Solar energy heats the surface of the Earth unevenly, which results in the formation of air pressure differences between locations. Hotter air rises and cooler air sinks, and the energy flow results in wind. The wind’s energy can be used by windmills to move water or it can be transformed into electricity by wind turbines.
The amount of electricity generated by a wind turbine depends on its size, the wind speed and wind turbine height (wind speed is generally higher at elevations farther from the ground surface). Wind speed is variable and so too is the production of electricity by wind turbines. Higher wind speeds generally result in a higher output of electricity, though wind turbines will not function at wind speeds that exceed its capacity. The installation and operation of wind turbines is complex in the north due to environmental factors such as cold temperature and permafrost. Losses in efficiency occur in wind-diesel hybrid systems as a result of wind variability. Wind systems are generally installed as wind-diesel hybrids in remote communities so the diesel generators can compensate for wind speed variability. The variability of wind is what limits how much wind can be safely integrated into the electricity system. Too much variability in electricity from wind makes the electricity system unstable and unreliable.
Three wind energy pilot projects have been attempted in Nunavut, all of which were diesel grid connected. One turbine was installed in Cambridge Bay in 1994 and operated until 1999. Two turbines operated in Kugluktuk from 1997 to 2002. One turbine in Rankin Inlet operated from 2000 to 2001. The Rankin Inlet turbine was refurbished in October 2008 but was ultimately decommissioned. The Nunavut wind projects experienced equipment malfunctions, issues with routine maintenance, and financial restrictions.
Wind speeds in Nunavut have been modeled in the Canadian Wind Energy Atlas. Cape Dorset, Arviat and Rankin Inlet are among the communities that have high wind resources (i.e., wind speed). Communities with moderate wind resources include Cambridge Bay, Kugaaruk and Resolute Bay. Iqaluit, Coral Harbour and Kugluktuk are among the communities that have the lowest wind resources. The Canadian Wind Energy Atlas is based on wind speed data collected at Nunavut airports, not by wind monitoring towers. Wind monitoring towers will likely be installed at potential wind project sites before committing to a development since modeled data is not as reliable as real data. The QEC is planning to erect two wind monitoring towers in Cape Dorset and one in Arviat.