Colville Lake, N.W.T., is pioneering a solar power/diesel power hybrid system that is poised to reduce the town's reliance on diesel fuel.

"Apparently the world energy sector has its eyes on how this system is going to work," said Alvin Orlias, who manages Colville Lake's new facility.

The N.W.T. Power Corporation says it put in the new, greener system because it was already replacing the old power plant and generators.

The new hybrid system combines two solar arrays and a three battery storage system with diesel generators to power the town of less than 200 people.

When the sun is up, the 130 kilowatt solar panel system charges the batteries.

"Anytime the battery is 100 per cent charged it will flip over to battery and the town will be powered by battery during that time," said Pam Coulter, spokesperson for the Northwest Territories Power Corporation. 

"When it goes down to about 40 per cent, the generators will kick back in."

A year ago, the power corporation said Colville Lake was one of the most expensive small N.W.T. communities to power. It was using about $140,000 of diesel annually, brought in once a year by winter road.

​Since the installation of the system was completed in December, the solar array has been able to produce enough power to run the town for about 30 minutes during the day, or about 60 minutes at night.

That diesel-free time is expected to increase as the amount of daylight increases. The hope is that the town will rely mostly on solar energy during the 24 hours of daylight in summer.

"We are expecting we may be able to get enough out of the solar to actually power the whole town for as long, I believe, the sun is shining," said Coulter.

The new system is one of several projects designed to reduce the reliance on diesel-burning generators in remote communities. The N.W.T. is part of a national task force that hopes to find alternative ways to power some 300 off-grid communities across the country. 

Orlias said the new system also makes much less noise than the old power plant.

"It's quiet sometimes and these engines are pretty quiet units, too," he said. "They aren't very loud. I have to look out my window to make sure they are running."

The project cost $7.7 million, with the N.W.T. government chipping in $1.3 million.