So­lar power heats up in the Far North

Windsor Star - - CANADA - BOB WE­BER

Ayear after his tiny Arc­tic com­mu­nity be­came a test case for so­lar power in the North, it’s the sounds that Alvin Or­lias no­tices.

“I’m stand­ing out­side right now and it’s quiet,” said Or­lias, the su­per­in­ten­dent of Colville Lake, N.W.T.’s unique so­lar-diesel power plant. “You can hear birds chirp­ing in the back­ground.”

The Dene ham­let of about 150 peo­ple north of Great Bear Lake made history last year by be­com­ing the first in the North to re­place its nearderelict diesel gen­er­a­tor — a com­mon prob­lem in the re­gion — with a com­bi­na­tion of diesel, bat­ter­ies and a so­lar ar­ray ca­pa­ble of gen­er­at­ing 160 kilo­watts.

The idea was to use diesel as a backup and dur­ing the win­ter and turn to the sun for ev­ery­thing else.

Twelve months later, that’s about how it’s worked out, said Myra Ber­rube of North­west Ter­ri­to­ries Power Corp.

“Dur­ing pe­ri­ods when the bat­ter­ies are loaded up or we’re get­ting good pro­duc­tion out of the so­lar fa­cil­ity, we can in fact turn off the diesel. The com­mu­nity has made com­ment that it’s quiet.”

Ber­rube said about one­fifth of the town’s an­nual en­ergy use now comes from the sun, even though the pan­els pro­duce al­most noth­ing be­tween November and January. Just as im­por­tant, the bat­ter­ies al­low more ef­fi­cient op­er­a­tion of the diesel gen­er­a­tor.

The cor­po­ra­tion es­ti­mates Colville Lake ran the gen­er­a­tor at least 27 per cent less, sav­ing it more than 37,000 litres of diesel fuel.

There have been bugs in ad­just­ing and bal­anc­ing the ca­pac­i­ties of both sys­tems. But the pan­els them­selves are highly re­li­able and Or­lias said he can re­solve most prob­lems on site.

It’s a vast im­prove­ment over the old gen­er­a­tor, which shut down an av­er­age of 31 times a year.

Colville Lake could be a glimpse of the fu­ture.

Out­side Yukon’s abun­dant hy­dro power, al­most all Cana­dian Arc­tic com­mu­ni­ties de­pend on gi­ant diesel gen­er­a­tors that get their ex­pen­sive, high-car­bon fuel de­liv­ered over ice roads and on barges.

A 2015 Se­nate com­mit­tee con­cluded north­ern elec­tric­ity sys­tems are “ag­ing, un­der­per­form­ing and at ca­pac­ity.” North­ern pre­miers reg­u­larly re­quest fed­eral funds to deal with the prob­lem.

Some re­new­able en­ergy al­ready func­tions in the Arc­tic.

Biomass — also known as “wood stoves” — heats ALL OUR COM­MU­NI­TIES ARE DIF­FER­ENT. THERE IS NO COOKIE-CUT­TER AP­PROACH ON THIS. many homes. Wind tur­bines have been in­stalled out­side Whitehorse as well as in Rankin In­let, Nu­navut. North­west Ter­ri­to­ries Power also op­er­ates so­lar ar­rays in Fort Simp­son.

In­ter­ested ob­servers from around the cir­cum­po­lar North have al­ready vis­ited Colville Lake to take notes.

Ber­rube cau­tions that the com­mu­nity’s ap­proach won’t sim­ply be du­pli­cated across the North.

“All our com­mu­ni­ties are dif­fer­ent. There is no cook­iecut­ter ap­proach on this.”

Wind may be more ap­pro­pri­ate for some places. Others may not be as open to try­ing some­thing new.

The Colville so­lu­tion is also ex­pen­sive.

The to­tal cost was about $8 mil­lion and re­quired $1.3 mil­lion in gov­ern­ment fund­ing. Cal­cu­la­tions on how long it will take for the sav­ings in diesel to pay for the so­lar pan­els haven’t been done yet.

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