NEW TECHNOLOGY AND GOVERNMENT PROGRAM MAKE STRONG CASE FOR WIND POWER
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By Michelle Moore
Wind energy is taking the world by storm. Climate change and rising fuel costs are making it clear that we need to make drastic changes when it comes to where we get our power. That fact is especially clear when one examines off grid communities and their use of diesel-fuelled generators. Government programs like Northern REACHE are making it easier for those communities to make the change by injecting millions of dollars into renewable energy projects.
Single dwellings, communities with a few hundred people and even nickel mines are implementing the use of wind turbines to offset electricity costs and carbon emissions. According to The Canadian Wind Energy Association, "more wind energy has been built in Canada over the last 11 years than any other form of electricity generation."
As of 2016, Canada had an installed capacity of 11 898 Megawatts of wind energy; 285 wind farms and 6 288 wind turbines. However, we are still far behind some European countries like Germany, who produced "nearly 100 per cent of its power needs from wind and solar power on May 15, 2016."
Unlike diesel fuel and natural gas, wind energy does not emit greenhouse gases. Noise can sometimes be a concern, but a Health Canada study on wind turbine noise found that "calculated noise levels were found to be below levels that would be expected to directly affect health," according to World Health Organization Community Noise Guidelines.
The biggest concern for wildlife has been with potential loss of habitat and avian mortality. According to an Environment Canada study, wind energy is listed as the 19th cause of bird mortality, behind agriculture, road collisions, forestry, and the number one killer, cats both feral and domestic.
Initially, costs associated with setting up a wind farm can be expensive, but once it begins generating power, costs of maintaining the turbines are relatively low. Most systems pay for themselves in electricity savings within 5 to 7 years. More importantly the costs do not fluctuate depending on the market or the location of the turbine, unlike the potential costs of shipping diesel fuel to off grid communities.
Recent advances in wind technology have made it even more accessible to small communities. For instance, energy storage systems are becoming more affordable. Without a storage battery, the excess energy has nowhere to go, which means you won't have it when the wind dies down and you'll have to rely on other sources. For off grid communities, energy storage systems can be crucial to operating a reliable power supply.
Microgrid controllers allow multiple power sources to feed into the same power supply, allowing for optimum use of each source. For instance, wind, solar, diesel-fuel generators and an energy storage battery can all be connected through the microgrid. Because the sun doesn't always shine and the wind doesn't always blow, the micro grid facilitates the switch between power sources and storage batteries.
Alexander Stickler, Global Director for Renewable Power for Hatch explained that certain sites are really only accessible for 3 months by ship, at which points costs to bring in diesel fuel by air can be exorbitant. Because of that, looking into wind power as an option makes sense.
There are certainly many advantages to using wind instead of or in addition to diesel-fuelled generators. Stickler said "the benefits to First Nations would be air quality [improvement] of not running, or running much less diesel, potentially power quality improvement, ultimately there's a cost dimension, a strong business case because for a community trying to get off diesel there's distinct programs for renewable power and micro grids."
Programs like Northern REACHE, which specifically targets off grid northern communities, many of which are First Nations, is a big game changer. Because of the cost of shipping diesel fuel to these locations, the more remote they are, the quicker wind energy systems would pay off. Many of these communities have diesel fuel shipped to them by air which according to a Government of Canada study on off grid communities, can cost twice as much as having it shipped by barge.
Stickler explained that Hatch can configure systems to meet the demands of the community at hand, “a small community might only need 500 kw of power and there are battery and storage solutions and we have a storage battery with 4 to 5 devices connected to it, or hundreds, so there are distinctly scalable solutions."
Of course the remoteness of these communities means it would be difficult to have a technician come in for maintenance. When asked how manageable these new systems would be for these communities, he said "what I envision is that communities could easily create and maintain their own power systems and one way we can help is with our micro grid controller. We can access those remotely, so that supports in being able to help local maintenance and keep the system up and running locally."
Stickler says whomever operates the diesel generator could be retrained to manage solar or wind operations. He added that the size of the turbine required by northern communities with small populations would be fairly easy to ship and assemble on site.
Solutions also exist for people living outside of communities or those that are simply looking to have more energy self-reliance. Borrum Energy Solutions carries a 1 kw and 2 kw, and soon a 3kw wind turbine, that can be easily assembled and installed outside a private home with what can be found in most toolboxes. Like larger wind turbines, owner and president Odilon Lemieux says they pay for themselves after roughly 7 years.
Lemieux says that "as the price of electricity goes up, there will be some good business incentive [for people] to generate their own electricity and use the grid to top it off." Unlike other clean energy solutions however, Borrum Energy Solutions turbines don't convert power from DC to AC. He explained that this process is costly and inefficient. As an example he gave the case of recreational vehicles that run on 12V DC and can power heaters, stoves, etc…
The need to simplify maintenance and installation for communities in northern Canada is what drove the idea. Lemieux explained "why connect the whole 120VAC to the house because it's complex and costly? It's off the grid, beyond the meter, so the idea is you use a system that charges batteries and the batteries charge DC heaters and or water heater elements." He added that you can easily buy a 12V water heater element that can be connected through regular electrical hookups.
Borrum Energy Solutions turbines are built to operate in up to -40C and tilt automatically when wind conditions are too strong. Though an electrician should be consulted to connect the power, depending on where you live you may not need a building permit or any additional outside consultation. Lemieux said “it's kind of the IKEA model, some assembly required. You get a box and you get your power, and with simple tools you find at home you put it together."