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Study: Canada could achieve 35% wind penetration while maintaining grid reliability

Canadacould get up to 35% of its energy from wind power while maintaining gridreliability, according to a new study from the Canadian Wind Energy Association.

Thestudy does not say that 35% is the technical limit and in fact implies thatCanada could go even further with wind. But using increasingamounts of wind also leads to increasing costs, such as spending billions tobuild out transmission lines to accommodate new wind farms. The 35% scenariowould require C$3.7 billion on transmission, while a more modest 20% scenariowould require C$2.7 billion, the study estimated.

Thestudy, "Pan-Canadian Wind Integration Study," was prepared byGeneral Electric Co.'sGE Energy ConsultingGroup.

Anoverall theme of the study is that greater amounts of wind can be integratedinto the Canadian grid "cost-effectively," the association said in aJuly 6 statement.The 35% scenario would lead to operating cost savings that would pay back thetransmission investments in three years, although that finding does not includeinterest and financing costs.

Theestimated wind energy has a value of C$40.50 per MWh in the 35% scenario andC$43.40 per MWh in the 20% scenario, a range that is in line with the levelizedcost of electricity at wind projects recently developed in North America. Thatindicates that the wind energy "is very likely to be economicallyfeasible," the study said.

Joining the U.S. and Mexico, Canada's government recentlycommitted to helpingboost clean electricity generation in North America to 50% by 2025. Accordingto Canadian Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr, the wind study helps reveala way to cut emissions. "Understanding the implications of integrating agreater amount of wind energy into Canada's electrical system contributes toour goal of developing clean energy resources and moving our country towards alow-carbon economy," Carr said in a statement.

One aspect of Canada's energy system that may makeintegrating wind easier is its high amount of hydroelectric resources.The study found that installing energy storage resources to back up new windfarms when the wind is not blowing would not be cost-effective, in part because"increasing flexibility of hydro operations would likely provide farbetter performance improvements at much lower cost." As the study modeledhigher and higher levels of wind penetration from 5% to 20% to 35%, hydro,nuclear and cogeneration resources stayed constant while coal and naturalgas-fired generation was displaced by the new wind.

Another advantage for Canada isthat, for the most part, the country has "high quality" windresources in all of its provinces. While some regions of Canada are better forwind than others — wind farms were found to operate at 34% of their fullcapacity in British Columbia, while Nova Scotia wind farms operated at 40%, forexample — one finding was that these differences are not starkenough to warrant concentrating the new wind farms in the provinces with thehighest wind capacity factors. Instead, it is better to site new wind farmsnear population centers and where power can be easily exported to the U.S. As aresult, most of the new wind modeled by the study is located in Alberta,Ontario and Quebec, the provinces with the most system load.

As of the end of 2015, wind power supplied about 5% ofCanada's electricity demand,according to a reportreleased in April by the Global Wind Energy Council.GE is a major supplier of turbines, digitaltools and other equipment for the wind industry.