In depth: Profiling engineering and manufacturing in Canada’s wind energy sector



Canada is a net energy supplier to the world, and as the world turns to wind power as a new source of renewable energy, Canadian companies are responding to global market requirements for engineering and manufacturing services, as well as to home-grown Canadian wind power projects.

Canadian wind energy expertise can be found in the engineering design of wind farms, the manufacture of towers, rotor blades, base frames, and inverters, interconnecting components to the electricity grid, and many other smaller but essential components required to assemble and house a wind turbine structure, as well as in the services required to operate and maintain wind farms.

Wind Energy Growth in Canada

Wind energy is the fastest growing renewable energy source in Canada with an average annual growth rate of 60 percent since 1998. Installed capacity has increased from 26 MW in 1998 to over 3,000 MW by the end of 2009. Currently (September 2010), installed and operating wind power capacity in Canada is 3,499 MW, according to the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA), enough electrical capacity to power more than one million homes.

The growth in wind energy has also boosted employment in manufacturing as well as presenting new opportunities to develop and modify products lines to meet he special needs of wind turbines.  Stephen Rach, supply chain manager for CanWEA, notes that “between now and 2016, if all current commitments are met across Canada, CanWEA estimates that about 9,650 MW of wind capacity will be added to the electricity mix, for a total of 13,150 MW. This additional 9,650 MW represents about a $26 billion (CDN) market opportunity during the manufacturing and construction phases of wind development projects over the next five or so years.”

Province/Territory Current Installed

Capacity (MW)

Planned or Under

Construction (MW)

Expected 2015

Capacity (MW)

Installed Capacity

per Capita (W)

Alberta 590 409 999 162
British Columbia 102 170.7 272.7 27
Manitoba 104 138 242 86
New Brunswick 195 114 309 261
Newfoundland and Labrador 54.4 0 54.4 107
Nova Scotia 59.3 244 303.3 63
Ontario 1161.5 647.2 1808.7 88
Prince Edward Island 151.6 0 151.6 1080
Québec 659 2671.5 3330.5 85
Saskatchewan 171.2 24.75 195.95 165
Yukon 0.81 0 0.81 24
Total 3248.81 4419.15 7667.96 96

Aside from creating electricity, the wind energy industry also creates jobs. In most countries, the growth of wind energy as a producer of electrical power has resulted in the establishment of a permanent work force, which is expected to grow significantly over the next few years. Many of these jobs are in manufacturing the turbines and components themselves with large multinational companies providing most of the work, often through sub-contracting.  For example, there are more than 100,000 people employed in the wind energy industry in Denmark, Germany and Spain. In Canada, the steady growth of the wind industry is providing increasing employment in engineering and manufacturing.  Rach points out that CanWEA estimates there will be almost 10,000 jobs created to support the market over the next four years, and once this block of 13,150 MW is online, the annual operations and maintenance opportunity will grow to about $36 million and create 12,500 jobs.

Canada’s geography is one of the positive factors which makes the country well-suited to develop large amounts of wind energy, provided some sound, practical steps are followed.  The benefits of increased deployment of wind energy include grid-wide energy savings and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and air contaminants (including sulfur dioxide, methane and mercury), as well as the benefits of derived from a renewable energy source.

Currently, there an estimated 200 Canadian companies actively involved in the development, manufacturing of wind turbine components, and the operation of wind farms.  Because of the demand for wind energy in Ontario and Quebec, the two most populated provinces and powerhouses of wind energy (currently ranking first and second in Canadian installed wind energy), there is a concentration of manufacturing and services in these two provinces.

“There are quite a number of Canadian companies involved in supplying components to key industry players such as Siemens and GE Canada, among others,” says Rach, “and manufacturers of the larger wind turbine components – blades, nacelles, and towers − typically outsource many smaller components, for example, fabricated parts such as railings, doors, conduit, lighting, and special bolts and fasteners used to construct the turbine towers. There are literally hundreds of thousands of smaller components in a typical multi-turbine wind farm, and a lot of metal-working is used to manufacture the turbines, blades and towers, which make up wind farms the size of the 86-turbine wind farm on Wolfe Island, in Lake Ontario, just a short ferry trip from Kingston, Ontario.”

Electrical and mechanical components of wind generating systems include: generators, alternators, batteries, power inverters, switchgear, gearbox assemblies, and other ancillary elements,” adds Rach. Canadian companies in almost every province of Canada, from Nova Scotia to British Columbia are providing a range of components for wind turbines, however, the rapid growth and demand for components has resulted in an increasing presence of international companies and also in the introduction of the manufacture of larger wind power components in the Canadian operations of major players in the global wind energy industry.

Some Major Players


Simon Olivier, GM, Northern Region for GE\’s Renewable Energy business, describes some of GE’s initiatives in Canadian wind energy.  “We have been involved in Canadian wind energy since 2002, first in Alberta where we supplied wind turbines for one of the earlier wind farms in that province, and then in Ontario, with the province’s Feed-in-Tariff (FIT) program.  We have also established a very strong presence in Quebec, with four manufacturing operations, one each for towers, blades, nacelles and nacelle assemblies.  GE is not vertically integrated, so we use a number of suppliers and third parties to manufacture and provide components for our wind turbines, a factor which contributes significantly to the local employment market in those regions of the province where our sub-contractors are located.”

