Why Wind Works
Wind energy in Canada
More wind energy has been built in Canada between 2006 and 2016 than any other form of electricity generation, with installed capacity growing by an average of 18 per cent per year between 2012 and 2016.
Wind energy currently supplies approximately six per cent of Canada’s electricity demand, generating enough power to meet the needs of almost 3.2 million Canadian homes. There are 285 wind farms operating from coast to coast, including projects in two of the three northern territories. In 2016, Canada’s wind generation grew by 702 megawatts (MW) spread among 21 new wind energy projects, representing an investment of about $1.5 billion. The installed capacity of wind generation reached 11,898 MW in 2016.
Every Canadian province is now benefiting from clean wind energy.
Interactive image courtesy of the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA)
Fact: Alberta is where it all started!
- Canada’s first commercial wind farm was built just outside of Pincher Creek, Alberta in 1993.
- Generating six per cent of Alberta’s electricity in 2016, wind energy helps to diversify Alberta’s electricity generation mix. Enough wind power is generated in the province to power approximately 625,000 average sized homes for one year. Alberta now ranks third in Canada with an installed wind energy capacity of 1,479 megawatts (MW).
- Technology advances have made wind energy one of the lowest cost options available. Costs for wind have already plummeted 66 per cent since 2009 (Lazard 10) and are projected to continue falling precipitously (Bloomberg).
Did You Know?
- Wind energy is one of the fastest growing major sources of new electricity around the world, with installations of more than 55,000 MW of new clean, reliable wind power during 2016. More than 80 countries have installed wind energy facilities, with the global leaders being China, the U.S., Germany, India, Spain, the U.K., France and Canada. The world’s total installed wind energy capacity at the end of 2016 was more than 486,000 MW.
- The Canadian Hydropower Association, Canadian Solar Industries Association, Canadian Wind Energy Association and Marine Renewables Canada came together with Clean Energy Canada to establish the Canadian Council on Renewable Electricity. The Council engages in research, collaboration and communications initiatives to encourage dialogue for increased use of Canada’s abundant renewable-electricity resources. Download a copy of Powering Climate Prosperity: Canada’s Renewable Electricity Advantage for the Council’s recommendations on steps Canada must take to prevent average global temperatures from rising above two degrees Celsius.
- The Trottier Energy Futures Project looks at the changes we can make today to build a low-carbon, sustainable energy future for Canada while taking into account economic, social and environmental concerns.
- Globally, a collaboration initiative of energy research is trying to understand how individual countries can transition to a low-carbon economy through The Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project.
How a wind turbine works
Wind turbines work on the same principle that allows airplanes to fly. The wind doesn’t push the blades, but passes over them. The resulting pressure difference between the upper and lower surfaces creates lift, which causes the rotor to turn.
As the blades of a wind turbine turn, the kinetic energy of the wind is converted into mechanical energy, which is transmitted through a drive shaft to an electrical generator in the nacelle. The resulting electrical current travels via underground cables to a substation, where it is converted to a higher voltage for the larger electricity transmission or distribution grid. From there, it’s delivered to the electric utility and customers.
The blades typically start to turn when the wind speed reaches approximately12 km/h and shut down when the winds become too strong, usually around 88 km/h. That operating range means wind turbines produce electricity between 70 and 90 per cent of the time. How much they generate at any given point depends on the wind speed.
Find out how a wind turbine works by using the Harness the Power of Wind interactive image at the top of this page.
Did you know?
- Wind farms are designed to last 25 years or longer and modern turbines require relatively little maintenance compared to other forms of electricity generation such as nuclear power.
- More than 4,000 MW of Canada’s wind generating capacity has been operating for five years or more, and as the country’s turbine fleet ages, it is becoming increasingly important for leaders in the industry to collectively focus on strategies to maximize wind farm performance and strive for operational excellence.
- A study commissioned by CanWEA in 2015 found the country’s wind energy operations and maintenance market was expected to nearly double to $450 million in annual spending by 2020, bringing new jobs and investment to Canada.
- Often at the end of their life, wind turbines are “re-powered”, which involves replacing older equipment with newer technology; the re-powered wind farm will then last another 20 -25 years after that.
- Wind energy is part of a “balanced energy diet” and is making a growing and positive contribution to our energy supply mix.
- Studies have shown that when a utility diversifies its power portfolio with the addition of wind energy, it can meet demands more reliably.
