those with illnesses who are susceptible to the cold.

Moreover, storage of renewable energy has never been achieved on a large scale before, and it would thus be irresponsible to attempt it without further research. Professor Jacques Treiner, Associate researcher at LIED (Université Paris-Diderot), says that:

"Today when it comes to using renewable energies on a large scale, we don't know how to store energy. If we knew how to do it, on the days of high production, we would stock it and we would use it during moments of low production. But we do not know how to do that on a massive scale. And so, we cannot, at the moment, envisage an electrical mix that is 100% renewable energy."

The low-capacity contributions for wind and solar power mean that large quantities of back-up power are require if we are to avoid daily blackouts. With today's technology, significant bulk battery storage of electricity is impractical and extremely expensive. Currently, the use of bulk energy storage by batteries increases the cost of delivered electricity by 10 times the cost of the renewable generation itself. We have to ask if the citizens of Ottawa, and indeed, any city introducing similar climate change plans, are prepared to cover this expense.

Most electric batteries are lithium based and rely on a mix of rare earth metals and cobalt, manganese, nickel, and graphite. Such materials require massive amounts of energy to mine, transport, process, and refine, far greater than the extraction and transport of oil and natural gas. Mining and mineral processing also require large volumes of water and can pose contamination risks from mine drainage and wastewater discharge.

When mining rare earth metals, about 90% of what is pulled up from the ground contains uranium, thorium, and other radioactive nuclides. This radioactive waste can pose serious risks if it is not properly disposed of. In China, for example, champion of rare earth metals, in Heilongjiang province, a carpet of toxic dust covers agricultural regions.

China controls most of the lithium and cobalt, both important components of solar panels, wind turbines, and batteries, which are often produced with child labor and near-slave labor, with practically no health, safety, or environmental safeguards.

ICSC-Canada Economics/Policy Advisor Robert Lyman explained:

"A recent United Nations report warned that the raw materials used in EV batteries are highly concentrated in a small number of countries where environmental, labor and safety regulations are weak or non-existent. 'Artisanal' cobalt production in the Democratic Republic of the Congo now supplies two-thirds of the global output of the mineral. Many of the mines employ child labor in extremely dangerous tasks. Up to 40,000 children are estimated to be working in extremely dangerous conditions, with inadequate safety equipment, for very little money in the mines in Southern Katanga."

This is just a sample of the injustices to meet current raw material requirements for wind and solar power. Imagine the raw material demands, Third World mining, child labor conditions and ecological destruction, under the huge demands of the planned "green" energy expansion.

We can see that, as large-scale wind and solar power must rely on large-scale lithium battery storage, they are entirely infeasible and, indeed, immoral to introduce in our society. We need to supply our citizens with inexpensive, reliable and plentiful energy, which cannot be achieved with renewable energy no many how many batteries are hooked up to these flimsy power sources.

The City of Ottawa's Climate Change Master Plan is doomed to failure. However, it does have one bright side. As Ottawans freeze in the dark because of our useless virtue signalling, politicians in other jurisdictions may very well take heed to not fall into the same environmental extremism trap. Let's hope they learn from our mistakes. ESR

Tom Harris is Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition - Canada (ICSC-Canada). He and Mary-Jean Harris live in Ottawa. The ICSC-Canada report on Ottawa's plan may be seen at Ottawa's Climate Change Plan | ICSC - Canada.

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