How much energy would solar panels generate during the short days in the northern winter? How well would it fare in the harsh climate? And does snow, which reflects sunlight, create better results?

Well, that's exactly what one Nunavik community is trying to find out with its solar panel pilot project.

Rows of solar panels were installed on two buildings in Kuujuuaq, Que., mid-September, and it's generated a "significant amount" of energy for the community, says Andy Moorhouse of Makivik Corporation, an organization that represents Inuit in Nunavik.

"During that short two [week] period, we generated enough electricity that would replace 280 litres of diesel," said Moorhouse, the vice president of Makivik's Economic Development Department.

In October, he says the panels created 1,100 kilowatt hours of energy, which is the equivalent of 325 litres of diesel.

Kuujjuaq solar panels

The panels were installed on the Makivik Corporation's head office and research centre buildings in Kuujjuaq, Que. (Submitted by Allen Gordon)

All of the energy that is being created is being used by the community electricity network, and the leftover is credited to Makivik Corporation, said Moorhouse.

Kuujjuaq was selected as the pilot community because both the corporation's research centre and head office is located there, according to Moorhouse.

The team is monitoring the solar panel technology daily.

$560K investment  

The $560,000 project is a pilot, with hopes to learn more about using alternative energy sources in harsh climates, and eventually to help control costs of energy for communities.

"The goal is to learn about the technology," said Moorhouse. "How well, or how bad it does in the harsh climate, when you have up to minus 60 windchills during blizzard storms."

Moorhouse said after a year, a research team will do some number crunching, and see how long it will take to outweigh the costs. The research will also study the possibility of switching the community's heating system to electrical, rather than forced air diesel heating.

"We need to learn a whole lot of things of how these technologies can be improved, how they can be better adapted to the harsh climate that we live in across the Arctic."

He said it's also an opportunity to teach students in schools about science and technology, with the research being done right there in town, and to increase Inuit employment in this field in the future.

Mavikivik is also looking into developing weather stations, or towers, to measure wind and solar activity in all 14 communities in Nunavik.

With files from Michelle Pucci