“We have wind farms in four provinces: Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick, and we are very bullish on Canadian wind energy,” added Olivier. “We see two major challenges faced by the Canadian wind energy sector in the further development of wind power.  These challenges relate to government policy: will a change of government result in a change of energy policy?  Already, the federal government has withdrawn some support for green energy initiatives. And secondly, there is the issue of transmission line capacity and how quickly new transmission lines can be built to handle the wind farms that are coming on-stream.”

At Siemens Canada’s new headquarters in Burlington, Ontario, the company recently announced the establishment of a blade manufacturing facility to be located at a  southwestern Ontario site, to meet the requirements of its agreement with Samsung C&T and Pattern Energy, to provide 600 MW of wind turbines.

The initial agreement among Siemens, Samsung C&T and Pattern Energy is for Siemens to supply up to 600 MW of wind turbines to serve the Ontario renewables market.  Siemens has only contracted so far for the first 600 MW with Samsung/Pattern, although  Samsung has a total commitment for Ontario of 2000 MW and will handle the construction of the wind farms. This agreement, under Ontario\’s Green Energy Act and the FIT program, will provide enough sustainable clean electricity each year to power more than 240,000 homes.

Bill Smith, senior vice president, energy, for Siemens Canada, comments on the new blade manufacturing facility. “We have developed new blade technology which will be incorporated in the blades manufactured in this plant. The new technology involves three specialized manufacturing techniques, and three specific changes in the blade structure: extending blade length to provide a total rotor length of 101 meters (over 50 meters per blade); blade profiling, which involves the aerodynamic shaping of the blade to capture more airflow; and the use of a single molded casting process for the blades, resulting in higher structural capacity than blades with fastened joints.”

Siemens now has seven Canadian wind farm projects in various stages: two in operation, four under construction and one in the planning stages.  By the end of 2011, Siemens will have a total installed wind power capacity of 550 MW, at various locations, including:  130 2.3-MW rated wind turbines at Kruger Energy’s 101.2-MW Port Alma wind farm; TransAlta’s 197.8-MW Wolfe Island wind farm in Ontario, an additional 152 units of its 2.3-MW wind turbines at four recently announced wind farm projects.

Quebec Initiatives

\"QuebecNot to be outdone by its provincial neighbor, the province of Quebec has embarked on an ambitious program to develop a strong wind energy industrial sector.  Philippe Lacasse is industrial development advisor for wind energy in Quebec’s Ministry of Economical Development, Innovation and Trade. “The province has been developing renewable energy for the past ten years,” says Lacasse, “and to support this development, the Quebec government is providing a number of incentives for both Quebec-based companies to supply products and services for international wind energy companies to establish manufacturing operations in the province.  We estimate that there are currently about 150 Quebec-based companies which are suppliers of wind energy components, split approximately 50-50 between manufacturing components, and services, with each company offering an average of three products or services.”

One of the most interesting Quebec initiatives has been the establishment of the Wind Energy TechnoCentre in 2000, in the Gaspé region.  This is a not-for-profit organization with an objective to contribute to the growth of a true wind energy network in Québec, and to increase awareness of the contribution of the emerging wind energy industry to regional economic development. The TechnoCentre encourages  entrepreneurs and local businesses to take advantage of wind energy-related business opportunities, to ensure the industry meshes as harmoniously as possible with other land uses, and to identify ways to make the most of wind energy-related economic benefits. The TechnoCentre has a test facility with two 2 kW wind turbine which are available to companies which want to test their products.

“The Quebec government places a significant importance on wind energy and the development of a strong local supply chain for the sector, as illustrated by the estimated $10 billion (CDN) which is expected to be invested in the sector to achieve the province’s goal of over 4000 MW of wind power by 2015,” added Lacasse.

While other provinces aspire to expand their use of wind energy, Quebec’s wind power objective of 4000 MW by 2015 is a significant proportion (almost one-third) of the total projected growth of Canadian wind power for the same period.  On jobs, the Quebec Ministry forecasts that over 4,000 jobs will be created in manufacturing and operating services, and many of those jobs are now in place.

CanWEA has proposed several ambitious initiatives for Canadian wind power.  The organization believes that wind energy can satisfy 20 percent of Canada’s electricity demand by 2025, and that a number of benefits will result from this achievement,  including the following: as much as $79 billion of investment in Canada’s wind energy industry; creation of at least 52,000 high quality, full-time jobs; producing $165 million in new annual revenues for municipalities; adding 55,000 MW of clean generating capacity; stabilizing electricity prices; and cutting Canada’s annual greenhouse gas emissions by 17 Megatonnes.

Wind energy in Canada is on a strong growth curve, both in terms of employment and dollar value, and the manufacturing and service industries which support this growth will doubtless grow with it if the forecasts are fulfilled.  In virtually every province, both public and private sectors are rising to the challenge to create and support, through legislative and financial resources, opportunities for Canadian businesses to develop and commercialize new and competitive technologies to meet the demands of this growth industry, one which will ensure Canada\’s place in the renewable energy supply and value chain.

Duane Sharp is a Canadian electronics engineer and freelance writer who has written extensively on technology and environmental subjects. This article was first published in the December 2010 issue of North American Windpower.