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Solutions
| 10/26/16

Hybrid diesel micro-grids for Canada’s far north?

TCE

Hybrid micro-grids that combine solar or wind-generated electricity with diesel could slash the Northwest Territories’ use of diesel in half, according to a report co-authored by a former finance minister of the region.

Michael Miltenberger—who co-wrote The Northern Way with a First Nations legal consultant and an environmental scientist with the University of Calgary’s Arctic Institute of North America—urges Yellowknife to get behind its proposal to service remote communities and industrial sites with these micro grids. These small-scale systems depend upon diesel, such as that produced in Alberta’s oil sands region, to back up variable solar or wind-generated electricity.

Such an effort would cost between $300 million and $780 million, according to the report. And money for the project could come from the pending national price on carbon.

The federal government is set to impose a price on carbon of $10 a tonne from next year and climbing to $50 by 2022. Regardless of whether provinces and territories opt for a carbon tax or an emissions trading system, the new carbon price is projected to generate some $225 million in revenue for the territory over that period, according to the report.

With many of the territory’s aging diesel generators due to be replaced, the report argues that micro-grids are the answer, rather than swapping old diesel for new or investing in expensive hydro power expansion.

The territorial government is currently exploring an expansion of the existing Taltson Twin Gorges hydroelectric dam, at a cost between $500 million and $1 billion , according to the government. The authors of the report reckon that the project, which could incidentally help meet neighbouring Saskatchewan’s increased need for renewable sources of electricity, would in fact cost some $2.2 billion.

The Northern Way report notes that micro-grids have already been deployed in the territory, including a solar-diesel-battery configuration at Colville Lake and a wind farm at a diamond mine. Alaska for its part has also enjoyed considerable success for 70 small communities with micro-grids that combine variable renewables such as wind and solar with diesel, or with other clean but non-intermittent energy sources such as geothermal, hydro and biomass, alongside energy storage options such as flywheels and batteries.

Others worry that such options, while slashing diesel and gas use, do not eliminate the need for fossil fuels. In March, the Ontario and federal government released a report exploring the use of small modular nuclear reactors, which are both clean and non-intermittent so do not require any supplementary use of fossil fuels or storage, for isolated communities and remote mining sites in northern Ontario and Canada’s far north.

The paper looked at nine reactor models and concluded that three designs would deliver cost savings over incumbent diesel generation of $187 per megawatt-hour.

The report did not explore the question of whether citizens in the territory would be willing to accept nuclear power, a highly controversial energy option.

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Should remote northern communities go for hybrid diesel-renewable micro-grids or micro-nuclear?

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