Impacts of climate change on wind energy potential
This project will help Canadian electricity providers such as Hydro-Québec, Manitoba Hydro and Ontario Power Generation to improve the long-term planning and reliability of wind power generation.
In Canada, the wind industry got off the ground in the early 1990s with the installation of a few wind turbines in Alberta, Ontario and Yukon. Since 1999, hundreds of turbines have been erected annually and in 2021, the number of wind farms in operation reached 317. The industry continues to grow rapidly with new utility-scale projects and an increasing number of smaller projects in off-grid networks, not to mention the continuing contribution of existing wind farms.
However, to ensure the success of such projects, rigorous, well-informed and safe planning is indispensable. In their decision-making, industry players must account for a changing climate that can affect the energy resource, not to mention significant increases in energy needs.
It is therefore essential to take into consideration the impact of climate change when estimating the future
wind resource. This assessment is all the more critical in the cold climate context of Canada, where climate
change evidently has the potential to impact not only the wind regime, but also the occurrence and intensity
of icing events, which are the leading factor for production losses in the country.
Evaluate the impacts of climate change on wind energy potential and analyze its consequences for energy production in the coming decades.
Analyze how Canadian wind farms should adapt to these changes, on both technical and economic levels.
Inclusion of the specific needs of the project in the production of four climate simulations using the Canadian Regional Climate Model version 5 (CRCM5) for the 1950-2100 time horizon, considering two greenhouse gas emission scenarios, one with high emissions (RCP8.5) and another with moderate emissions increases (RCP4.5). For each of these RCPs, data simulated by two global climate models was fed into CRCM5 with conditions at the boundaries of its North American grid.
Modelling of ice events and energy generation using climate simulations as inputs.
Calculation of the difference in wind turbine energy generation between a future period (2031-2060) and a reference period (1981-2010), based on simulated wind regimes and ice events.
Assessment of changes in the economic profitability of four end-of-life options for a typical wind farm, based on such differences in energy generation:
Extend the life of the wind turbines
Replace certain components of the wind turbines
Replace all wind turbines
Wind speed remains stable in Canada
No significant change in average wind speed or annual operating time of wind turbines between the periods 2031-2060 and 1981-2010 could be detected in the analysis of regional climate simulations. However, this result is derived from a very small number of simulations and climate models, which is a significant limitation to the study.
This lack of noticeable change in the wind regime can alleviate many concerns about the impacts of climate change on wind as an energy resource. Furthermore, wind measurements taken prior to the installation of a wind farm and during its operation remain valid to support the end-of-life decision-making for the wind farm.
Ice conditions in Canada are changing
The regions where a significant increase in annual ice duration is expected are concentrated in northern Canada (Figure 1). Temperatures in these areas, which were previously too cold, will increase sufficiently to favour the formation of ice for more hours during the year. This will reduce the access time to the turbines during the winter for safety reasons.
As a result of warmer temperatures, many Canadian coastal areas around Hudson Bay, in British Columbia and in the Atlantic provinces can expect a significant shortening of the length of their icing season (Figure 2). As a result, wind farm operators in these areas will benefit from a longer season for planned maintenance that would be too hazardous during the ice season.
Figure 9: Change in the annual duration of rotor ice.
Figure 10: Change in the duration of the rotor icing season.
Little change in Canadian wind energy generation
No significant change in wind energy generation is projected for the period 2031-2060. The only detectable change is a slight increase in energy losses due to icing in northern Canada, for some locations where the duration of icing is increasing. As with the wind data, this result shows that the energy generation data acquired during the years of operation of a wind farm remain valid to assist in the end-of-life decision-making for the wind farm.
Benefits for adaptation
Benefits for adaptation
This study shows that, based on current knowledge, climate change will not have significant adverse impacts on cold climate wind power generation in Canada when both wind and ice conditions are considered.
Considering the different end-of-life options, some are economically viable, and could allow end-of-life wind farms to continue to produce energy in a cost-effective manner. Climate change does not impact this profitability.
This project confirms that wind energy will remain a key technology in Canada’s energy future to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions while meeting growing energy demand.
This project is funded by the Government of Quebec and meets the objectives of the Plan pour une économie verte 2030.
Créneau d’excellence en éolien
Ontario Power Generation