When it comes to energy, northern communities require sustainable, reliable solutions. There are many challenges to planning a power project in the North, including severe weather and electric power networks that span great distances. Renewable energy technologies can work, but they need to be carefully planned and designed so they meet the power needs of remote communities.

Northern Energy Innovation (NEI), a program at Yukon University Research Centre, works to help communities reduce their reliance on diesel, and to make the integration of renewable energy sources a success. The program’s work has contributed to projects in communities across the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut. NEI is a Yukon University research program that partners with Arctic College in Nunavut and Aurora College in the Northwest Territories.

Earlier this year, NEI was recognized for its exceptional work in the Hamlet of Arviat, Nunavut. It placed third in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering Capstone competition for its work in completing a power grid assessment for Arviat and its partner NRStor, a company that develops energy storage solutions. The assessment is an important step when planning a renewable energy project in the North.

“NEI creates models of the electric power system of communities based on information provided by our utility partners and the project proponents, and from information collected in the field,” said Jason Zrum, NEI research analyst. “We then perform analytical and simulation studies of the system to assess the potential impact of a renewable energy project, with the goal of ensuring that projects don’t negatively affect the reliability of the system. The last thing anyone wants to have happen is for a renewable project to cause a number of blackouts or other issues.”

The project in Arviat will integrate wind, solar and a battery system into the local power system as an independent power producer. Once the project is complete, there will be 50 per cent renewable energy penetration, reducing the hamlet’s reliance on diesel. NEI partners with the Northern Energy Consortium, which consists of ATCO Electric Yukon, Northwest Territories Power Corporation, Qulliq Energy Corporation and the Yukon Energy Corporation. “NEI’s research areas are determined by the Northern Energy Consortium to address the needs of the utilities and then we propose projects within these research areas,” Zrum said. “One of these areas is the integration of renewable energy in remote communities.”

Michael Ross is the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Industrial Research Chair in Northern Energy Innovation. Ross leads NEI’s research projects, which have included nine communities in the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut.  “Our team is committed to working with northern communities and their utility companies to provide the information needed to incorporate sustainable energy into their power systems,” Ross said. “What makes our projects successful is that we are guided by the communities, supported by the utilities, with a dedicated and talented team of professionals and students.”

The NEI has completed assessments for several other communities including Old Crow and Beaver Creek in the Yukon, and Cape Dorset in Nunavut. Zrum also highlighted other projects NEI has on the go.
“We’re currently working on an impact study in Łutsël Kʼé, Northwest Territories, in partnership with BCIT,” he said. “We also have a range of projects ongoing in other research areas, including a project assessing the efficiency of a variable speed generator in Aklavik, Northwest Territories, and a project looking at electric thermal storage in Whitehorse, to name a few.”

The NEI is playing a huge role in making renewable energy solutions a reality in northern communities. The Capstone Award for the program’s work in Arviat is well-deserved recognition for research that may fly under the radar, at least for the average Yukoner. And while Zrum is pleased with the award, he also shares credit with the NEI’s community and industry partners. “It really takes the involvement of the communities, project proponents, and the utilities to make any renewable project be a success. Our work can help these projects to move forward by providing an unbiased assessment of the potential impact, but ultimately it is the community and proponents who make these projects happen. It has been great to receive an award for some of our work, but it wouldn’t have happened without the support of our industry partners and the drive of many communities to pursue renewable projects.”

More about NEI’s projects can be found on the Yukon University website at YukonU.ca/Research/Our-Research/Energy.