In a piece I wrote that was published in The Telegram on Oct. 7, and posted online Oct. 9, we saw that a key finding of the McKinley study in the United States was that a program offering 50 per cent rebates, funded by an electricity rate increase of only four per cent, gives a 24 per cent “reduction” in customers’ electricity bills.
By spending 10 times more than we do to assist “customers” with energy efficiency, they also reduce system demand by more than two per cent per year, often saving the expense of a new generation source, and at one-third the cost.
For Newfoundland there are important differences. We use electricity for heating, and they use gas. Our residential consumption is high, at 50 per cent of total. Our load is skewed. The high winter demand, at more than twice the summer load, is problematic. The winter peak demand is beyond the capacity of our hydro generation, so 12 per cent is supplied by the Holyrood oil-fired plant.
Nalcor correctly states that our winter electric heat has been the main driver for increased demand. Our residential load is 69 per cent for heat, 11 per cent for hot water, 20 per cent for appliances, lights and other products. Houses use less energy per unit, but more and larger houses and conversions from oil heat is the rationale for a new generation source.
Conservation would pay off
Nevertheless, the size and season of these heating loads is a very fortunate combination. The energy-
efficiency approach, when specifically applied to electric heating, would give more savings than the McKinley study found for the U.S. The solution offers many benefits:
1. It reduces instead of increases customer electricity bills.
2. It reduces transmission losses, a utility expense.
3. It allows us to reach 98 per cent green energy.
4. It will incrementally reduce Holyrood oil consumption allowing some fuel cost savings to be passed back to consumers.
5. It saves on water resources, important in dry years when rainfall is low.
6. It reduces air pollution.
7. It aids our commitment on the environmental global warming issue.
8. It helps flatten our load curve with less winter demand, which reduces the size and cost of future replacement backup generation systems.
9. It brings synergy savings (where technology works together) and would more than double the savings from efficient compact bulbs, fridges, TVs and hot water tanks.
Such good fortune lies in the fact that our winter heating load is an excellent fit for the heating technology that has matured, is reliable, and suitable for our climate. It’s an opportunity to benefit from these latest advances and high efficiencies. The relatively low equipment cost is due to the mass production by several world class manufacturers.
The familiar way of heating with electricity is to heat direct with a resistance heating element. It is cheap and reliable, but a century old and very wasteful of electricity. The newer way heats indirectly. Powered by electricity, it transfers energy from the adjacent earth, water or air, into the house. It elevates the temperature suitable for residential space heat or for hot water.
This method is not new to Newfoundland, having been used for more than 20 years, and is now mandatory for our large government buildings. Worldwide, smaller residential units are used for heating, cooling and humidity control.
Efficiency is the great advantage. During winter cold snaps these units produce the same heat as regular heaters, but use about one-third the power. At milder temperatures, in minimum heat mode, newer models can use as little as one-sixth the power.
A hydro source that would normally supply 1,000 houses with heat and hot water could supply 3,000 houses in cold conditions, and 4,000 or more at other times. The equipment cost, in kilowatts of heat supplied, continues to drop, while power generation plant and transmission costs escalate.
If efficiency is a viable contribution to avoid new generation, one must first consider the magnitude of this resource. An analysis to quantify the extent of such savings on an island-wide basis is readily done using Nalcor’s data: 50 per cent of the island load is residential, of which 69 per cent is for electric heat and, applying the 65 per cent efficiency factor (7,642 x 0.5 x 0.69 x 0.67) gives the saving of 1,766 gigawatt hours. This is 23 per cent of our yearly total generation.
More importantly, it is 206 per cent of the yearly generation production of Holyrood. Such large savings would, first and foremost, go to offset the expense of oil and reduce pollution.
There are other significant savings from commercial heat, residential and commercial hot water, at about 774 gigawatt hours. Basement insulation and efficient appliances can offer savings of 840 gigawatt hours. And transmission loss savings, another 100, for a total of 3,480 gigawatt hours. A potential savings of 45.5 per cent of all generation is almost twice the 26 per cent saving potential in the U.S.
It should not be surprising that our potential is twice that of the U.S. given that we use so much electricity for heat. What is surprising is that Nalcor proposed to save only nine gigawatt hours per year for the next 20 years. Manitoba Hydro International concurred with this, saying “technology efficiency savings were approaching a saturation point.” They reasoned that most upgrades for the housing sector are already done. But this applies only to the building shell construction. The serious oversight and error in their analysis is in excluding the savings of proven technology to the space heating and hot water for both residential and commercial sectors.
For all potential saving of the domestic plus commercial sectors of 3,480 gigawatt hours, it is four times last year’s 855 gigawatt hour total production from Holyrood.
I will look at achieveable saving and costs in a future letter.
Winston Adams lives in Logy Bay. He has a B.Eng. (electrical) and experience in generation and distribution and heating systems. He is not a member of the Professional Engineers and Geoscientists Newfoundland and Labrador.