WIND ENERGY IN CANADA: A POSSIBLE SOLUTION FOR REMOTE NORTHERN COMMUNITIES
This story is brought to you in part by TransNorth - Biomass Stoves
By Cori Marshall
Canada is a vast territory that has offered us many opportunities for energy creation. Canadians have exploited the rivers to create hydroelectricity, and the highest tides in the world may yet offer a chance to produce tidal energy on a large scale. There are many opportunities here to create clean renewable energy.
In an email communication with Water Today, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) stated that "Canada's electricity supply is one of the cleanest in the world, with 80 percent coming from non-emitting sources, [and] the Government of Canada has committed to reducing its emissions to 30% below 2005 levels by 2030."
Canada's ecumene is concentrated regionally, and spread out, leaving large open spaces which could be ideal for producing wind energy. We wanted to look at wind energy production in Canada, what is the potential, and can this form of energy production be used in remote northern communities and be made affordable for residents.
NRCan said that Canadian "geography makes it ideally suited to capitalize on large amounts of wind energy." They continued "in 2016, Canada was positioned 8th in the world in terms of total wind power installed capacity (11,915 MW)," and 10th in terms of new installations. Last year there were "more than 280 wind farms in operation," and investments topped $900 million.
We also wanted to know whether this potential for generating energy was uniform across the country. In their response, NRCan said there are "large areas with excellent wind resources and therefore a significant potential for expansion of wind-generated power."
NRCan explained that "the quality of wind makes a huge difference to wind power producers, [where] consistent winds lead to more steady energy production."
According to the Canadian Wind Energy Atlas, an online interactive map tool, that allows displaying wind energy production data across a number of fields. Information is displayed according to province, mean wind speed, mean wind energy, roughness length, and topography. Map imagery back up what NRCan said the areas with the highest mean wind speeds are offshore and along the east and west coastlines with speeds ranging 7 to 10 plus metres per second (m/s).
We also wanted to see what potential there was for remote northern communities replace their dependence on diesel with a renewable source, the wind. There have been initiatives in this area at the federal level.
Contained in Budget 2017
- $220 million to reduce the reliance of rural and remote communities on diesel fuel, and support the use of more sustainable, renewable power solutions, including wind energy;
- $21.4 million to continue the Northern Responsible Energy Approach for Community Heat and Electricity Program;
- $400 million in an Arctic Energy Fund to address energy security for communities north of the 60th parallel, including Indigenous communities; and,
- $75 million to the Impact Canada fund which can support initiatives in this area.
Natural Resources Canada
NRCan underlined that "given northern and remote communities' isolation, deploying renewable energy technologies is more expensive in these areas, which consequently limits their use."
There is a firm that is trying to bring wind energy technology to northern communities in an affordable way. Borrum Energy Solutions "aims provide cost-effective clean energy wind solutions," according to their mission statement. We spoke with Odilon P. Lemieux, Founder and President of the firm to find out more about their operation.
Lemieux is an "engineer by trade and worked in the power generation industry, mainly in the nuclear sector," he said. He became interested in renewable energy a few years back when he read about "two Laurier graduates who were going after a large $2 million wind turbine when energy was at $0.85 a KwH.” He quickly realized that he "did not have that kind of capital."
He became interested in northern Canada after he discovered that "the average income in Nunavut is around $20 thousand, and the national average is around $33 thousand." Lemieux found that the costs of generating energy from diesel and transporting were "astronomical."
It was through further research that Lemieux came to find "wind patterns in that part of the country were pretty good." The Canadian Wind Atlas Map shows that across the three northern territories the mean wind speed in most areas is between 6 to 7 m/s, with small pockets reaching 8 m/s. Lemieux said that the "minimum wind speed required for wind turbines is about 4 m/s," and the speed in those areas exceed that.
Lemieux said that the cost of electricity in the north "is above $0.60 a KwH and in some places around $0.80 or $0.90." To put this in context the domestic rate (Rate D) charged to clients of Hydro-Québec is $0.4009 KwH. You can see that rates are much higher in the north, everything is more expensive in the north driving the cost of living up.
Lemieux explained that the majority of the "cost incurred when setting up a large wind turbine is site preparation, installation, and connecting to the grid for net metering, which is when you generate electricity and don't use it you send it back to the grid and get paid."
Individuals are paid what they are charged, though the set-up does not come cheap. "The storage cost of electricity, batteries, represents a viable alternative to net metering for temporary excess generation," Lemieux said.
Another challenge in bringing viable wind energy to the north was that "turbines generate electricity at 12 volts, and has to be converted to 120, which is the standard for homes," Lemieux explained.
Lemieux realized that there were a number of "appliances that work on 12 volts," just think of recreational vehicle (RV) appliances. Another plus is that 12-volt water heater elements are available on the market.
The characteristics of housing in Nunavut or the Northwest Territories "is that many homes do not have basements and are elevated off the ground," Lemieux said. This sparked the idea of a turbine and batteries for storage connected to 12-volt water heaters, LED lights. What Borrum is proposing for the north is an off the grid solution.
Lemieux explained that all of the components, such as 12-volt appliances, "are readily available on the market," and takes a minimum amount of skill to connect them.
Borrum's approach is one of cost displacement by "using the turbine to power heaters you no longer need as much power from the grid," Lemieux said. He suggested that this "provides a better payback than you would have otherwise."
"None of these systems are [currently] operational in Northern Canada." He added that right now they are "looking into enhancing an existing turbine," to work in the northern climate. These turbines have to function in harsh environments, extreme cold, the formation of ice, and salt air.
Borrum is not developing their product from scratch. Lemieux said that he "bought the manufacturing and distribution rights to an existing turbine." The goal is to have a functioning model "in Northern Canada by summer 2018." Borrum is in the initial stages of setting up a joint venture reference site in the territory.
The goal is "to have a product that is designed, assembled, and a majority of the machining done in Canada," he said.
Not everyone shares the same optimism for small wind turbines. Stewart Russell, former Board Member of the Toronto WindShare Co-operative - a community-based co-operative responsible for the first urban-sited turbine to be constructed in North America at Exhibition Place in Toronto - said "it's difficult, because remote communities are all so different, not all have good wind, many do."
"The difficulty is solar energy cheaper than anything else, nothing can compete with it even in remarkably far north places," Russell said.
He added that "small wind turbines are no longer in the market, there is not the market to support them, [...] solar is pretty much the only option."
"Solar provides better reliability at much lower cost, people stopped buying [small wind turbines] so people stopped making them," Russell said to explain why the market dried up.
This look into wind energy as means of moving remote northern communities away from using diesel said that there is no easy fix. A cleaner, cheaper energy source is needed in the areas where the average income is lower than the national average and and the cost of living is much higher.