Study paves way for North American integration

CANADA: Canada can reliably and cost-effectively get more than one third of its electricity from wind energy, according to a new integration study.

Canada produces more than 80% of its electricity from non-carbon sources

The Pan-Canadian Wind Integration Study, published in July, was conducted by a GE Energy Consulting-led team for the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CANWEA).

It took a first-ever look into how the country's notoriously siloed provincial power markets can better co-ordinate their efforts, and opened the door to broader North American collaboration for a higher penetration of renewable generation across the continent.

The study found no operational barriers to Canada achieving a 35% wind penetration by 2025. Getting to that mark, equivalent to 65.2GW of installed wind capacity, would require more cross-border power transfers between provinces and the US. That would necessitate the construction of 10GW of new transmission connections between markets.

But with wind displacing more expensive coal- and gas-fired generation in both Canada and the US, the study found that operating cost savings would pay for the C$3.7 billion (US$2.8 billion) capital cost of those lines in just three years.

As well as realising fuel-cost savings, Canada would benefit from increased export revenue, said the report. For every megawatt hour of additional wind generation produced in Canada, electricity exports to the US would increase by 0.5MWh.

Both countries would share in the reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions resulting from new wind capacity in Canada, which, at a 35% penetration level, would amount to 32.3 million metric tonnes (MMT) in Canada, and 46.5 MTT on the more fossil-intensive US grid.

Economically feasible

The study did not quantify the cost of building the new wind farms or interconnecting them to the grid, but its analysis concluded the proposed wind energy additions are "very likely to be economically feasible".

The Pan-Canadian analysis comes close behind the agreement signed in late June by the leaders of Canada, the US and Mexico to collectively source 50% of their electricity from carbon-free generation sources by 2025.

The pact flagged increased collaboration on cross-border transmission as key to their efforts, with at least five international power line projects between Canada and the US, and one between the US and Mexico on the drawing board.

It also referenced plans for a North American renewable-integration study to analyse the potential impact of high penetrations of variable generation sources in each country, and the benefits of coordinated planning and operation.

The Pan-Canadian study is a key step in that broader analysis, said CANWEA president Robert Hornung. "At one level this study is important for what it says, but, in fact, it may be even more important for what it enables," he said.

"Because it is the first such study ever undertaken in Canada, it provides us with a data set that enables us to do further research. The North American study could not have proceeded in the absence of the Pan-Canadian study," added Hornung.

Canada, which produces more than 80% of its electricity from non-carbon sources, compared with about 33% in the US, and less than 20% in Mexico, is already contributing heavily to meeting North America's new 50% goal.

However, the Pan-Canadian integration study signals there remains scope for wind power in Canada, particularly operating in concert with the country's massive hydro resources, to do more.

"What it indicates is that the solution does not just lie in increasing renewables in the US and Mexico," said Hornung.