Vast potential in thinking small -- Remote areas targeted

Canada's market for wind systems in the 300 Watt to 300 kW range is very small, but the right combination of policies could turn it into a multibillion dollar business, according to Marbek Resource Consultants, which conducted a study into the potential of small wind energy systems for Natural Resources Canada. The Canadian wind industry is now hoping to help kick start that growth with a proposal for a C$40 million demonstration program to introduce high penetration wind-diesel systems into ten remote communities.

Sales of small wind systems totalled about 1 MW in 2003, most in the 1 kW and smaller size range, says Marbek's Sean Whittaker. The total installed capacity of small wind in Canada is about 4.5 MW, producing about 6 GWh a year. "Anecdotally, we knew before that the market was quite small and these numbers verify that," Whittaker told delegates attending a Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) seminar on small wind energy systems. "In fact we were surprised. It turned out to be much smaller than we thought it would be."

The potential, on the other hand, is significant. If 1% of Canada's 800,000 off-grid lodges invested in wind for battery charging, says Whittaker, it represents a C$140 million investment. If 1% percent of Canadian homes offset their purchases of electricity from the grid with their own generation, it represents a C$4.9 billion market, and if wind provided 5% of farm electricity demand, the economy would see another C$1 billion of investment.

System cost

The biggest hurdle to tapping into those markets is system cost, says Whittaker, which can be mitigated by direct incentives like rebates and tax breaks. Industry participants surveyed by Marbek also complain that Canada lacks a coordinated policy for small wind turbines. "That is a direct signal for government and industry saying this is what we want to happen with the small wind turbine industry," he says. Lack of uniformity in bylaws and permitting at the local level is a problem, as is an effective net metering policy under which own generation can be offset against grid purchases. Whittaker points out that while Canada has four manufacturers of small turbines larger than 20 kW, some jurisdictions are considering net metering thresholds of 10 kW.

Lack of consumer awareness is also a barrier, one CanWEA hopes to deal with by setting up a small-wind web site. CanWEA's president Robert Hornung says the association gets 1500-2000 calls a year from consumers interested in small wind systems. "We may not have a big market in Canada right now for small wind, but there is a lot of interest."

Although it is scattered, progress is being made on the policy front. Nova Scotia Power's renewable energy plan calls for 10 MW of net metering installations, while Prince Edward Island passed legislation in December to allow net metering for generators up to 100 kW in size. Hydro-Quebec filed proposed conditions for a self-generation program for residential and commercial consumers with that province's energy board late last year, and Ontario, Canada's largest power market, released a draft net metering regulation in January proposing a threshold of 500 kW. "Jurisdictions are just beginning to wrestle with small wind issues. I think we are at the beginning of a wave here," says Hornung.


The use of wind power in Canada's 400 remote communities carries its own set of challenges, including grid integration, cold climate operation, utility resistance, limited opportunities for economies of scale, and high maintenance costs due to lack of local skilled labour. Nonetheless, the communities could benefit significantly from wind energy development. Most rely on imported diesel fuel for power generation, resulting in electricity costs ranging from C$0.25-C$1/kWh.

About 40-60 of those communities, CanWEA estimates, have large enough loads and adequate local wind resources to deploy high penetration wind-diesel systems, not only reducing the use of fossil fuel for electricity generation and heating by more than 50%, but also extending diesel plant life.

The association has asked the federal government to fund a five year demonstration program to install the systems in ten communities. The proposed budget includes C$25 million over five years for research and development to help overcome technical barriers and identify candidate communities, and C$15 million over the program's final three years to install the systems.

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