06 January 2009

Wind - the next frontier

A Revolution In The Air

Robert Hornung is on a one-man mission to turn Canada into a wind-energy superpower. The head of the Canadian Wind Energy Association, Hornung says he doesn't see why Canada can't follow in the footsteps of European countries that generate a substantial slice of their electricity from wind: 20% in Denmark, 13% in Spain, and just under 10% in Germany. Hornung wants Canada to set a national target of having 20% of its electricity from wind power by 2025, or about the same amount now generated from nuclear plants. "It's not a goal that's unrealistic, at least from the perspective of what other jurisdictions are thinking about," he says. It may not be unrealistic, but it's a definite stretch from where Canada is now. Despite having a huge land mass and some of the world's best sites for turning the energy in wind into electricity - particularly along the Atlantic, Pacific and Great Lakes coastlines and on the Prairies - Canada has been a laggard when it comes to installing wind turbines. Last year, it reached a relatively modest milestone, as wind power met 1% of the country's electricity demand for the first time. But despite wind's minute contribution to Canada's energy mix, it may be poised for a breakthrough.

One sign that a dramatic expansion could be in the offing is that whenever provinces put out tenders for new wind farms, they're swamped by offers to build them. One reason wind's moment may have come is environmental, because it's an electricity source that doesn't release large amounts of greenhouse gases. Wind farms, if used to offset fossil fuels, offer huge long-term emission reductions. Wind is also an ideal electricity source for a country such as Canada with many hydroelectric dams. The reason: Wind is highly variable, creating the need for backup power sources flexible enough to be turned on and off as needed to meet demand. It's hard to ramp up and down a nuclear reactor or a coal-fired plant, but far easier to change the rate at which electricity is made at a dam. The two power sources also complement each other because wind output is greatest in winter, when wind speeds are faster in Canada, and the air - because it is cold - is most dense, allowing turbines to wring out extra watts. This wintertime gain is a benefit for a utility with hydro capacity because reservoirs are at their seasonal ebb due to low river flows. Despite wind's obvious greenhouse-emission benefits, the power source isn't completely free of environmental controversy. Many influential national environmental groups, such as the David Suzuki Foundation, are vocal supporters. Yet community groups often object to wind turbines, worried about such issues as risks for birds and bats. Many opponents also object to the aesthetics of the massive turbines, with their blades the length of jet wings and towers the height of office buildings.
(Globe and Mail 090106)

Canada really needs to take a leading role in alternative energy. There's no reason why we can't or won't other than lack of leadership at the top to commit to it. We have so much potential, it seems ridiculous that we continue to use traditional energy sources that are running out and getting more expensive when there is so much potential on the other side!

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