Adding more wind to the Ontario grid: no problem!

June 5, 2017

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:

  • Currently meeting about 6 per cent of its electricity demand using wind, Ontario could reliably integrate about 16,000 megawatts of wind energy (which would be able to meet more than a third of electricity demand in the scenario studied).
  • The additional amount of electricity generation reserves required to back up that 16,000 MW of wind (beyond the reserve capacity already in the system) would be as small as 196 megawatts, or 1.2 per cent of the wind energy capacity.
  • Wind energy, which is now the least-cost option for new electricity generation available in Ontario, would avoid about $49 per megawatt-hour of production costs within the electricity system if it supplied 35 per cent of Ontario’s electricity demand.
  • While additional transmission capacity between Ontario and other provinces would be necessary to accommodate a total of 16,000 megawatts of wind energy, the pay-back period would be only a few years and new clean energy exports would result in tens of millions of dollars of additional revenue.
  • With 16,000 megawatts of wind energy capacity, Ontario could avoid more than 4.5 million metric tons of greenhouse gases annually from its natural gas generators.

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.

Brandy Giannetta
Ontario Regional Director at the Canadian Wind Energy Association