Cost of integrating wind power: Canada, US & International



Source: GE's North American Renewable Study summary/infographic 'There is not a hard limit: Power grids can accommodate substantial levels of wind and solar power'.

In July 2016 GE Energy Consulting completed the multi-year Pan-Canadian Wind Integration study, co-funded by Natural Resources Canada, in order to assess the implications of integrating large amounts of wind in the Canadian electrical system.

The study considered four scenarios with wind penetration ranging from 5 percent to 35 percent of total Canadian electricity demand. The study is highly relevant given SaskPower's recently announced 2030 renewable energy targets. These will see wind generating just over 20 percent of Saskatchewan's electricity 15 years from now.

The study findings indicate that the Canadian power system, with adequate transmission reinforcements and additional regulating reserves, will not have any significant operational issues if 35 percent of its electricity is provided by wind turbines. More information in this July blog post (which contains links to the study).

United States


The American Wind Energy Association has produced an excellent summary and explanation of terms, concepts and studies related to the electrical integration of wind energy.

For detailed and informative electro-technical studies from across the US - then an excellent place to start with a (relatively!) easy, non-technical, read is this 2015 NREL summary 'Review and Status of Wind Integration and Transmission in the United States: Key issues and lessons learned'.

If you're after something a bit more technical: try the Utility Variable-Generation Integration Group (UVIG), previously known as the Utility Wind Integration Group (UWIG). UVIG was established in 1989 to provide a forum for the critical analysis of wind and solar technology for utility applications and to serve as a source of credible information on the status of wind and solar technology and deployment. It is US-based but works with system operators and utilities around the world. It has an excellent database of reports and studies which can, however, get a bit of out of date - if you want the full list then you'll have to join!

In addition to that material two studies deserve a particular mention;

The Western Wind and Solar Integration Study is a multi-year study of the electrical implications of integrating significant volumes of wind and solar power on the US portion of the Western Interconnection. Summary information.

The Eastern Renewable Generation Integration Study is a multi-year U.S. Department of Energy-funded research project designed to simulate operations of the largest power system in the world with high penetrations of wind and solar generation.  Summary information.




At the 2005 Gleneagles G8 Summit, the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) was tasked with assessing the challenges of efficient integration of variable renewables (mainly wind and solar) in power systems. This marked the starting point for IEA analysis on the topic which culminated in February 2014 when the IEA presented 'The Power of Transformation – Wind, Sun and the Economics of Flexible Power Systems'. The report is long (238 pages) and the following quote is taken from the Executive Summary;


"Based on a thorough assessment of flexibility options currently available for VRE (Variable Renewable Energy) integration, a major finding of this publication is that large shares of VRE (up to 45% in annual generation) can be integrated without significantly increasing power system costs in the long run. However, cost-effective integration calls for a system-wide transformation. Moreover, each country may need to deal with different circumstances in achieving such a transformation"


For those preferring a bit more technical detail: 

The IEA has established a number of 'Implementing Agreements' to assist IEA member countries in advancing various energy technologies. The IEA 'Wind Agreement' was established in 1977: it sponsors cooperative research tasks and provides a forum for international discussion of research and development issues. It has divided its activities into various tasks one of which, Task 25, is to provide information to facilitate the highest economically feasible wind energy penetration within electricity power systems worldwide.

In 2013 Task 25, consisting of representation from utilities in Canada, the US, Europe and Japan, published 'Design and operation of power systems with large amounts of wind power. Final summary report, IEA WIND Task 25, phase two 2009-2011'.  That report provides a summary of the results from recent wind integration studies. Those studies address concerns about the impact of wind power's variability and uncertainty on power system reliability and costs as well as grid reinforcement needs. Observable results are presented as summary graphs.

The following chart is taken from that report and shows the increased balancing and operating costs associated with wind penetration levels ranging from 0 to 30 percent of gross (i.e. total) electrical demand.


Source: IEA Wind task 25. 'Design & Operation of Power Systems with Large Amounts of Wind Power'. Figure 14.


The data shows that even at 30 percent wind penetration, additional balancing and operating costs are only $7 per megawatt hour. To put this in context: that is equivalent to 0.7 cents per kilowatt hour or about 10 percent of the wholesale price of electricity. It is not hard to see that this amount is not material - especially when one considers the multiple positive aspects of wind energy including a hedge against gas price volatility, protection from a future carbon price and substantial public health benefits.