Solar panels installed in all Nunatsiavut towns as Inuit government eyes energy independence

·3 min read
The Jeremias Sillitt Community Centre in Nain now has a 24-kilowatt solar power system installed on the roof. Nain was the last of Nunatsiavut's communities to have a system installed this summer.  (Submitted by Klaus Dohring - image credit)
The Jeremias Sillitt Community Centre in Nain now has a 24-kilowatt solar power system installed on the roof. Nain was the last of Nunatsiavut's communities to have a system installed this summer. (Submitted by Klaus Dohring - image credit)

Solar panels now face the sky in every Nunatsiavut community, as the region's Inuit government works toward its goal of getting the five remote towns off diesel power and achieving energy independence.

Jamie Hewlett, Nunatsiavut's regional energy co-ordinator, says the solar panels will help reduce the north coast's heavy reliance on fossil fuels for power.

"As we continue to expand renewables and increase energy-efficiency as well as lower energy demand, the consumption and shipping of diesel will steadily decrease."

The Ontario-based solar power company Green Sun Rising installed panels in Makkovik in 2018, with the remaining communities getting their panels this summer.

The systems are being tied into N.L. Hydro metering now, Hewlett said. The small-scale systems, installed on each town's community centre, are expected to meet between 20 to 90 per cent of their needs during peak times in the summer, Hewlett said.

"The beauty of solar photovoltaic is it works pretty much by itself. There is no moving parts, there is no noise, there is no vibration at all," said Green Sun Rising president Klaus Dohring.

Submitted by Klaus Dohring
Submitted by Klaus Dohring

But the solar panels work seasonally, Dohring said, and won't work in winter if snow blocks the panels. But after installing about 30 systems in Northern communities over nine years, he said, he estimates they've avoided using over 250,000 litres of diesel each year through solar power.

And that's not counting the fuel (not to mention the cost) needed to transport diesel to Northern communities in the first place, he said.

"I like to say that the diesel in the remote communities in Canada is extremely well travelled," Dohring said.

No timeline on when community will be diesel-free: Hewlett

There are bigger plans for the future in the communities with Nunatsiavut's energy security plan, Hewlett said. They hope to meet climate challenges, gain energy sovereignty and lower energy demands with home retrofit and homeowner education programs as well.

"Seeing these projects come together, especially on buildings that are used every day by residents, and receiving lots of positive feedback, lets us know we're headed in the right direction," Hewlett said.

Submitted by Klaus Dohring
Submitted by Klaus Dohring

Hewlett said he isn't sure when Nunatsiavut communities will be fully off diesel, as they are still in the preliminary stages of their energy sovereignty plan.

"We just hope to keep expanding and we can't put a timeline on it, but as these expand we'll just do our best to eventually move away from diesel consumption."

Wind power turbine planned for Nain

Solar power isn't the only renewable resource the Nunatsiavut government is planning to work with. Hewlett said they also plan to install a 2.3-megawatt turbine behind the Nain water tower.

The installation was originally planned for the fall but Hewlett said it may be pushed to next year's construction season. Hewlett said they've been receiving lots of positive feedback from the community in the wind turbine and potential jobs it could create.

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