Wind power: plenty in Newfoundland – nowhere to go?

On wind surveys Newfoundland stands out.  Unlike other areas, large stretches of the coast of Newfoundland get as much wind as its surrounding seas. At the same time hundreds of kilometers of stormy seas separate Newfoundland from the nearest mainland grid connection. So is all this promise wasted forever? Maybe not.

There are already 13 cables under the seas of northern Europe and Scandinavia. The cable from Norway to northern Europe is about the same length as the distance from western Newfoundland to mainland Canada. These European cables are carrying between 350 MW and 2,000 MW so high voltage is not an issue.

Winter ice conditions could still rule out a cable. The forces of winter gales and ocean currents can cause ice floes to pile up or raft. When conditions are right deep-rafted ice can extend from the surface to the sea bottom in shallow waters. Wind and current can push deep-rafted sea ice with enough force to plow deep furrows in the sea bottom – and break an undersea cable.

Even if sea conditions prevent laying a cable, there is another way to get Newfoundland wind power to the Northeastern US. It is a three step process:

  1. Use wind power to crack sea water into hydrogen.
  2. Transport the hydrogen by ship to the US northeast.
  3. Convert the hydrogen back to electricity in fuel cells

This approach is gaining momentum in the EU. For example, in Lolland DK a large-scale project is underway to convert wind power to hydrogen and back to electricity in fuel cells. Hydrogen ships would use the same technologies as Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) ships have used for 40 years.

In Newfoundland conversion losses will be somewhat offset by the abundant supply of wind and water, the low cost of shipping hydrogen by sea and the proximity to the large market in the US northeast. Wind power stored as hydrogen can be sold at peak load time when prices are highest. And hybrid wind-hydrogen power could reduce the use of fossil fuels for peak demand.

Wind surveys also show that coastal Labrador, Baffin Island and the northwest shore of Hudson’s Bay have the same wind potential¬† as Newfoundland. These Arctic areas have the same water resources and access to shipping lanes as Newfoundland. So wind-hydrogen could also open up the wind energy potential of the Arctic.