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.”

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