Diesel power generators are like cars: the more efficient they are, the less fuel they need. And that increased efficiency translates into less cost, both for drivers at the pump and for the communities that rely on diesel fuel for heat and electricity. This increased efficiency can be especially important for remote northern communities that must fly in all the diesel necessary to keep those generators running.

“You can’t just flip a switch and change to renewable energy,” said Yukon College student researcher Kelly Tobalt. “So, this project focuses on making the current technology — diesel generators — as efficient as possible.”

Often, these communities must also bring in technicians to fix any problems.

“If there’s a lapse in the system, often someone has to be flown to the community to repair it,” Tobalt said. “So, if there’s a power outage, it can be devastating.”

Take Nunavut, for example. The territory has 25 diesel generator sites powering communities from Auyuittuq, in the north, to Sanikiluaq, near the territory’s southern border. There is a distance of nearly 1,400 kilometres between, and all of these communities must fly in their supplies.

These considerations, coupled with the Qulliq Energy Corp. partnership, made Nunavut’s generator sites the perfect place to start a research project examining the potential for these machines to operate more efficiently so less diesel needs to be purchased, flown up, and burned. Although the research is starting in the eastern arctic, the information gathered will be transferable to sites across the North.

“I am honoured to be involved in a project that can have such large implications for providing reliable energy to these communities,” Tobalt said.

The research began with a survey of literature available on the topic. The next phase will be physically monitoring the generators. Over a full year the researchers will track things like emissions, oxygen intake, and the purity of the fuel used to get a full picture of how the generators are functioning and where adjustments might be made.

Tobalt was interested in participating in this project because she is always searching for unique experiences and new ideas. So far, this journey has taken her to Africa, the United States, through programs at a handful of universities throughout Canada, and now to Yukon College. Tobalt is currently a student in the College’s Renewable Resources program, but her interests are wide and varied.

“I like to reinvent myself,” she said. “I like to travel and to study, and to be immersed in the things that I am learning — I would rather live it than learn about it from a textbook.”

Tobalt chose Yukon College because of its track record for student research. In fact, the school was recently ranked second in the number of paid student research jobs among similar colleges throughout Canada. She also loves being outdoors and saw the Yukon’s vast landscape as an opportunity to explore some uncharted territory.

She started her studies and then applied for a job with Michael Ross, Industrial Research Chair in Northern Energy Innovation at the College. Ross is an enormous supporter of offering students every opportunity to learn and grow

“This project is about electrical engineering, and I am not an engineer by trade, but it is a great learning opportunity,” Tobalt said. “I am gaining so many transferable skills.”

As she sunk her teeth into the project, she also found that the excitement and energy (no pun intended) she felt for the research carried over to her schoolwork.

This project is taking place through a partnership between northern industry and academics, including: Yukon Energy Corp., Qulliq Energy Corp., Northwest Territories Power Corp., ATCO Electric Yukon, Nunavut Arctic College, Aurora College’s Aurora Research Institute and the Yukon Research Centre at Yukon College.

Powering the North