A NEW APPROACH
TOWARDS RENEWABLE ENERGY RESOURCES
by Gary Friesen
Energy, through a variety of power
sources, is the linchpin of our modern industrial society
and indispensable in our daily lives. However, our world
only has a finite source of oil and natural gas, the most
common of the non-renewable fossil fuel energy resources.
Concerns about increasingly damaging
levels of toxic energy admissions in the atmosphere abound.
There is an obvious and growing need for the development
and public acceptance of renewable, environmentally friendly
and cleaner energy resources.
In addition to common alternative sources
such as nuclear and electric power, examples of more innovative,
renewable and cleaner energy sources include wind, solar
and tidal-generated power, and biomass energy, which is
made from biofuels like ethanol, ether and ester made from
herbaceous and woody plants, agricultural and forest residues
and solid municipal and industrial waste.
One of the most promising new energy
sources comes from wind-powered turbines. Wind energy systems
transform kinetic wind energy into mechanical or electrical
energy harnessed for industrial, commercial and residential
Currently, wind energy is used mainly
on a limited basis to produce electrical power and pump
water in rural and remote areas, including farms and isolated
cottages, with the excess electricity sold to local utilities.
Recently expanded wind energy applications have included
crop irrigation, domestic water supply, land drainage, sewage
treatment and water aeration.
Wind energy is based on a simple principle:
the wind rotates blades around a hub connected to a main
shaft, which spins a generator that creates electricity.
The structure is supported by several guy wires to increase
stability. The turbine blades, usually three in number,
are designed similar to airplane wings and boat sails in
order to capture the most wind. As the turbine blades collect
the wind, the turbine motor produces electricity, reversing
the common practice of using electricity to operate a motor.
The typical wind turbine reaches heights
of between 75 and 95 metres. Each blade is between 20 to
30 metres in length. The turbine tower measures about four
meters in diameter. The overall weight of a typical structure
is between 100,000 and 125,000 kilograms. Built to last
25 years, the turbines usually run at maximum speed, about
21 times per minute, only about 10 percent of the time,
and produce various levels of power about 65-70 percent
of the time.
Energy production is highest through
the winter months, due to higher, stronger and colder and
denser winds. Wind turbines are constructed to withstand
180 kilometre per hour winds and are properly grounded against
lightning strikes. The blades start turning once the winds
reach 15 kph and stop turning to prevent damage once the
winds reach maximum levels. A series of batteries stores
the extra energy for times when wind is below 15 kph or
higher than 70 kph and for the higher energy demands during
the colder winter months.
Wind turbine energy systems can be
comprised of as few as one turbine, up to "wind farms,"
which are a vast spread of thousands of turbines. The collection
of wind power is more effective with many turbines grouped
together. These systems are modular and the number of turbines
can be enlarged or reduced as needed. Wind farms can sprawl
over thousands of hectares of land but only use a small
portion of the land. Farmers who lease the land lose about
one to two percent of their crop production, but may earn
$20-30,000 in rent or royalties. As wind is stronger at
higher altitudes, taller towers and longer blades translate
into more efficient energy production.
The operating structure of wind-generated
energy varies from stand-alone systems of wind power and
storage batteries to hybrid systems that integrate and complement
wind energy with solar-generated power or diesel generators
that provide a more complete and limitless source of renewable
By generating no harmful emissions
into the atmosphere, wind-generated energy is cleaner than
the burning of fossil fuels, easier on the environment than
the destructive flooding and land erosion created by hydroelectric
plants, and safer than nuclear power. Traditional energy
sources have a much greater impact on wildlife and sensitive
ecological habitats than wind-generated energy.
Supporters of wind power emphasise the
lack of harmful toxic emissions, the abundance of renewable
wind power, limited change to the landscape, the absence
of negative effects on the ecosystem and the fact that wind
power is a more affordable and low maintenance system, as
the industry expands and equipment improves through technological
advances. Wind power costs are more stable and not subjected
to the same price volatility common to fossil fuels such
as oil and natural gas. Another important consideration
is that wind power systems require much less time to plan
and construct, compared to the years necessary for the development
of fossil fuel plants, hydroelectric dams and nuclear reactors.
There are negative and cautious reactions
to any new and innovative product or program and wind-generated
energy is certainly no exception. Sceptics cite the full
dependency on the wind, that wind performance is not uniform
and consistent in all locations, the relatively heavy land
use and that the turbines are unsightly and noisy. Other
concerns include the potential for the killing of birds
by the fast-turning turbine blades and the fear that the
blades themselves could fall away and become deadly projectiles.
To many, wind-generated power seems experimental, somewhat
dangerous, too expensive, flaky and merely a hobby-like
side-show to more serious energy business. Others see no
need for, or only a limited need for, alternative energy,
due to Canada's seemingly abundant supply of cheap, traditional
power resources. Many decry the intrusion of the turbines
and blades as a blight against scenic landscapes.
Due to our geography and global location,
Canada's wind energy potential is considered to be among
the most significant and active in the world. There is no
shortage of wind energy in Canada, with many locations offering
ideal wind patterns of gusts and breezes. Land winds blow
strongest across large lakes and prairies, down mountain
slopes and through narrow passages.
The most dominant high winds within
Canada are found off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, over
the Rocky Mountains, across the southern prairie region
and through northern Quebec. A concerted effort has started
to create a Canada Wind Atlas to pinpoint the best areas
for wind-generated energy development.
Coastlines and high ridges are the
most ideal geographical locations. Most dominant wind patterns
in Ontario emanate from Hudson Bay and the Great Lakes and
offer high potential for harnessing wind energy. Traditional
energy sources have a much greater impact on wildlife and
sensitive ecological habitats than wind-generated energy.
Canada's five windiest cities are St. John's, Newfoundland
with a 24 kph average annual wind speed, Swift Current,
Saskatchewan (22kph), Sydney, Nova Scotia (20kph), Regina,
Saskatchewan (20kph) and Charlottetown, PEI (19kph).
Wind-generated energy systems and "wind
farms" are currently in operation and being developed
in several areas of Canada, with Alberta and Quebec as the
leaders in both production and development. The first Canadian
wind farm was constructed in 1994 at Cambridge Bay in the
Northwest Territories and the second near Pincher Creek
in Alberta in 1994, with expansion in 1997. The largest
wind farm in Canada is located along the Gaspe Peninsula
in eastern Quebec. Wind energy sites in Ontario include
Kincardine and Toronto, with plans underway for sites near
Belleville, Cornwall, Pickering and additional sites in
The first recorded use of wind-generated
energy dates back to the Sumerian civilisation in Mesopotamia,
now southern Iraq, circa 5000 BC, for grinding grains into
flour. By 200 BC, the Chinese used wind power to pump water
and the first Dutch windmill appeared circa AD 1175. By
1890, the windmill was common on many North American farms,
mainly used for irrigation. Today, as fossil fuel resources
continue to deplete, as the cost of traditional energy sources
and infrastructures rise and the concern for the environment
grows, Europe, India and the United States are leading the
way in wind-generated energy production. Despite the need
for alternative energy resources and our great potential,
Canada lags far behind most industrial nations in the production
and development of the world's fastest growing energy source.