Renewable Energy in Canadian North Could Save Enough Money to Pay for Itself

Adding solar and wind power to northern Canadian Nunavut communities powered by diesel generators could save enough money in operating and maintenance (O&M) expenses to pay for the installations, while substantially reducing CO2 emissions in these locations.

That’s the conclusion of the World Wildlife Fund Canada (WWF-Canada) study “Fueling Change in the Arctic.” Conducted on behalf of WWF-Canada by the University of Waterloo’s Waterloo Institute for Sustainable Energy (WISE), the study considered the suitability of 13 Nunavut sites for supplementing their existing diesel-only power generation systems with solar panels, wind turbines, and battery-based electricity storage plants.

“We used the initial study information to identify five northern communities that would benefit most from adopting a hybrid diesel/renewable power generation model,” Paul Crowley, WWF-Canada’s VP of Arctic conservation, said. “The factors we took in account in making our decisions included local reductions in CO2 emissions, savings in O&M costs for the diesel systems by reducing their usage, and reinvesting those O&M savings in renewable power sources and how much we could maximize the use of renewable power in each community.”

WWF-Canada’s renewable recommendations represent the first real alternative to diesel for these Nunavut communities; all of which are extremely remote, with no access to a main electrical power gird. In fact, the Nunavut territory has no coal, hydroelectric, natural gas, or nuclear power generating stations. At present, all of its power comes from locally based diesel generators, with diesel fuel being brought in by barge or tanker due to a lack of connecting highways and railways.

“The use of diesel for all of Nunavut’s power results in air pollution that affects local health, ‘black carbon’ caused by soot fallout that absorbs more sunlight and thus speeds up detrimental snowpack melting, and frequent diesel fuel spills,” Crowley said. “At the same time, there is enough sunlight and wind to provide substantial power generation. Even in February, you’ll see icicles forming on rooftops in the capital city of Iqaluit, because the sunlight heats up the roofs enough to melt the snow.”

Based on WWF-Canada’s research, the Nunavut hamlet of Sanikiluaq (population 924) could cut its CO2 emissions by 53 percent, save 45 percent of its diesel O&M costs by adding renewable energy to its power generation system, and have renewable power provide up to 52 percent of Sanikiluaq’s total electricity requirements. The runner-up in CO2 reduction/potential O&M savings/renewable power penetration is Iqaluit (pop. 7542) at 40/25/39 percent. It is followed by Rankin Inlet (pop. 2820) at 39/28/39 percent, Arviat (pop. 2611) at 34/20/35 percent, and Baker Lake (pop. 2164) at 36/25/36 percent.

Using this data, WWF-Canada’s next steps are to work with an Arctic renewable energy expert committee to prove the viability of solar/wind power in the Canadian north, talk to all five selected communities about deploying renewable power, and get at least three large-scale northern renewable energy projects underway by 2020.

“Renewable power could solve a lot of problems for people in Canada’s north,” Crowley said. “It is a natural fit for this environment.”

Lead image credit: Alan Sim| Flickr

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James Careless is a freelance writer.

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