Canada's wind industry has had a record year.  According to the latest data from the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA), 1,400 megawatts of wind capacity was installed in 2011, more than doubling 2010's output.

With over 5,400 megawatts of wind energy at its disposal, enough to power 1.5 million homes, the country now holds the ninth largest wind generating capacity in the world.  This year's record number of installations cumulatively represent almost $3.5 billion in investment as well as 13,500 jobs.

In an interview with EnergyBoom, CanWEA President Robert Hornung said the major driving force behind this year's banner year were request for proposal (RFP) deadlines. 

Without national renewable energy policy, Canada's primary method to develop wind power has been through provincial governments and utilities requesting proposals from companies and awarding contracts to them.  For example, between 2004 and 2006 provincial governments and utilities issued RFPs for 6,000 MW of renewable energy.  As Mr. Hornung highlighted, many RFP contracts expired this year -- meaning companies had to complete their projects.

This growth scenario will perpetuate itself over the short-term, Hornung says, "Wind capacity in Canada will double over the next five years as more contracts reach their deadlines."  More than 6,000 MW of wind energy projects have been contracted to be constructed over the next five years; and this is just the baseline for growth. 

Even with this staggering growth, the industry will not be able to meet the provinces' increasing demand for wind energy, Hornung explains.  Quebec and Nova Scotia have issued new policy this year, and Saskatchewan is working on a revised target.

The leader in renewable energy policy in Canada is the province of Ontario.  As a result of the financial incentives included in its Green Energy Act, Ontario represents one of the most attractive areas for renewable energy investment in the world.  So, it comes as no surprise the province led the charge in wind energy development this year.  More than 500 MW are expected to be added to Ontario's grid by the end of 2011, this represents more than one-third of the country's new wind capacity.

Hornung says the long-term growth potential of the wind industry relies on some fairly volatile factors such as government policy and energy prices.  Nevertheless, he remains quite optimistic about the future.  "Wind energy has been the fastest growing source of electricity in Canada over the last eight years.  This parallels what we've seen across the globe."

Today's announcement is welcome news for a country which has seen its energy policy come under incredible scrutiny over the last week -- Canada has been labeled one of the major forces hindering an international accord on regulating carbon emissions and addressing climate change at the United Nations climate conference in Durban, South Africa.

Image credit: CanWEA