Why Wind Works
Answering your questions about wind energy
While wind energy has enjoyed growing success in many countries for several decades, it is a relatively new contributor to the power system here in Canada. As such, it is natural for people to have questions. As a responsible industry, we are committed to ensuring Canadians have the most up-to-date factual information on wind energy.
The Wind Facts pages contain facts and resources that address a number of areas of key interest to Canadians: how wind works, health, reliability, affordability and environment and wildlife.
Wind energy in Canada
More wind energy has been built in Canada between 2006 and 2017 than any other form of electricity generation, with installed capacity growing by an average of 15 per cent per year between 2012 and 2017.
Wind energy currently supplies approximately six per cent of Canada’s electricity demand, generating enough power to meet the needs of over three million Canadian homes. There are 295 wind farms operating from coast to coast, including projects in two of the three northern territories. In 2017, Canada’s wind generation grew by 341 megawatts (MW) spread among 10 new wind energy projects, representing an investment of about $800 million. The installed capacity of wind generation reached 12,239 MW in 2017.
Every Canadian province is now benefiting from clean wind energy.
Did You Know?
- Wind energy is one of the fastest growing major sources of new electricity around the world, with installations of more than 52,500 MW of new clean, reliable wind power during 2017. More than 90 countries have installed wind energy facilities, with the global leaders being China, the U.S., Germany, India, Spain, Brazil, the U.K., France, Brazil, Canada and Italy. The world’s total installed wind energy capacity at the end of 2017 was approximately 540,000 MW.
- Technology advances have made wind energy one of the lowest cost options available. Costs for wind have already plummeted 67 per cent since 2009 (Lazard 11) and are projected to continue falling precipitously (Bloomberg).
- 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.
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 Canada’s energy supply mix.
- Wind energy is a reliable source of power and 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 7.5 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.
- Wind energy prices continue to decline as the technology continues to improve, lowering the cost of wind turbines while at the same time increasing performance. Today wind turbines are more cost-effective and reliable than ever.
- 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!
- Energy Systems Integration Group (ESIG; formerly UVIG) 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)’
- 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.
- Utilities and Wind Power: information from the American Wind Energy Association.