How a Small Solar System Can Help a First Nation Community

FROM Linkedin ON Aug. 19, 2014

One of the most rewarding aspects of my life is to see how we can make lives better for others, especially the under-privileged ones. Here I want to share with you a story of how we provided a solar diesel hybrid solution to a First Nation community in Ontario.

In Canada, most First Nation communities are located in remote locations and many are not easily accessible by roads. There are about 300 First Nation communities, the majority of which use diesel systems for their electricity. Many of these diesel generators have reached their designed life span.

During very cold days in the winter, First Nations are often forced to close their schools and public buildings, due to diesel fuel shortages. On top of that, the existing diesel generator systems do not have enough load capacity to meet the rising energy demands of their growing communities.

Similar energy crises are found throughout First Nation communities.

In 2012, Keewaytinook Okimakanak (KO), a Band Council representing six First Nations in Northern Ontario, approached Canadian Solar for a solution to reduce their dependency on diesel fuel and to increase their energy supply in a manner which they can afford.

The Deer Lake First Nation, with a population of about 1,200 people, was chosen for our pilot solar-diesel hybrid solution project. In the winter of 2013/2014, Deer Lake experienced a 10% increase in its peak demand and the utility was unable to connect five new homes recently built in the community as the existing diesel system had reached its full capacity.

Canadian Solar proposed a phased-in solar capacity development plan. The first phase is to install a 152KW DC solar rooftop system connected to the diesel generating station to establish a solar-hydro-diesel hybrid system. The next phase of the project will be to establish a full microgrid system with 1MW solar system and energy storage in the community.

The installation of the solar roof project began in February of 2014. The challenges we faced to install the solar system were beyond what we imagined.

Shipping BOS materials was a big challenge as they had to be measured to specification, packed, braced and shipped in two 40ft containers from Canadian Solar's Guelph manufacturing facility taking extra precautions, to avoid damages during the 2,200km long journey over bumpy, frozen winter roads. The materials were dropped off two kilometers from the installation site as the school is not truck accessible. The community helped to move all the packages to the school.

The Installation crew had to lift everything onto the roof manually as the lifting equipment in the community broke down, and getting a spare part would have taken months. The installation was done in minus 40 Celsius temperature with heavy snow falls. Shovelling snow took a good portion of the daily working hours. But despite the various challenges, three weeks later the solar system installation was completed, one week ahead of schedule.

Annual Benefits of the Solar Hybrid Solution:

  • The newly installed PV system cuts the energy bill by $112,000 for the community every year and the payback term is less than five years.
  • The project generated 3 part-time jobs during the installation of the system, and another 2 part-time jobs to support the O&M throughout the year.
  • Displaced diesel fuel at least 31,000 liters per year
  • Reduced emission 99 tons annually, equivalent to 20 cars' carbon emission every year.

This first phase of the Deer Lake First Nation project proves that solar-diesel hybrid systems can be part of the solution to the energy crisis facing the First Nations as well as other off-grid communities who utilize diesel fuel. The social and economic benefit of the project is to provide affordable energy to the community which it owns, and to create up to eight full and part-time jobs in Deer Lake once the full microgrid solution has been built. Through on-the-job training and knowledge transfer, the project will further allow us to empower the community in the development of the Aboriginal renewable energy industry in Northern Ontario.

I look forward to seeing more solar diesel hybrid systems installed in the First Nation Communities in Canada.

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