Solar panels, gifted to the hamlet of Clyde River by Greenpeace, are now up and running—saving the community money and diesel.

The 27 panels were installed on the community hall, when the Greenpeace ship, the Arctic Sunrise, visited in late summer last year.

However, in no rush with the dark winter ahead, the panels didn't get the final go-ahead from the territory's safety inspector until March 9 of this year.

And already, they're performing better than conservative estimates.

Solar panels loaded on Arctic Sunrise

Solar panels are hoisted onto the Greenpeace vessel Arctic Sunrise in St. John's, N.L. , bound for Clyde River, Nunavut. (Greenpeace)

Jonathan Palituq, with the hamlet of Clyde River, said the panels have already produced enough electricity to save around $2,000. Greenpeace guessed that the panels will save Clyde River up to $4,500 a year.

The community developed a relationship with the organization when Greenpeace agreed to support them in their court battle against the National Energy Board's decision to allow seismic testing in Baffin Bay and Davis Strait.

"Part of the idea was that by installing solar, they'd be helping Clyde River show that they're alternative to oil," said Duncan Martin, with the Vancouver Renewable Energy Co-op (VREC).

VREC was contracted by Greenpeace to install the panels and is now monitoring their output. No oversight is needed on the panels post-installation besides a hamlet staffer sending Martin a photo of the panels' readout every few days.

The solar panels are tied to the hamlet's power grid, so in the event that they produce more energy that the community hall needs, they can feed the excess into the grid.

This will be an added boon to the community once the territory introduces net-metering, something Martin says is expected this year.

He says net-metering will allow the hall to buy and sell power to and from the grid at the same rate, so any extra power generation will mean extra cost savings.

At the moment, however, Palituq's says the average power bill for the community hall is $3,000 a month, more than the panels have saved thus far.

Step towards energy independence

However, Martin says that any amount of savings will help Clyde River move towards energy independence. 

"We're not under any illusion that diesel is going to be replaced by solar," Martin said. 

Greenpeace Clyde River

Solar panels being loaded onto the Greenpeace vessel, the Arctic Sunrise. (Vancouver Renewable Energy Coop)

"[But] if we can get to a point where we have solar and wind and some micro hydro, and then we have diesel as the last resort, then we can have a much more reliable source of energy."  

Though Martin expects Northern communities to rely on diesel for years to come, he said the price of solar has dropped enough — nearly 80 percent over the last 10 years — that there is a cost incentive to choose the alternative energy source, rather than just an environmental one.

Greenpeace crowdsourced its members to help afford the panels, which Martin estimates cost $35,000 plus the cost of getting everything and everyone to Clyde River for the install. Transport was covered by Greenpeace during its summer visit.

VREC is now talking to community members in Pond Inlet about the possibility of solar panels for their community hall, but transport will be a challenge.

Martin says he's hopeful they can find space on one of the many ships that head North without a full cargo load, like a cruise ship or a research vessel.

With files from Meagan Deuling and Qavavao Peter