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Climate change will not impact wind power in North America: study

Report finds wind will remain a solid choice in Canada's clean energy mix

(Courtesy Nergica)

A report on how climate change might alter Canada’s weather in the future says wind power production will be largely unchanged, suggesting it will remain a solid choice in the clean energy mix.

Titled Impact of Climate Change on Wind Power Potential in North America, the study was prepared by Nergica in collaboration with Quebec-based Ouranos and Hydro-Québec.

Nergica is a Gaspe-based renewable energy research centre, while Ouranos is a consortium of scientists conducting research on climate change and adaptation.

The report is meant to answer questions on how a warming North American climate will affect wind power. As the demand for electricity rises while the cost of wind power and energy storage declines, wind power will likely be an important part of the mix.

“It is therefore essential to take into consideration the impact of climate change when estimating the future wind resource,” the report states.

Wind expected to stay consistent

The study examines four North American climate simulations based on two global models.

These simulations flow into four future scenarios for greenhouse gases and aerosols: two under Representative Concentration Pathway 4.5 and two under Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5, covering the years 2031 to 2060. Those four models are compared to a historical period (1981 to 2010) as a reference.

Additionally, the icing and operational energy loss model simulates how ice might affect wind turbine power production.

To look at how these climate scenarios could impact wind production, Nergica set three key variables as indicators: operable wind, icing and energy production.

The results were similar for each month, and consistent with other studies that do not detect any significant impact of climate change on North American wind resources. Some places, such as Nunavut, will see an increase in the duration of operable wind between 14 to 28 days, which the study cannot explain.

As for ice, the four simulations suggest an increase in rotor icing duration in a few highly localized parts of Northern Canada on average by 28 days per year. At the same time, icing duration is expected to decline on the West Coast of North America, at certain locations near the Atlantic and Pacific oceans by 15 to 50 days.

The report concludes no indication of change is detected in annual production of wind energy.

The future for wind power in Canada

The findings of the study are “welcome news for the industry,” Nergica says, as it suggests wind turbines will continue operations as expected in the future.

Regions with a shorter icing period would have a longer operation and maintenance season. Regions seeing an increase in the icing period will experience the opposite.

“Whether it be for existing projects, new utility-scale projects or small projects in remote off-grid systems, wind will remain a mature, economically viable and suitable technology to play a central role in Canada’s energy transition,” the report concludes.

Wind power is a critical component of Canada's clean energy transition and the Canadian government's commitment to attaining a net-zero electrical grid by 2035. A report entitled Scenarios for a Net-Zero Electricity System in Ontario says wind will play a pivotal role in a set of potential scenarios for the province's net-zero grid.

"The demonstration of climate change's negligible impact on wind energy production in Canada is one of the few bright spots in a list of negative impacts," Ouranos executive director Alain Bourque says in a release.

"We are delighted that our regional climate simulations were able to factor in icing events and wind regimes as part of this innovative assessment of the future of wind energy production. This source of renewable energy will remain an efficient and reliable means of meeting growing energy needs while contributing to a low-carbon economy. This study is at the heart of our vision for cohesion between the scientific community and those who work in the field of adaptation."

Kim Robitaille, the director of energy system control planning at Hydro-Québec, also says in the release the study will help the province attain its goal of doubling wind capacity by 2030.

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