The notion of adding large amounts of additional wind energy to the Ontario grid has been met with concern in that doing so may make the grid less reliable, or that it would need a lot of new back-up supply to maintain reliability. Recent research and operating experience in Ontario and elsewhere demonstrates that this concern is unfounded.
In July 2016, the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) and Natural Resources Canada released a three-year study, the Pan-Canadian Wind Integration Study, showing that much more wind energy could be reliably added to electricity grids across Canada. The study included input from many Canadian and U.S. electricity system operators, including Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO).
Here is what the study found with respect to Ontario:
How is it that this amount of wind energy could be added, given that wind is a variable energy resource?
Across North America and Europe, jurisdictions are demonstrating that high wind penetrations can be reliably integrated into the grid. In the U.S., for example, Iowa got 37 per cent of its electricity from wind in 2016.
One improvement has been in forecasting – Ontario’s IESO has implemented a centralized wind forecasting service with greater than 90 per cent accuracy. And even when wind speeds decrease, wind output changes tend to be gradual and predictable, especially since wind facilities tend to be dispersed over large areas. It’s easier for system operators to accommodate wind’s variability than to have to replace the production from a less flexible nuclear or natural gas generating unit that suddenly goes offline.
Other improvements include efforts to better coordinate regional grid operations, dispatch generators at faster time intervals, and implement programs that can reduce demand quickly (such as Peaksaver in Ontario and industrial demand response). These not only make it easier to accommodate much more wind, they also make the entire grid more efficient for all.
It’s increasingly obvious that we are only beginning to reap the benefits of wind energy in Ontario. Much more low-cost, emission-free and increasingly-reliable wind power is both possible and desirable.