Winds of Change?

Wind power comes of age

Winds of Change?

We are inundated daily with information regarding the hazards of climate change caused by greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Evidence indicates that our reliance on fossil fuels accounts for approximately 70 percent of emissions. Many Canadians are looking for ways to reverse this perilous trend.

Wind power–one promising energy-producing alternative to fossil fuels–has been with us for centuries.

Let the Wind Blow

Wind power is actually one of civilization’s oldest energy forms and was first harnessed more than three thousand years ago by Egyptian navigators sailing on the Nile. In the mid-seventh century, Persians introduced windmills, which enabled them to mill grains and pump water for irrigation. As the 19th century ended, Europe employed over 30,000 windmills; the early 20th century saw the introduction of propeller technology that enabled wind power to create electricity.

Unfortunately, as we embraced cheaper, less environmentally friendly forms of energy, wind power was relegated to a relatively minor role as an energy producer. The good news is, as we become more concerned about GHG, wind power has slowly and steadily been reclaiming its position as a viable, clean, and sustainable energy option. According to the Canadian Renewable Energy Network (CanREN), “Each megawatt-hour of electricity that is generated by wind energy helps to reduce the 0.8 to 0.9 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions that are produced by coal or diesel fuel.”

Catch the Wind

The theory behind wind power is simple: the wind’s kinetic energy is harnessed to create other forms of energy, including mechanical or electrical energy. In producing electric power, the wind rotates the blades of a wind turbine, which turns a shaft that drives an electric generator. The electricity created provides power to both large- and small-scale applications. A cluster of turbines in a large-scale wind farm sends electricity to electrical transmission grids that distribute energy to industrial, commercial, and residential consumers. Conversely, in a small-scale wind generation application, the turbines are located in the same area where the electricity is needed, usually in a residential or small business setting.

A Canadian Perspective

There is one other vital ingredient that this form of energy requires–an adequate supply of wind. Fortunately Canada has many regions where there is an abundance of wind, particularly along its coast lines and prairies, and the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CWEA) estimates that Canada could realize 20 percent of its energy needs through wind power. Although we are accessing only two percent of our energy from wind power sources (approximately 1,049 megawatts), more than 315,000 Canadian residences and businesses receive power from wind turbines. In its Global Wind 2005 Report, the Global Wind Energy Council noted that the production of wind facilities in Canada had grown by an average of more than 30 percent during each of the previous six years and 2005 wind projects accounted for more than $400 million of investment.

While the Canadian wind industry is growing, it is still reliant on senior governments for support through tax incentive programs and policies that encourage sustainable energy. Advocates of wind power are mindful that government and industry leaders need to be constantly reminded of the hidden costs of not supporting initiatives that reduce Canada’s output of GHG emissions. Their message is quite clear–we need to wean ourselves from our dependence on fossil fuels.

To paraphrase Bob Dylan, the answer could be blowin’ in the wind.

Wind Power Resources

For more information regarding wind power and sustainable energy, please visit:

Canadian Wind Energy Association canwea.ca

Global Wind Energy Council gwec.net

The Pembina Institute pembina.org.

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