Excerpt from Cool Companies www.coolcompanies.ca By Claudia Sammer
World landscapes are now seen with large wind turbines harnessing the power of the abundant natural wind resource. Across the prairies and from offshore ocean sites, huge turbine blades spin from the earth’s moving air, turning wind into energy. Generators convert the wind energy into electricity, which is then carried to transmission lines and out to users, to power homes, businesses and industries. The big benefit of wind energy is that it requires no fuel and produces no greenhouse gases (GHG).
Canada’s wind potential is huge. In a study done by Harvard scientists concluded that, “If the top 10 CO2 emitting countries were ordered in terms of wind power potential, Russia would rank number 1, followed by Canada with the US in the third position” (Lu, McElroy, PNAS 2009). Despite its potential, the contribution of wind power generation in Canada is still very small compared to other countries. Canada’s current installed wind power generation totals 4,285 MW, which is enough to power over 1 million homes and represents 2% of Canada’s total electricity demand (CanWEA March 2011).
With all the focus on the oil sands, many people overlook the fact that Alberta has a world-class wind resource, especially in southern Alberta where the wind can blow strong and fast. Alberta’s total wind potential is estimated to be 64,000 MW (Pembina 2009). Wind speed is also very important since a doubling of wind speed corresponds to eight times more energy production (Pembina 2009).
Canada’s first wind turbine was erected in Pincher Creek, Alberta in 1993 and it expanded to become Cowley Ridge, the first commercial wind facility in Canada. Alberta was Canada’s leading wind energy producer for many years. In 2008, both Ontario and Quebec surpassed it. However, Alberta has gained some ground and is currently in second place with installed wind power capacity of 777 MW (Alberta Electric System Operator, March 2011). This contributes 6.5% to Alberta’s current total utility-scale electricity generation, and represents 18% of Canada’s total installed wind power base (Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) 2011).
Alberta has a number of wind power projects currently under construction. Greengate Power is currently developing nine wind energy projects totaling 1,550 MW of additional wind energy capacity. Greengate’s Halkirk Wind Project is being developed in two 150 MW phases. Phase I of the project, Halkirk I, will be Alberta’s largest wind farm when it comes online in 2011. This project will generate enough electricity to power approximately 50,000 homes.
Alberta has two wind energy equipment manufacturers developing innovative technology to increase wind energy production and revenue for large turbines around the world. Wind Smart (profiled p.22) is demonstrating a new low maintenance wind turbine which can capture more wind over wider wind speed ranges. Lancaster Wind Systems (profiled p.21) has an innovative energy storage system which leverages technology from the oil fields.
Wind energy isn’t only generated by big wind turbines. During the 1880’s in the United States, and early 1900’s in Canada, small wind mills dotted the prairies of North America creating energy sources for small farms (Canadian Centre for Energy Information). Today, there are a growing number of farms, rural homes and businesses installing small-scale wind turbines as their electricity source. At the end of 2009, nearly 11,000 small-scale wind turbines were installed across Canada for a total installed capacity of 12.6 MW (CanWEA). According to CanWEA, Canada is home to 50% of the world’s small-scale wind turbine manufacturers in the 30 to 50 kW range, and 75% in the 50 to 100 kW range. One of these small wind turbine manufacturers in Alberta is Clean Energy (profiled p.22).
To reduce its impact on the environment, Calgary Transit, the public transportation system for the City of Calgary, has used wind-generated electricity to operate its light rail transit system since 2001. It is the first and only transit system in North America to do so. By 2012, the City of Calgary plans to have 100% of its city operations powered by wind-generated electricity.
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RESEARCH IN ALBERTA