First Nations Power Authority unveils solar project in Swift Current
Afirst-of-its-kind piece of solar technology has made its operating debut in Swift Current, with the now on-line First Nations Power Authority project offsetting power consumption at the Home Inn and Suites.
The FNPA held a ceremony last Tuesday to formally unveil their new technology, a prototype design of a solar photovoltaic power generator. This Strategic Off-Grid and Renewables (SOAR) demonstration project is another step in better understanding of how solar energy can best be used in Saskatchewan.
First Nations Power Authority of Saskatchewan CEO Leah Nelson Guay noted this is their first solar project, but they have aspirations to develop significantly greater capacity and become a larger contributor to Saskatchewan’s renewable energy production network.
“This is the very first step for us. This project is a good example of crawl, learn to walk, then learn to run. The very first solar project for us, it is critical in that: 1) it shows that systems can be used and operated successfully here in Saskatchewan; 2) the most interesting part of this project is actually the data that we’re actually able to capture. There’s a screen at the front of hotel… we’ve got a live webcam feed so you can watch from the comfort of inside the front lobby, but it also shows the energy being produced by the system. And so it’s our tracking of that energy production that’s of most interest to us and future projects.”
Guay said they were excited to team up with Lockheed Martin who contributed extensive research and development of the design for this new technology.
“The interesting part of any new technology is you develop that first prototype, and you test it and you put it in the field and figure out how it’s really going to work in the real world. And that’s what we learned from that project is that there’s a few improvements that needed to be made,” she said. “So how do we design and build a system that can really withstand everything that Mother Nature has to throw at us. So the new design out back has a completely different central pivot that has been designed.”
She also highlighted that FNPA is proceeding with two other projects to offset power use at Elementary School on the Fond du Lac Denesuline First Nation and the Hatchet Lake Denesuline First Nation.
“Not only is it about an energy project, but it’s a big push on the energy side. So we’re really excited because there will be curriculum that’s developed for the kids - math, science, energy usage. How do our behaviours at home actually drive energy consumption?
First Nations Power Authority is excited about the future of solar energy as a renewable energy source, which ties into the traditional beliefs of First Nations communities. Plus the affordability of solar power is becoming more attractive to develop.
“Something that’s really important to understand about the solar industry is the actual price of solar PV panels has dropped significantly. So there’s going to come a point in the not to different future, and I mean within the next two or three years, where people are going to be crazy not to have solar panels on their houses to offset their energy usage, to provide solar hot water heat. Because the price of energy is actually going up very quickly as well. So when you have that cross over point, where the solar energy (cost) is coming down, and the overall cost of what we pay for energy is going up, that cross over point is going to happen in the next two to three years. So we view that as a huge opportunity.”
Fred Jardine, Director, Industrial Strategy with Lockheed Martin in Ottawa, is excited to see the technology up and running because of the benefits of its solar tracking abilities. Unlike fixed solar devises, their new design tracks the sun during the course of the day, facing east in the morning and rolling west as the day goes on. A design feature for Canada’s climate, the solar panels have the ability to dump snow.
“You get a lot higher performance out of a tracked technology such as this,” Jardine explained. “In general, depending on where you are in Canada, it actually gets better the further north you go, this will generate between 20 some and 60 per cent more power than a fixed devise.”
The solar unit is expected to produce a little over 26,000 kilowatt hours per year of renewable energy, equivalent to what 3.3 average Saskatchewan houses would use in a year. Because it will be producing energy without the use of coal or fossil fuels, the solar project will result in a reduction of about 21 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of what 4.4 cars will produce in a year.
“So there’s an electrical offset capability, and there’s an environmental advantage to it as well,” he said.
And while Canada’s winter climate does not seem to be an ideal fit for solar electricity, Jardine highlights the unit’s production over a full calendar year is where the technology has its most benefits.
“The truth is farther north is actually better with it. I think it’s important to look at what is the energy production over the entire 12 month cycle. And even in the winter time, today we are still producing solar energy and it’s providing power into this hotel. In northern Canada we actu- ally have very long summers, very long days. And the further north you go the better it is. A fixed system isn’t going to give you the same amount of energy production, but if you can actually look at the sun in the morning and follow it through the day and the evening, you do very well. And on an annualized basis, it’s very important.”
“When you want to look at this technology you base it over an entire 12 month cycle and see what you get out of it.”
He also points to the project’s potential benefits in remote Northern communities, where diesel fuel is utilized for electrical production. These diesel systems are run continually, with diesel fuel brought in year round by truck.
“The result is we can significantly reduce the amount of fuel that is consumed and greatly prolong the life of the diesel engines because they don’t turn on as much.”
The original prototype installed during the summer months had a mechanical problem caused by a welding failure which temporarily halted the project. Jardine is now anxiously looking forward to seeing how this prototype design handles the rigours of a prairie winter.
“There are other trackers that exist that will follow the sun. The ability to do it reliably, and in high winds, and different temperatures from say -40 Celsius to plus 40 Celsius becomes a challenge,” he admitted.
The solar tracker is able to change its orientation when wind speeds are too high, conforming to the wind in order to prevent damage.
“You can also turn it to dump snow, which will actually increase by several percent the energy production through a Canadian winter, relative to a fixed solution.”
Admittedly, he had a ‘ wow’ moment when he saw it in use for the first time.
“I think the real happiness will come when others who are participants in projects such as this can actually build and deploy and do wonderful things in remote parts of Saskatchewan as well, or other parts of Canada.”
When it comes to a wider spread adoption of the technology, Jardine feels this solar generator has a bright future.
“Clean energies will become increasingly important I think,” Jardine said. “The environmental values I think become very, very important in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, moving off of less clean forms of energy generation, such as coal. Where it really makes a difference is in the remote parts of the world where fuel has to be brought in. If you think of taking trucks of diesel fuel across ice roads, and delivering it into camps. And those trucks are using a lot of fuel. And as the ice gets thinner, and the duration of the ice roads shortens, then a lot of that fuel has to be flown in. And so you see a tremendous impact that’s there.”
“The companion technology that goes with that is energy storage, and the battery technology is really moving forward. And I think, probably driven by the commercial industry - the automobile, the electric vehicles, etc. - you’ll start to see a lot of really good energy storage technology. It’s good today, I think it’s going to be fantastic in about two years.”