Wind turbines are efficient in cold climates

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

Contrary to what was stated in the article published by Samuel Auger in the January 5, 2014, edition of Le Soleil, it is wrong to claim that “wind turbines [are] inefficient during prolonged periods of cold weather.” That article is based on mistaken information and conveys a message that is the opposite of reality. As a wind energy technical and scientific resource centre, the TechnoCentre éolien must step in to correct it.

For proof, you only need to look at the cold snap of January 2013, when Quebec wind farms operated at full capacity for many days despite temperatures staying below -25°C. In fact, wind turbine production at our Gaspé research site was almost twice the annual average during this period as well as in early January 2014. Our data shows that periods of extreme cold have always resulted in maximum yield every year since our commissioning.

Besides, winter is the peak season for wind farms. Wind turbines generate more electricity from November to April due to winter’s strong winds and the greater density of cold air.

We’ve actually witnessed a rather exceptional combination of weather patterns in the last few days, where very cold temperatures (e.g., dropping to below -30°C) have been recorded along with light winds in many regions of Quebec. Note that such temperatures are rarely reached in the regions where wind farms are built. For example, according to Environment Canada’s data for Gaspé, such conditions occurred 1.6 hour per year on average over the past 30 years.

So you have to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Let’s remember that hydroelectric dams can be affected by summer droughts, and roads can be closed due to harsh weather conditions. No one is questioning the relevance of those infrastructures because of this, though—why should wind farms be any different?

It is false to state that there is less wind during cold snaps or that wind turbines are affected adversely by long-lasting low temperatures. Wind turbines operating in Quebec meet the reliability and robustness standards issued by Hydro-Québec. Major power grid operators such as Hydro-Québec are equipped to manage fluctuations in power production as well as consumption, both of which are equally variable.

The fact that only part of Quebec wind turbines’ total output was fed into Hydro-Québec’s grid early this year is due to many reasons, ranging from power grid availability to each site’s specific weather events. It is misleading to make assumptions based on misinformation.

Frédéric Côté, General Manager

TechnoCentre éolien

Photo : TechnoCentre éolien