A University of Waterloo study says bringing solar and wind energy to Canada's remote Arctic communities is not only possible and environmentally beneficial, but it will also mean big savings.
"If you run the system as is now, versus you run with renewables, the savings are so compelling that basically you have a business case," says University of Waterloo's Claudio Canizares,one of the authors of the study.
The Waterloo Institute of Sustainable Energy study identifies five communities in Nunavut where hybridized electricity, including wind and solar energy, is projected to be less expensive than using diesel alone.
"Given the state of technology and given the cost of technology in places like Nunavut where diesel generators need to be replaced somewhat soon, renewables would be a better option," says Canizares.
The findings, which follow an earlier pre-feasibility study released in June, were shared at WWF-Canada's Arctic Renewable Energy Summit in Iqaluit. The final report is scheduled to be released in October.
Millions saved by going green
In some communities, using hybrid renewable energy options like wind and solar power could mean millions of dollars in savings.
The study identifies Iqaluit, Sanikiluaq, Rankin Inlet, Arviat and Baker Lake as communities that could benefit the most from renewable energy, saving as much as 10 per cent of their energy costs in a 10-year span.
In Sanikiluaq, the community with the best projected outcomes, the study projects wind and solar energy could provide 50 per cent of the community's energy needs and lead to a 35 per cent reduction in diesel use.
That results in a projection of close to $2 million in savings over 10 years — even when including the cost of transporting and installing renewable energy technology, and maintaining it.
In Arviat, close to 60 per cent of the community's power can be supplied by renewable energy, reducing their diesel use by 40 per cent and their energy costs by approximately $2.5 million over 10 years.
"Ideally we'd like to see as much reduction in diesel usage as possible," says Keith Collier, director of community development in Arviat.
"The savings to be had there in both environmental costs and cash costs as well could be substantial."
Arviat has been working on installing a small 10kW solar panel on one of their hamlet buildings for several years now, but has had challenges navigating Qulliq Energy Corporation's policies and approval procedures, as well as technical and installation challenges.
Collier says Qulliq Energy's new net metering program could signal a change in direction when it comes to legislation around renewable energy.
The hamlet is also working on a large-scale wind and solar energy project for the community.
"I think we have to rethink what we've been doing in the last 30 years on how to save energy and fast forward to what is being presented now," says Theresie Tungilik, a councillor with the Hamlet of Rankin Inlet who attended the summit.
Rankin Inlet has been investigating renewable energy options since the early 1980s, but the projects never came to fruition.
Tungilik says she had many questions about the feasibility of wind and solar energy in the Arctic but presentations from experts in Alaska and the Russian Arctic helped to clear some issues, like how to prevent wind turbines from interfering with the migration routes of local wildlife like caribou.
"I feel that now is the time to start making changes," says Tungilik.
Lessons from Alaska and Siberia
In Alaska, approximately 70 small communities have renewable hybrid systems using wind, solar or hydro power to reduce their dependence on diesel.
Gwen Holdmann, the director of the Alaska Center for Energy and Power says there's some lessons that Nunavut can learn from their experience.
"The problem is not technology," says Holdmann. "The technology works. A lot of this comes to economics."
Holdmann says there's been a great deal of advances in wind and solar technology in the past decade with companies developing specific Arctic packages that can endure harsh climates. She added that the lack of fuel subsidies and extreme high cost of diesel compelled many communities in Alaska to take action on developing renewable energy options in Alaska.
The fact that Alaska has 92 utility companies also helped to create competitive economic conditions that made development of solar and wind energy a reality there.
Finally, Holmann says that Alaska's movement had to be community driven, and it was only after communities rallied that the government implemented a renewable energy fund to provide grants and loans to renewable energy projects.
"Those communities are just as remote, just as small, just as difficult to work in," says Paul Crowley, the director of WWF-Canada's Arctic Program.
"There's no reason why we can't replicate that and adapt it to our situation here in Canada."
"Don't be afraid," says Mariia Iakovleva, a researcher with experience in renewable energy technologies in Siberia. "Don't be closed to renewable energy."
Iakovleva says wind and solar energy has been a reality for a decade in numerous small communities in Siberia, but admits that many communities were reluctant to adopt the technology at first.