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Qulliq Energy to test solar panels in Nunavut

The Qulliq Energy Corporation plans to install 11 solar panels in Iqaluit as part of a pilot project for alternative energy.

Territory is almost completely reliant on fossil fuel

Qulliq Energy Corp.'s plan to install solar panels in Iqaluit comes 20 years after a test project at the Nunatta campus of Nunavut Arctic College. These panels produce enough energy to power one classroom for a year. (Nick Murray/CBC)

Nunavut's power utility plans to test pilot solar energy in the territory by March 2016 as part of a research project into alternative energy.

There's a plan to install 11 solar panels at the Qulliq Energy Corporation's Iqaluit plant, which will be able to produce 2.86 kilowatts of power onto the city's power grid.

The concept of harnessing the sun's energy into a power grid will be a first for the public utility. Nunavut is almost entirely dependent on fossil fuel.

"This is a very good test project for us," said Jamie Flaherty, QEC's vice president. "We need to start looking at alternative energy other than diesel, and solar panels is one of the ones we're looking at favourably."

QEC has put out a tender for the installation of the panels, all of which were donated by Natural Resources Canada.

"It's really great. They have to familiarize themselves, not only with the technology proper, but how intermittent power interacts with our grid system," said Andrew Pye, an energy resource analyst with Nunavut's Energy Secretariat.

"That's a huge factor in how much renewable energy, like solar, can be integrated into our grid."

20 years behind Arctic College

This won't be the first solar panel array in Nunavut, though. 

Although QEC's panels are much newer technology, Nunavut Arctic College first installed solar panels on its main building in Iqaluit in 1995. And some private homes in the territory are said to use solar panels.

The 20-year-old installation at the college is a 3.2 kilowatt power system, producing 200 kilowatt hours of electricity annually — or, enough to power one classroom for a year.

Despite being two decades old, most of the 60 panels are still active and working at about 70 to 75 per cent capacity.

"It's pretty extraordinary actually," said Éric Corneau, the dean at Iqaluit's Nunatta campus.

"Some of the researchers who come up here to look at them say that's a pretty exceptional circumstance. The technology is really old, so the same size of [sun] ray with modern panels, would produce considerably more power."

Corneau has been trying to find money to upgrade the panels, but he said there aren't any concrete plans yet.

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