How this P.E.I. company aims to reduce diesel power by 50% in remote communities

·4 min read
Frontier Power Systems has worked previously in Ramea, N.L., installing wind turbines that reduced the community's consumption of diesel by 15 per cent.  (Frontier Power Systems  - image credit)
Frontier Power Systems has worked previously in Ramea, N.L., installing wind turbines that reduced the community's consumption of diesel by 15 per cent. (Frontier Power Systems - image credit)

A company in Georgetown, P.E.I., is building a new wind and energy storage system for remote communities, with the goal of displacing 50 per cent of the diesel fuel communities now use for power generation.

Frontier Power Systems has been working in renewable energy for decades, including building large-scale wind farms on P.E.I., and is now embarking on a demonstration project in Ramea, a small island off Newfoundland.

"Our objective is to reduce the fuel consumption by 50 per cent in this community. And that's a level far beyond what's ever been done in Canada," says Frontier's general manager Carl Brothers.

He said the NextGen Arctic Power System takes the best technology from current wind turbines and puts it in turbines better suited for northern communities with no access to cranes.

Kirk Pennell
Kirk Pennell

"We're going to install our wind turbines in conjunction with our battery system and we are going to turn the diesel off for extended periods of time," Brothers explained.

He said the plan is to turn off Ramea's diesel generators about 25 per cent of the time, and generate enough surplus wind power to provide thermal heat for community buildings.

Demonstration project

Brother said one of the challenges for companies like his to this point has been the high cost of energy storage, which he said has come down dramatically because technology has improved with the boom in popularity of electric vehicles.

Kirk Pennell/CBC
Kirk Pennell/CBC

He said the company has also been focusing on building what he calls "medium wind technology," as compared to the massive turbines used on many large wind farms on P.E.I.

"One hundred kilowatt turbines were really common 30 years ago, but now they're four and five megawatt turbines, but the 100 kilowatt turbines from 40 years ago or 30 years ago, the technology was much less advanced than it is now.

"We've looked at the current state of the utility technology and embedded a lot — most of the advantages that the new technology has on the big turbines — on smaller turbines."

Kirk Pennell/CBC
Kirk Pennell/CBC

Another challenge in small remote communities is their limited access to the large cranes needed to install massive wind turbines, he notes.

The Frontier turbines will have a customized system for putting up turbines without the use of a crane.

Putting money into these First Nations' pockets in order to do other things is really a wonderful way of building capacity in the community.
— Carl Brothers,

Brothers said the goal of displacing 50 per cent of a community's diesel consumption has caught attention.

"There's a lot of skepticism — not skepticism, but wariness. Utilities are naturally very conservative. They're responsible for providing reliable electricity to these communities, and they take that mandate seriously," Brothers said.

"We're going to go in essentially asking them to turn off their diesels that have been running for 75 years, so the utility has been, they would say, prudent," Brothers said. "I would admit they're prudent. But they have been slower to move to embrace this than I would like them to be. But this takes time."

Community ownership 

Brothers said one of the goals for his company is to sell the energy systems to communities, which is what Frontier has done with similar projects in Alaska.

Kirk Pennell/CBC
Kirk Pennell/CBC

"We really are strong believers in having the communities take ownership of the electrical facilities in the same way that are taking taken ownership of their water utilities," Brothers said.

"Putting money into these First Nations' pockets in order to do other things is really a wonderful way of building capacity in the community. And we're seeing this in Alaska. We want to see the same thing here in Canada."

Brothers said reducing greenhouse gas emissions is also important to many northern communities. 

"Getting this renewable technology into these communities really resonates with the ethic of these communities," Brothers said.

"The aboriginal groups, they want diesels gone, and so the sun and the wind really resonates with their environmental ethic that Indigenous communities have."

Frontier Power Systems
Frontier Power Systems

Carl's son Dave Brothers has been working with the company since he was 12.

He's now operations manager, and sharing his father's vision for the wind project.

"Coming to work for a company that's trying to make positive change in on the environmental side is an easy way to get up in the morning," Brothers said.

"But on top of that with the idea of empowering communities to grow their capacity deeply resonates with me."

Kirk Pennell
Kirk Pennell

"That's partly what we're doing here, by being committed to being in Georgetown and building capacity in eastern P.E.I. for skilled trades and skilled labour," Brothers said.

"To be able to expand that to different parts of Canada and the world is obviously a very good feeling."

Construction will start next spring and they say their goal is to have the diesels turned off during windy periods starting in September 2023.

The $6.3 million project has received funding from the P.E.I. government, ACOA and NRCan's CERRC (Clean Energy for Rural and Remote Communities) program, and Frontier.

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