GE Energy Consulting has just completed and published this 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 annual system load. 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. Of course this leads one to question how much that additional regulating reserve and the new transmission, will cost. Not much: but read on...

 

 

The report is a great read but, at 496 pages, it's likely that not many people will do so in full. So here's a summary.

The bottom line, as noted above, is wind could economically and reliably generate 35 percent of Canada's total annual electricity needs. That's pretty major in itself but buried within the report are some additional pearls of wisdom;

Relative economics of wind. Even without including a carbon tax, the report notes that wind energy displaces more expensive gas and coal-fired generation.  In other words wind energy is cheaper than both. 

That may come as a surprise to some but is in line with U.S. Government and private sector cost estimates as well as experience from the mix of new generation (mainly wind and solar as it happens) being built across North America. 

Hydro and wind as complements. Due to its uniquely fast response time at minimal additional cost, hydro with pondage (i.e. not run-of-river) provides a valuable complement to wind generation. This combination of wind and hydro provides a firm energy resource for use within Canada or for exports to the USA.  It is this unique hydro capability which is critical to the headline report conclusion (of 35 percent wind penetration). 

Regulation requirements. To mitigate wind variability additional fast acting regulating reserves will be required. However the amount of such regulating reserve is relatively minor representing less than 1.7 percent of the total wind capacity installed in the 35 percent wind scenario. Given that the cost of new gas plant is similar to that of wind - this implies a regulating reserve premium of less than 2 percent which is not significant.

Source: GE Energy Consulting Group 'Pan Canadian Wind Integration Study Section 1: Summary Report

Transmission reinforcement. Increases in new wind generation will result in new electricity flow patterns and hence new transmission capacity in regions with increased flows. These needs were assessed and are summarised in this table. 

The total investment requirements are relatively modest at $3.7 billion. This is particularly true for Saskatchewan with a cost of $1.2-billion or just over two thirds the amount which was spent on the loss-making Boundary Dam CCS. 

These transmission cost estimates did not evaluate the intra-provincial transmission required to connect the additional wind plants to the local high-voltage transmission system or any potential localized transmission reinforcements. However it is important to note that additional inter-provincial connections bring substantial benefits for all electricity consumers since they reduce congestion thereby allowing for greater electricity trade and lower electricity prices. Such connections also give all generators better access to markets for their products.

For these reasons, and at least in Saskatchewan, new generators will pay to connect to the high voltage network while any upgrades to the network itself are paid for by all electricity users. It is not clear why the arrangement should be any different when considering transmission reinforcement necessitated by wind energy additions.

Source: GE Energy Consulting. Pan-Canadian Wind Integration Study. Section 1: Summary Report

In any event the study notes that the annual reduction in system-wide electricity production costs, arising as a direct result of the suggested transmission additions, mean the payback period on the transmission investment will not exceed 4 years.

Emission Reductions. As more wind energy is added to the system it displaces electricity that would otherwise have been generated by gas and/or coal generators. This means that the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions associated with that generation are avoided. Given the Canadian and USA grids are highly interconnected and the USA has a much higher penetration of coal and gas resources than Canada, most of the GHG reductions occur in the USA. This is expected as exports from Canada to the USA increase significantly with increasing Canadian wind penetration. 

Canada's historical and projected GHG emissions. Also shown are Federal targets for 2020 and 2030.  SourceEnvironment & Climate Change Canada: 'Progress Towards Canada's GHG Targets'.  27-Apr-2016

The GHG savings for Canada, assuming 35 percent of electricity generation by wind, are 33 million tonnes (MT) annually. For the US they are 47 MT and this probably explains why there was so much interest at the recent Three Amigos energy summit on Canadian clean energy exports to the USA. 

To put the Canada GHG reductions in context: Canada's total GHG emissions in 2014 were 732 MT. Federal targets envisage they will be reduced to 524 MT by 2030 or a total reduction of 208 MT.

 

In short: this GE study demonstrates that if 35 percent of Canadian electricity was to be generated with wind it would be economic, cost competitive, technically feasible and it would go 15 percent of the way to meeting Canada's total national target for GHG reductions by 2030. Not too shabby!