Wind energy destined to become immune to partisan politics
June 24, 2019
Four major trends are boosting support for more wind energy in Canada
Despite differing policy approaches to renewable energy in Canada, I believe that wind energy is destined to become a non-partisan issue that is supported by all political parties.
Four trends are making wind energy more immune to politics:
- Firstly, wind energy is the lowest-cost option for new electricity generation.
- Secondly, it is clean, and clean matters.
- Thirdly, it is increasingly contributing to the reliability of the grid.
- Fourthly, wind energy fits well within an evolving and transforming power system.
Let’s look closer at these four trends, starting with affordability.
Customers across Canada are concerned about affordability of electricity. In response, cost is becoming the primary objective of energy policy makers and system operators. This is great news for wind energy.
Wind energy costs have fallen dramatically – by 69 per cent between 2009 and 2018 according to Lazard’s annual study in the U.S. And they are expected to continue falling. Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecasts wind energy costs will drop another 47 per cent between 2017 and 2040.
Here in Canada, recent auctions have secured wind power for as low as $35 per megawatt hour. Wind energy is now the lowest-cost option for new electricity generation. Because it has the lowest levelized cost of energy, wind energy has become increasingly attractive as all political parties contemplate how to meet voter demands for lower costs.
Now let’s talk about clean energy.
Wind energy produces no air or water pollution, and does not generate toxic, hazardous or radioactive waste. The technology uses significantly less water than virtually any other form of large-scale electricity generation. Wind energy is a very environmentally-sustainable way to produce power.
It also does not generate greenhouse gas emissions. That matters in today’s carbon-constrained world. It means wind energy has an important role to play in addressing the greatest environmental challenge of our time: climate change.
All political parties are under significant pressure on climate change. The debate has shifted from whether or not climate change is real, to how to fix the problem. Wind energy must and will have a major role to play in any credible climate change strategy, both through the de-carbonization of the electricity grid and the increased use of electricity to substitute for fossil fuels in transportation, buildings and industry.
That brings us to the imperative of reliability.
Most citizens only think about electricity when it isn’t there – and when it isn’t, they let their elected officials know about it. Reliable electricity is a major priority for all political parties.
Historically it has been a challenge to convince policy makers that reliable electricity grids can accommodate significant quantities of wind energy. But there are now many jurisdictions around the world with high levels of wind energy integration. In Canada, the 2016 Pan-Canadian Wind Integration study done by GE with funding from Natural Resources Canada shows that wind energy can reliably supply more than one-third of Canada’s power needs. One Canadian province and six U.S. states already generate 20 per cent or more of their electricity using wind energy.
Higher wind turbine capacity factors and monitoring improvements are making wind forecasting more precise. There are also innovative electricity grid developments – both on power lines and at customer locations – facilitating higher penetrations of renewable energy, including expanded energy storage options.
Wind energy can also provide ancillary services that system operators need for daily grid reliability and emergency situations. Wind energy can often provide these ancillary services more quickly and cost-effectively than conventional generation.
Reliable electricity grids can have high levels of wind penetration. Addressing concerns about reliability will remove the last remaining barrier to securing broad non-partisan support for wind energy.
Finally, electricity systems are entering a period of disruption and transformation.
Smart grids, smart homes, and the growing ability of customers – homeowners, businesses, and industries – to become generators, are pushing electricity systems to become more diverse, decentralized and distributed. Customers are becoming participants in the electricity system.
Once again, this is good news for wind energy. System operators value options that offer maximum flexibility. Megaprojects are becoming too financially risky. Climate change regulations must be met. So flexible, scalable and quick-to-build energy solutions are most attractive.
Once again wind energy stands out. It can be built quickly and at whatever capacity is needed. It has no fuel costs and very few environmental costs. Wind energy fits well in a traditional grid or in a distributed setting. It partners well with other renewable energies such as solar and hydro, as well as energy storage technologies, all of which help to manage variability. Plus, wind energy provides economic benefits in rural and Indigenous communities.
These four energy trends position wind energy for the future. As politicians and policy makers grapple with the issues of affordability, climate change, reliability and technological change, we can expect them to become advocates for wind and renewable energy. If that is the case, politicians will no longer see renewable energy as a wedge issue, but rather as a good way to stay on the right side of voters.
Learn more about the trends that are making wind energy the competitive choice for Canada’s energy future: