Remote possibilities

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In the territory of Nunavut, in Canada’s far north, PV arrays can capture up to 24 hours of sunlight per day during the longest days of summer. Many communities in northern Canada have begun to integrate solar energy to reduce the environmental and financial impacts of their reliance on diesel to generate electricity. These projects have many environmental and financial benefits in Canada’s remote communities.

For the past six years, Green Sun Rising (GSR) has been traveling to remote communities in Canada to reduce the need for diesel generation by installing solar PV systems. To date, GSR has installed 24 such systems in some of the most remote areas of Canada, including above the tree line in the Arctic. The company estimates that its systems generate more than 500,000 kWh per year, which saves about 150,000 liters of diesel annually. This results in a reduction of almost 400,000 kg of carbon-dioxide emissions per year.

Unique environment

But if it seems that implementing a solar PV system would be a straightforward process anywhere in the world, remote communities introduce unique challenges. Successful preparation for such remote projects requires years of experience working within the local communities. Despite coming from Windsor, the southernmost city in Canada, GSR has become an authority on solar projects in remote communities and the Canadian Arctic. GSR has worked with every Inuit government in Canada to integrate solar energy into their communities. By attending events like the Northern Lights Energy Conference in Ottawa, GSR President Klaus Dohring saw potential in bringing solar to places that need it most. Today, he and his company are realizing this vision across Canada.

The most attractive aspect of solar PV to remote communities is the low cost of energy generation compared to the diesel power plants they primarily use. Supplying diesel to such communities comes at a tremendous cost. For example, it takes one liter of fuel to deliver four liters to the community of Old Crow, Yukon. The time window for shipping the fuel in some of these communities is very limited due to extreme weather conditions in the Arctic. Seasonal ice roads only allow a period of a few weeks to bring in materials. The most remote communities, such as Sachs Harbour in the Northwest Territories, can only be refueled through air freight or barge. These deliveries are incredibly expensive and may arrive only once or twice per year, weather permitting. This also adds cost for storing the diesel, which can remain in place for years before use. Not to mention that diesel generators have higher operating and monitoring costs than PV systems.

As a result, the cost of energy in such remote communities is considerably higher than in southern Canada. Community-owned buildings, such as hamlet offices or recreation centers, fitted with solar, provide savings which benefit the entire community. By generating their own power they can save thousands of dollars per month by running diesel generators less often. GSR encourages community members to be involved with the installation as an opportunity for training and education. While staying in the communities, GSR visits schools and delivers classes on renewables and the benefits of being energy conscious.

GSR has designed and installed Nunavut’s largest PV project, a 60 kW system on Kugluktuk’s recreation complex. Kugluktuk, previously known as Coppermine, has a population of roughly 1,500 and is located on the Arctic Ocean, hundreds of kilometers from the nearest settlement. The building is used for community events and gatherings. As one of the largest buildings in the hamlet, the complex is a high energy user and a perfect candidate for PV. Originally the system began as a 10 kW project in June 2016, but it received a 50 kW expansion after one year at the request of the community because of the considerable savings.

Systems for these communities may appear small, but they are appropriately sized because of their smaller population and energy needs. GSR’s northernmost system is in the fly-in community of Sachs Harbour, located on Banks Island. It is the northernmost settlement in the Northwest Territories, and the only one on the island. To demonstrate how expensive electricity can be, the community discovered that it can save around CAD 9,000 ($6,845) a year by unplugging a soft drink machine. The full cost of each project varies with logistics, location, and system size.

The environmental benefits of solar PV are also an important factor for these communities. Most of the people living in remote areas are indigenous Canadians. Inuit and First Nations people have traditionally felt a duty to protect their land and environment, making clean energy generation an interesting prospect. There have been instances when fuel carriers have polluted areas of land and water through spillage, polluting nearby ecosystems. This level of spillage is reduced with solar because system installation is a one-off occurence.

Furthermore, diesel generators are noisy when operating and pollute the air with their emissions, emitting black soot. Alvin Orlias, the superintendent of the solar-diesel power plant in Colville Lake, Northwest Territories, noted that he could finally hear nature, such as birds chirping, when going to work in the morning.

Reducing diesel generator use in remote communities is a game changer. As a nation, Canada has agreed to curb its carbon emissions in accordance with the Paris Agreement and welcomes opportunities like these to realize its commitment. There are also negative consequences associated with climate change that are experienced in these areas.

Tuktoyaktuk, where GSR has installed a 15 kW system, is one such community that is observing these effects. From their location on the shores of the Arctic Ocean, the local people are seeing increased coastal erosion associated with rising sea levels and barrier ice loss, which may soon necessitate the relocation of buildings.

Other communities are seeing drastic changes in wildlife populations and migration patterns, which is also associated with temperature changes. These factors are uniting indigenous Canadians in order to preserve their homes and way of life.

Be prepared

As mentioned, solar installations in the Arctic face several challenges that are unique to remote communities. In order to ensure smooth installation, GSR prepares materials weeks or months beforehand and emphasizes the importance of proper documentation. Doing so confirms that everything is shipped well ahead of time. There are no hardware stores or electrical suppliers in these communities, making preparation vital to project success.

To keep travel costs to a minimum, installations must be completed during the scheduled stay in the communities. To accomplish this, teams spend roughly four hours preparing, documenting, and packaging materials in their workshop for each hour spent installing on site. They ship multiple crates via truck, train, barge, and aircraft and keep in contact with the couriers to ensure timely arrival. When ice doesn’t clear around communities, ships cannot arrive, and installations will be delayed. Limited accommodations require that the team is booked for stay well ahead of time. Minimal or no cellphone and internet service in remote areas can cause issues with communication, including monitoring, which can result in data loss.

There are extreme temperatures to face, of course, when working in the Arctic. The team has completed installations in temperatures between -25°C and -40°C. Proper clothing and limited exposure are vital to keeping warm. Dangerous wildlife, such as polar and grizzly bears also bring risks. Being mindful of wildlife is a must when traveling in bear country.

Coming from southerly Windsor, Ontario it seems unlikely that GSR would be the best suited for remote community projects. However, the team is adventure-oriented and interested in unique sights, such as pingos and glaciers. GSR was formed in January 2008 and converted part of an old automotive factory into the Renewable Energy Technology Center, its base of operations. The company is the oldest active solar design, development, and implementation specialist in southwestern Ontario and has been in business for more than 12 years. It was established before the Green Energy Act of 2009, which began the solar and wind boom in Ontario.

GSR operates two company electric vehicles with zero emissions that are fueled by solar carports. It also supplies, designs, develops, and implements solar thermal systems for heat energy throughout Canada. The company welcomes anybody visiting the area to drop by the RET-Center and use the GSR team as a resource for renewable energy information and living in an environmentally sustainable future.

Anteo Petkovic

About the author

Anteo Petkovic is a solar professional at Green Sun Rising Inc. He is responsible for project implementation, networking, and social media and website management. Petkovic holds a bachelor of arts from the University of Windsor.