​A Beginner's Guide to

Wind Energy

People have been using wind as a source of energy for thousands of years. In recent years, the wind has become a revolutionary renewable energy source in our transition to a zero-emissions, low-carbon future. So, what is wind exactly, and how can it be used to generate electricity? Wind, although it might not need explaining, is moving air caused by differences in atmospheric pressure. Wind speeds can vary depending on topography, geography and season. Electricity is generated from wind by converting the air’s motion into mechanical energy. Traditionally, windmills were used for milling grain or pumping water on farms. That same wind energy used on farms is now being used to power cities and homes. Today, the wind is most commonly used to create electricity by a mechanism called a turbine. Wind turbines use large aerodynamic blades to spin and generate electricity by the moving air. Turbines may be used individually but are often installed in groups to form “wind farms” or “wind power plants.” 

Traditionally, windmills were used for milling grain or pumping water on farms. That same wind energy used on farms is now being used to power cities and homes.

Canadians are increasingly concerned about the impacts of climate change, and more specifically the future of electricity generation and its effects on our environment. Wind energy is one of the most environmentally sustainable forms of electricity generation. Using wind energy reduces the environmental impact of generating electricity because it requires no fuel, generates no toxic, hazardous or radioactive waste and does not produce pollution or greenhouse gases. Canada’s geography makes it ideally suited to capitalize on large amounts of wind energy. 

Wind energy is one of the most environmentally sustainable forms of electricity generation because it does not produce pollution or greenhouse gases. 

Today, Canada’s electricity grid is 80 per cent non-emitting and the federal government has adopted a target to have this increase to 90 per cent by 2030. More wind energy has been built in Canada between 2009 and 2019 than any other form of electricity generation. Wind energy is currently generating enough power to meet the needs of over three million Canadian homes with a total of 301 wind farms operating from coast to coast. Canada’s installed wind capacity grew from just 114 MW in 2000 to a total of 13,413 MW in 2019. The rising popularity of wind energy in Canada has attracted more than $23 billion in investments and directly benefited more than 299 communities in 12 provinces and territories, including involvement with over 35 Indigenous communities. 

renewable energy with father and daugher

Around the world, renewable energy use is on the rise. As demand for clean electricity ramps up, Canada will increase its reliance on wind energy as a key technology that contributes to low-cost and clean electricity sources. Alternative energy sources like wind hold the key to helping combat climate change. Renewables are the fastest-growing source of energy in the world. Clean energy sources like the wind will need to be used to their full capabilities in our transition to a low carbon future.  

More wind energy has been built in Canada between 2009 and 2019 than any other form of electricity generation. Wind energy is currently generating enough power to meet the needs of over three million Canadian homes

Here is some general terminology you might hear when talking or reading about wind energy. Before diving into any specific terms, there are three main types of wind energy that you need to know. 

  •  Utility-scale wind: Wind turbines that range in size from 100 kilowatts to several megawatts, where the electricity is delivered to the power grid and distributed to the end-user by electric utilities or power system operators. 
  •  Distributed or "small" wind: Single small wind turbines below 100 kilowatts that are used to directly power a home, farm or small business and are not connected to the grid. 
  •  Offshore wind: Wind turbines that are erected in large bodies of water, usually on the continental shelf. Offshore wind turbines are larger than land-based turbines and can generate more power. 

​Terms

Wind Speed: Wind speed is a fundamental atmospheric rate. Wind speed put simply is the movement of air. Wind speeds can vary depending on topography, geography and season. 
 

Capacity: The nameplate capacity (or rated capacity) of a wind turbine is the amount of energy the turbine would produce if it ran 100% of the time at optimal wind speeds. Wind turbines range in nameplate capacity from less than 1 megawatt (MW) to more than 3 MW. 

 

Capacity Factor: The average power output of a wind development divided by its maximum power capability, its rated capacity. The capacity factor depends on the quality of the wind at the turbine. Higher capacity factors imply more energy generation. 

 

 

Annual Energy Production (AEP):  The total amount of electrical energy it produces over a year, measured in kilowatt-hours or megawatt-hours (kWh or MWh) 

 

 

Wind Resource Assessment: A wind resource assessment is a process by which wind power developers estimate the future energy production of a wind farm. Accurate wind resource assessments are crucial to the successful development of wind farms. 

Energy Payback: The period it takes for a wind turbine to generate as much energy as is required to produce the turbine, install it, maintain it throughout its lifetime and, finally, scrap it.  

 

 

Megawatt (MW): 1,000 kilowatts (kW) or 1 million watts (W); a standard measure of electric power generating capacity. Large utility-scale wind turbines usually produce 900 kW to 2 MW per turbine. 

 

Megawatt-hour (Mwh): The amount of energy used if work is done at an average rate of 1 million watts for 1 hour.  

 

Balance of Plant (BOP): Balance of Plant (BoP) is a term given to all the infrastructural components of a wind farm with except for the turbine and all its elements. 

 

About the Author

​Mariah was born and raised in New Brunswick, moving to Fredericton from Darlings Island. She attended St. Francis Xavier University to obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in interdisciplinary studies in Aquatic Resources with Public Policy and Social Research.


She then went on to further her education by enrolling in the University of New Brunswick, where she graduated with a Master of Environmental Management.


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