By Dr. Jim McCaa, Manager of Advanced Applications
& Francesca Davidson, Energy Communications Expert
Ranked seventh in the world for installed wind capacity, Canada has a strong base of operational projects and is no stranger to the wind sector. With outstanding wind resources across the country, the market still holds room for growth as Canada looks to transition to a low-carbon economy. This shift requires decreased dependence on fossil fuels, especially in the energy and transportation sectors, which can expand wind-power output over the next 15 years.
However, bringing online a large volume of wind energy in a short time may challenge the integrity and reliability of the country’s electrical grid. Adapting Canada’s transmission system to handle a larger percentage of variable renewable sources, while feasible, does not happen overnight. It requires anticipating pressures the transition may place on the energy system and evaluating options for the change, such as advanced wind forecasting and more flexible dispatching of other generation resources to mitigate affects on grid stability.
To help accomplish this, the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) and Natural Resources Canada invested in the recently completed Pan-Canadian Wind Integration Study (PCWIS). This research is the first of its kind to cover Canada in its entirety, including a number of new cross-border opportunities given Canada’s access to many portions of the northern U.S. electrical grid.
The study also marks a successful public-private collaboration because it brought together the collective resources of government and industry. It combined CanWEA’s knowledge of Canadian energy markets and Environment Canada’s forecasting infrastructure with the power-system expertise of GE Energy Consulting and the weather and power-modeling capabilities of Vaisala.
Through this work, Canada has made substantial strides toward improving its understanding of the role wind energy can play in its future energy mix.
How much wind can Canada’s grid handle?
When government and energy stakeholders of a country contemplate a shift from about 4% wind generation to a future with a third or more, you can expect apprehension and questions. How much can the current transmission system handle before it breaks? What is the tipping point? Will the benefits of carbon-free wind energy outweigh the risks? How much back-up reserve generation is required, and what will it cost?
The PCWIS analyzed several future possibilities, including scenarios where wind made up 20 and 35% of the system total. The collaborating organizations went to work to collect and research massive amounts of wind data across Canada and northern parts of the U.S. to quantify the impact of integrating these quantities of wind power into the grid.
Together with Environment Canada, Vaisala leveraged the numerical weather prediction (NWP) modeling capabilities of both organizations and then applied advanced statistical techniques to accurately predict wind-power production across large geographic areas and long-term climatological windows.
The resulting dataset includes three years of meteorological data at 10-minute intervals and two-kilometer horizontal resolution. It also detailed energy production profiles for nearly 55,000 potential onshore and offshore wind project locations.
GE Consulting then combined the wind generation estimates with transmission, generation, and load data on Canada’s electricity systems to model present and future scenarios. The final report concluded that even under the 20 and 35% wind energy scenarios, Canada can integrate wind reliably and cost-effectively.
This is in large part because the levels of required regulation reserves are much lower than initially estimated. Though reserve levels increase with additional wind, it is on average less than 2% of newly added capacity.
Benefits to the Canadian wind industry
At COP21 in 2015, the Paris Climate Conference, Canada committed to reducing its carbon emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. The country also supported the more aggressive global warming limit of 1.5°C. The PCWIS has provided good news to Canadian leaders mapping out the pathway toward compliance with these commitments. The modest transmission and regulation reserves needed to ensure a stable grid mean that wind power can play an enhanced role in reducing the carbon footprint of Canada’s electricity industry.
In addition, the study demonstrated the potential for wind energy exports from Canada to the U.S. CanWEA and Canadian Solar Industries Association (CanSIA) have partnered and formed a climate action team. One of the team’s recommendations is to develop a Canadian renewable electricity export strategy. The PCWIS report shows that Canada has the ability to do this while strengthening its own infrastructure.
Given the nation’s extensive wind resources and the amount of new clean energy capacity needed for the country meet its commitments and achieve its vision for a transformed energy economy, wind is bound to play a key role in Canada’s clean energy future.
Filed Under: News