- Wind energy is a highly flexible form of electricity, and easily complements other sources of electricity such as hydro, solar or even natural gas.
- As more wind energy is added to the energy system, the overall carbon dioxide emissions of the power grid will continue to drop.
- Wind energy is helping to create a more modern, cleaner and flexible electricity system in countries around the world and here in Canada. With a world-class wind resource, we are just scratching the surface of our clean wind potential! Canada needs a variety of reliable, clean and safe sources of new energy to meet our growing electricity demand and to help reduce the impact of greenhouse gas emissions from our electricity sector.
Did you know?
- According to Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), wind energy’s contribution to that province’s electricity system continues to climb, now meeting about six per cent of the province’s electricity demand. Ontario was the first jurisdiction in North America to eliminate coal as a source of electricity generation.
- Over 95 per cent of the electricity produced in Quebec comes from hydroelectricity, which means that the province is heavily dependent on a single source of energy. Recurring years of low runoff over the last decade have limited the energy and power available and required the addition of wind energy.
- Alberta has an enormous wind potential, but still relies mostly on fossil fuels; the map of Alberta below shows the potential capacity factors that wind energy could achieve based on average wind speeds in the province, and the pie chart below that shows how Alberta generates its electricity.
Potential capacity factors for wind energy generation in Alberta:
How Alberta generates its electricity:
Wind energy is a reliable power partner
- Large amounts of wind energy are already being reliably and cost-effectively integrated with the electricity grid; utilities around the world continue to recognize the value wind energy can play within a larger, interconnected electrical transmission system.
- 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-fuelled or nuclear plants experience an unexpected outage, or a tree falls on a transmission line).
Did You Know?
- Based on real world operational experience, most electrical grids can obtain at least 20 per cent of their total electricity from wind energy without having to make substantial changes to the existing electrical grid. In fact, Denmark now produces more than 40 per cent of its electricity from wind turbines on an annual basis; in the U.S., Iowa got 37 per cent of its electricity from wind in 2016.
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. Its website discusses how well wind energy is integrated today with other forms of generation such as hydro and natural gas, and energy storage options for the future.
Support for wind energy
Public attitude research consistently shows that Canadians support wind energy. In Alberta, for example, Albertans strongly support increasing the amount of renewable energy supply such as wind power:
This 2015 Nanos Research survey shows most Albertans believe wind energy offers many positive benefits and should be part of helping to diversify the province’s mix of electricity sources. Other opinions held by Albertans include:
- Almost 80% of Albertans think the Government of Alberta should do more to develop renewable energy like wind and solar.
- Over half of Albertans surveyed (54%) think that more wind energy projects is the #1 way to combat greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
- The most popular piece of advice (34%) for the Premier of Alberta to improve environmental performance: Increase the supply of renewable energy like wind and solar energy.
Follow these topics in more detail using the following resources
- The International Energy Agency released a new study, IEA Energy Technology Perspectives 2017, in June 2017. The study predicts that renewable electricity generation will grow by 36 per cent between 2015-21, making it the fastest growing source of electricity generation globally. Onshore wind energy generation will almost double over this period. One reason for the expected growth is that record-low contract prices for wind energy were announced in 2016. The study clearly shows that growth in wind energy as well as other clean energy sources will be necessary if the goals of the Paris Climate Change Agreement are to be realized.
- IRENA’s REsource provides easy and free access to the largest amount of renewable energy information and data to date. REsource enables users to have rapid access to country-specific data, create customized charts and graphs, and compare countries on metrics like renewable energy use and deployment. It also provides information on renewable energy market statistics, potentials, policies, finance, costs, benefits, innovations, education and other topics.
- Hydro-Québec demonstrates how wind works and explains the relationship between wind turbines and hydroelectric dams.
- In Ontario, the sustainable and economic integration of wind energy is being addressed by organizations such as the IESO and Ministry of Energy.
- Wind Power in Ontario: Track wind’s output!
- Perspectives for Policymakers – Integrating Wind Power Into the Electrical Grid
- UVIG’s Variable Generation Integration Library provides an overview and summary of wind integration studies from North America and around the world.
- CanWEA’s Pan-Canadian Wind Integration Study assesses the operational and economic implications of integrating large amounts of wind energy into the Canadian electricity system.
- Electric Utilities and Wind Power – A Good Mix Fact Sheet by the American Wind Energy Association.