Can free wind energy power all Canadian Homes?
There is a tendency to dismiss ideas without fair examination. Wind power is, unfortunately, a victim of this. Among Canadian homeowners, it is not considered a serious source of power generation. The reason is obvious, wind only generates energy intermediately. Most homeowners want energy all the time and people need energy, even when it is not windy outside.
Right now, no province in Canada is pursuing a grid powered entirely by wind energy, or even a grid entirely powered by renewable energy. At Utopia Today Canada we want to understand why that is the case so that we can hopefully have more renewable energy generation in the future.
There is a lot of untapped potential for wind energy. For example, Canadian wind farms only produce 12 thousand megawatts from wind farms, compared to 200 thousand megawatts generated by Chinese wind farms. Furthermore, due to the advancement of battery technology, the fact that wind turbines only create energy intermediately will no longer be a problem.
Wind energy has a lot going for it. The “wind” is free, unlike the cost of fossil fuels which are always increasing in price. Wind energy has no carbon footprint. Finally, as the technology improves, and as more wind farms are built the cost of wind energy will continue to fall. Canadians would be wise to invest in wind power.
We are far from a power grid with 100% renewable energy, but hopefully that will change. I want to point out three challenges for wind energy and some potential solutions, so that we can move closer to that future.
1. HOMES CONSUME A LOT OF ENERGY, AND WE NEED TO CHANGE HOW WE THINK ABOUT CONSUMPTION
Wind energy has been in use for hundreds of years. Prior to the industrial revolution, it was a viable alternative in nations that did not have access to watermills. The image of windmills in Europe, or in heartland Canada are iconic.
The cause for there decline was the industrial revolution and the spread of cheap fuels. When fuel became cheaper, our energy consumption started to rise.
Currently, you can buy a 400-Watt windmill on Amazon for only $600. Consider though for a moment what you would be buying. The average Canadian home consumes about 8,000-kilowatt hours a year, so under ideal conditions, it would take over 20,000 hours or two years for the turbine to produce the energy you consume in one year.
While one of those small turbines might be great for charging a battery at the cottage, it cannot power the average Canadian home. Large-scale projects are the key to the successful deployment of wind energy in Canada.
Problems like this highlight a problem in how we think about energy. If we want to stop the effects of climate change, we need to increase the amount of renewable energy we produce and reduce the amount of energy we consume.
2. HOMES NEED ENERGY ON DEMAND. COMBINING WIND POWER WITH OTHER TECHNOLOGY IS THE SOLUTION
Most consumers rely on not only cheap energy but cheap energy on demand. For most of history that meant that we had to rely on other forms of generation that are highly predictable.
For example, despite the many downsides of coal, it is a very reliable fuel source. Energy production in a coal plant is easy to manage and can be responsive to the exact demand for energy at any moment.
Critics of wind power claim that wind energy is just a parasite to conventional coal-burning facilities. This all-or-none mindset is not useful though in term of improving energy production.
One significant change since the industrial revolution has been the massive increase in the amount of computation power available. While in the 18th century we really could not rely on wind power, in the 21st century we can use advanced computer data to predict weather patterns and the consumer demand on the grid.
Most serious advocates of renewable energy understand that we need to use a mixture of fuel sources if we want to achieve a power grid with zero carbon footprint. Using a diverse set of carbon-free fuel sources means we not only create more energy, but we have a more reliable and resilient grid.
For example, wind energy can act as a critical complement to solar power. While solar energy has higher output in spring and summer, much of wind energy is produced in the fall and the winter. Building up multiple renewable energy sources can reduce some of the drawbacks of a single renewable energy source.
3. THE UTILITY COMPANIES HAVE BEEN RELUCTANT TO EMPLOY THE MAXIMUM AMOUT OF WIND ENERGY. GOVERNMENT MANDATES ARE THE SOLUTION
This is where the limitations to wind energy, get a little complex. Understanding the profitability of wind energy moves us a little closer to an answer of the question: why Canada does not deploy more wind energy. It is a little bizarre talking about this only a few weeks after Canada purchased a 4.5-billion-dollar pipeline but finding the cheapest and most profitable energy possible it is something the does drive energy policy.
Studies have shown that wind power is one of the cheapest energy sources in terms of kilowatt hours generated per total cost of the project. Wind and solar only cost about 9 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared to the 13 per kilowatt hour for fossils fuels and nuclear power plants. Despite this utility companies have been reluctant to deploy the maximum amount of wind energy possible.
The reason for this is the way that energy markets are regulated in Canada and this can influence the cost of energy to the end user. Ontario is a case where energy markets have gone out of control. Ontario has some of the highest hydro rates in North America, while at the same time it produces a massive amount of excess energy.
Some people blame renewables for high electricity rates. This is unlikely since renewable energy is cheaper than other fuel sources and it only represents a fraction of the energy produced in Ontario.
The cause of high electricity rates in Ontario is linked to how the province pays energy producers to create huge energy plants. The cost of these plants are financed over decades and those plants must produce a certain amount of energy no matter what.
Unlike the other two issues above, there is no simple solution for the high cost of electricity. Governments are going to need to carefully develop policies and regulate markets to ensure the rates fall. Despite this renewable energy will have a really important role to play in reducing energy costs. It is important to remember the “wind” is free.
So what is the future for wind?
A future with 100% renewables is unprecedented, but here a Utopia Today Canada it is something we want to work towards. We need to change the way we think to achieve that. While energy projects in the past focused on large, expensive plants that were financed over decades, renewables can place energy generation into the hand of citizens. Unfortunately, we can’t just build hundreds of wind turbines and solve these problems. We are going to need some strategic thinking.
The pressing questions moving forward are how the expansion of Electric Vehicles will affect our energy needs? Or will the decreased use of gas for heating change our energy needs? Finally, how has the negative perception of wind held back the industry? These are all topics that will be explored on the Utopia Today. Please subscribe and visit again