|CREDIT: Reuters File Photo|
|More power is used in summer, when winds are
After 19 months of commercial wind power operating experience in Ontario,
there is some good news. Our wind farms produce almost up to target levels.
The companies delivering wind power are mostly established energy firms. All
are installing state of the art technology. Wind-farm operators in Ontario are
subject to stricter technical controls than in Germany where, last November,
wind power contributed to a continental grid blackout.
For all its strengths, we now have enough information to conclude that wind
power in Ontario is a disaster for consumers.
Ontario's large wind farms completing one year of service generated on
average 29% of what they could have under ideal conditions. The world's best
perform 50% better.
Moreover, the little output our wind turbines do generate comes in wild
swings from high production to dead calm. Compared to all available generation
technologies, wind power is uniquely intermittent. Over one-hour intervals,
production changes for individual wind farms are as great as 73%, and 39% for
the overall fleet. Over five-minute intervals, changes of 13% for individual
farms have been measured.
Intermittency creates a major challenge for grid reliability, which
requires instantaneous balancing of overall power generation to exactly match
consumption. Combining nuclear generators, which have almost no ability to
increase or decrease output, with intermittent wind power is particularly
problematic. Balancing nuclear and wind power while keeping the lights on
requires other, typically costly, generators to quickly ramp up, down or stand
by. With one of the most nuclear-dependent grids in the world, Ontario is
poorly suited to host wind power.
Predicting wind output changes has proven difficult, but one pattern is
clear:Winds tend to be calm when consumers need electricity most. Ontarians
use the most electricity in summer -- the weakest season for wind. In July and
August of 2006 and 2007, Ontario was frequently becalmed and average monthly
output fell within the lowly 13% to 19% range. Although winter is the
strongest season, on the coldest days, when we use most power, wind output
tends to be poorest. Over the typical day, wind output peaks around midnight
and bottoms out around 8 a.m., contrary to our daily consumption pattern.
Diversifying the geographic location of wind farms has provided little
output stability because, even when widely dispersed, output from individual
farms tends to rise and fall in sync. Although limited data is available, the
production pattern of New York's largest wind farm appears to closely match
the hourly output of Ontario's overall wind production. New York's farm even
matches fairly closely the output of a similar farm at Sault St. Marie, 840
Connecting wind power to the grid is also costly. The first of many
high-voltage transmission investments mainly directed at wind is currently
pegged at $635-million. Connecting large wind generators to low-voltage
distribution networks will require costly re-engineering. Whether high voltage
or low, grid connections must be vastly oversized relative to average wind
output to support infrequent bursts of full production.
The McGuinty government is currently buying wind power for 11¢ per kilowatt
hour -- about double the current price homeowners pay for reliable,
available-on-demand power. A little competition would mitigate this. Before
the wind industry convinced the McGuinty government to adopt sole-sourcing for
wind power as it was done for nuclear and some gas generators, competitive
auctions in 2004 to supply wind power revealed a price of 8¢ per kilowatt hour
and 8.6¢ in 2005.
Modern smog-free coal generators, like those operating now in Alberta, the
United States, Europe and Japan, are the reliable, secure and affordable
alternative. If real market competition existed, only a heavy carbon tax would
prevent coal from blowing wind power away.
Wind power's lack of overall value has not prevented our politicians from
embracing it. Mr. McGuinty's group has decreed that, by the end of 2010, wind
capacity will triple and then almost triple again by 2025. By 2027, the
government says wind will supply 12% of the province's power generation.
McGuinty's rivals all complain that this is just not enough.
But getting 12% of our power from a costly, unreliable and so far
unpredictable source is trouble consumers don't need. If we bet heavily on
wind, will the rest of our power system keep the lights on during the summer
Possible solutions to overcome wind power's deficiencies range from
conceivable to sci-fi: finding much windier places near the existing grid,
developing cheap short-term storage options to buffer wind output, centralized
instantaneous controls for consumer power usage, perhaps tethering airborne
wind turbines to capture high-altitude winds, or even tapping artificial and
Without radical technological advances, wind power will only burden Ontario
consumers. - Tom Adams is an independent energy advisor and Francois Cadieux
is an engineering science student at the University of Toronto.