Today’s wind turbines are cost-effectively contributing to the reliability of the electricity grid
System operators in Canada and around the world recognize the value wind energy plays within an interconnected electrical system. Levels of wind energy integration are going up, and in many jurisdictions, large amounts of wind energy are being reliably and cost-effectively integrated within the electricity grid.
For example, Denmark now produces more than 44 per cent of its electricity from wind turbines on an annual basis. In the U.S., four states now generate 30 per cent or more of their electricity using wind energy.
A recent study of Canada’s wind energy resources and assets has shown that Canada can get more than one-third of its electricity from wind energy without compromising grid reliability – and at the same time realize economic and environmental benefits.
It is a myth that equal amounts of back-up power, such as natural gas or hydro generation, must be available to manage the variability of wind energy generation. Independent of wind energy, a level of reserve power is always maintained to manage existing grid variability – this reserve power is necessary for all types of electricity generation on the grid. The incremental reserve power required to manage the additional variability from wind represents only a small fraction of the total amount of wind energy added to the grid.
Technology is lowering costs while improving reliability
- Wind energy technology continues to improve, lowering the cost of wind turbines while increasing performance. For example, average rotor sizes have doubled since the 1980s, with much longer and lighter blades sweeping larger areas, capturing much more energy. Turbines have taller towers, more reliable drive trains and performance-optimizing control systems.
- State-of-the-art wind forecasting techniques allow utilities and grid operators to anticipate and plan for increases or decreases in wind energy output.
- With wind forecasting, changes in wind energy output are factored into grid operations much like variations in demand – both change over a matter of 30 minutes or even hours (not a matter of seconds, such as when fossil-fueled or nuclear plants experience an unexpected outage, or a tree falls on a transmission line).
Did You Know?
- The 2016 Pan-Canadian Wind Integration Study found that the Canadian power system, with adequate transmission reinforcements and additional regulating reserves, will not have any significant operational issues operating with 20 per cent or 35 per cent of its energy provided by wind generation. Canada’s provinces and territories would benefit in many ways by increasing wind energy development.
- Jurisdictions across the globe (and Prince Edward Island in Canada) already have wind energy providing more than 25 per cent of power to the grid and even higher.
Wind energy and energy storage
- Does wind energy need to be stored to increase its contribution to our electricity grids? What types of storage can be used? These are common questions asked of the wind energy industry.
- The Wind Energy Institute of Canada and Natural Resources Canada are conducting a study of energy storage systems on Prince Edward Island to store wind energy for peak demand periods while also ensuring voltage levels on the grid, reducing distribution and transmission losses, and providing back-up power at substations.
- Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator has a number of energy storage projects underway with a target of 50 megawatts of storage that could increase the reliability and flexibility of Ontario’s power system while accommodating much more renewable energy generation.
- The U.S. has already added more than 60,000 megawatts of wind power to its grid without adding commercial-scale storage. The American Wind Energy Association discusses how wind energy is integrated today with other forms of generation such as hydro and natural gas, and energy storage options for the future on its website.
- According to the Bloomberg New Energy Outlook 2018, by 2050 wind and solar technology are expected to provide almost 50 per cent of total electricity globally – “50 by 50” – with hydro, nuclear and other renewables taking total zero-carbon electricity up to 71 per cent. By 2050, only 29 per cent of the electricity production worldwide is forecast to result from burning fossil fuels, down from 63 per cent in 2018.
- Energy Systems Integration Group maintains a resource library focused on the design, operation and maintenance of integrated energy grids. Articles of interest include Energy Systems Integration: The Next Step Toward Sustainable Energy (May 2018) and ‘Comparison of Ancillary Services from Conventional and Renewable Plants (April 2018)
- The Pan-Canadian Wind Integration Study assesses the operational and economic implications of integrating large amounts of wind energy into the Canadian electricity system.