Diesel dependency: Ramea mayor anxious to see progress on fuel-saving initiative

Experimental wind-hydrogen-diesel project moving to Phase 2

Ramea wind farm

Electricity in the southwest coast community of Ramea is provided through a combination of wind and diesel power. (Nalcor)


Ramea Mayor Clyde Dominie welcomes the day when his isolated island community on Newfoundland's south coast is not so dependent on diesel-powered electricity, but he has no clear idea when that might happen.

A unique experiment is underway in Ramea that hopes to blend wind, hydrogen and diesel together to reduce diesel consumption and provide its roughly 200 households with cleaner energy.

"I think it would be a great thing for the community and for the environment, obviously," Dominie said this week.

Ramea hydrogen generating station

The hydrogen generators in Ramea are located inside this building. (Nalcor)

Harmful greenhouse gases

The project is being spearheaded by Nalcor Energy as part of a broader effort by the provincial government to reduce fuel usage in communities isolated from the primary power grid.

There are 21 isolated electrical systems in the province, mostly along the Labrador coast and the south coast of Newfoundland.

Up to a few years ago, these systems were consuming as much 15 million litres of diesel every year in communities such as Makkovik, Hopedale and Nain, among others.

Ramea wind turbines

Three wind turbines were erected in Ramea as part of the unique wind-hydrogen-diesel project. (Nalcor)

They're costly and require a heavy subsidy to operate, and spew greenhouse gases into the environment.

The provincial government says it's committed to cost-effectively reducing the use of diesel in these off-grid communities, and the groundbreaking experiment in Ramea could be one of the answers.

Ramea relies on a combination of wind power and diesel generation, but hydrogen is seen as the real key to reducing diesel consumption.

Hydrogen fuel cell technology 

In simple terms, the project involves using excess electricity from wind turbines to create hydrogen during peak wind conditions.

This hydrogen is then stored and used to power special emission-free generators when the winds are low.

Millions have been spent since the project was launched, and it's still very much a work in progress, but Nalcor said this unique venture has reduced diesel consumption in Ramea by more than one million litres since 2010.


This is a diagram of the wind-hydrogen-diesel energy system that is being tested in Ramea. (Nalcor)

Nalcor is now evaluating proposals for Phase 2 of the project, and is evaluating proposals to better store hydrogen, specifically hydrogen fuel cells.

"If you could generate the hydrogen, which is quite clean and reduce the rates, it would be a win-win for the town all the way around," said Dominie.

If it can be perfected, Nalcor hopes to use this technology elsewhere, and perhaps market the system throughout the world.

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