Study sizes up Cape Dorset’s power grid for renewables
Outcome should show how much wind, solar could be supported, while keeping the lights on
That’s a question on the mind of Michael Ross. He’s the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council’s research chair in northern energy innovation, based out of Yukon College in Whitehorse.
The question recently led him to Cape Dorset, where, accompanied by research assistant Jason Zrum, he inspected the different parts of the community’s electrical generation and transmission systems.
It turns out that it’s not so simple to plug a wind turbine or solar array into the electrical grid of a remote northern community that’s presently entirely dependent on burning dirty, expensive diesel fuel.
Do it wrong, and the community could suffer from brownouts or power surges.
Ross aims to produce a report by early 2019 that will give a clear idea of how much renewable energy Cape Dorset’s grid will be able to handle.
A similar grid impact study, done in Old Crow, Yukon, found that the fly-in-only community could be powered by solar panels and storage batteries, rather than diesel generators, for about 100 days a year.
The work is part of a project, called Northern Energy Innovation, being done across Canada’s three northern territories, with the help of territorial utility companies.
Northern utilities have tended to be conservative in their adoption of renewables, “because it’s their mandate to ensure that the lights stay on,” said Ross. But “Qulliq Energy wants to know whether we can do better.”
The report’s conclusions could be useful for QEC, or for others, including the municipality, if it’s interested in becoming an independent power producer.
Ross’s work is being done with both wind and solar power in mind. “Those are technologies that are mostly mature.
But it’s also a worst-case scenario, because you can’t tell the wind to blow or the sun to shine,” he said.
“There’s some intermittency. We’re looking at wind and solar for precisely that reason.”
And, based on his recent visit to Cape Dorset, he can attest that “there’s a very strong wind resource there.”
Cape Dorset was chosen, in part, because it has a new diesel generation plant. Arviat is next.
Ross hopes to eventually study all of Nunavut’s 25 communities, but that won’t be happening right away.
The project, which is supported with $400,000 in annual funding, is intended to stretch across all three territories. It’s midway through a five-year term, with the option of renewing for another five years afterwards.
Other work, done by WWF-Canada, has looked at the potential to tap wind and solar power in Nunavut’s communities. Ross’s work, meanwhile, looks at the challenges of hooking up these renewable energy sources to the local electrical grid.
“It’s two sides of the same coin,” said Ross.
“WWF was looking at what are the wind and solar resources: how much is the wind blowing, how much sun does the community get. We’re looking at it from a power system standpoint.”
Ross likens an electrical grid to a truck that’s being driven with cruise control engaged. Keeping the grid similarly at a steady “speed” while renewables switch on and off is important, because if the electrical frequency or voltage starts swinging around, it could fry electrical equipment.
It’s also important to ensure that fail-safes don’t trip when they don’t need to. “It’s like a smoke detector in your house. You don’t want it to go off every time you’re cooking, but when there’s a fire, you want to make sure that it works,” said Ross.
While in Cape Dorset, Ross also met with QEC reps and the deputy mayor, “to make sure everybody is aware of what’s going on, and everybody can take advantage of what’s going on.”