Northern Energy Needs More Engagement

Most remote Ontario First Nation communities are dependant on diesel powered generators for electricity
Most remote Ontario First Nation communities are dependant on diesel powered generators for electricity
Electric power across the North is often produced by diesel generators in stations like this one in Bearskin Lake First Nation
Electric power across the North is often produced by diesel generators in stations like this one in Bearskin Lake First Nation

THUNDER BAY – ENERGY – Most Canadians do not worry much about how they get electric power in their homes. Flick a switch and there is an abundant supply of electric power. However in Northern remote communities across Canada, even though there are growing efforts to provide alternative means of generating power, large diesel generators are still the main source of electricity.

The cost of electricity impacts northern communities. The cost of heating homes, and businesses, the cost of food, the costs for driving vehicles are all greatly impacted in the north by the cost of energy.

Emphasis should be on the energy needs of companies and communities rather than locally available resources. Furthermore, social acceptability and active involvement of the aboriginal communities are key to developing renewable energy in the North. These were two main takeaways that emerged from the workshop on defining energy solutions for northern regions held at INRS on December 9, 2016, in the wake of the international research cooperation agreement between Quebec and Iceland.

Right now, Northern Ontario First Nations, as well as communities across northern Canada depend on secure deliveries of diesel fuel to keep their communities going. North Star Air runs a fleet of Basler BT 67 aircraft to deliver cargo and vital fuel to many communities across Northwestern Ontario. Here, in Round Lake First Nation, on December 16th 2016, at an outside temperature of -28C, North Star Air crews are unloading a fuel bladder of diesel fuel.

The workshop, which brought together INRS (which initiated the agreement), Université Laval, Reykjavik University, University of Iceland, Landsvirkjun (Iceland’s national power company), Hydro-Québec’s Research Institute (IREQ), and Ouranos Consortium, was an opportunity for university partners and energy producers to discuss and define collaborative projects aimed at replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy, not only to preserve the environment but also to reduce price volatility. Participants highlighted the importance of improving:

  • Short-, medium-, and long-term energy demand forecasts for northern regions
  • Our understanding of weather and climate change in order to adapt energy systems to the realities of northern regions

By pooling their complementary expertise in shallow geothermal energy, mobile energy system development, geothermal system engineering, and new materials research, partnership members want to provide private and public decision makers with valuable scientific and technical insight. To succeed, they plan to:

  • Develop capacity-building projects on common issues relating to integrated energy systems
  • Incorporate bilateral activities into ongoing research projects and to establish a dual degree agreement between universities in Quebec and Iceland
  • Promote student enrolment in summer sessions at participating institutions and to foster faculty mobility and personnel exchanges with industrial partners

Geothermal symposium

Choosing the right materials for geothermal operations remains a constant challenge, which is why cooperation and knowledge sharing between universities, industry, and government is crucial to the growth of geothermal energy. That was the general consensus following the geothermal symposium held on December 8, 2016, at INRS’s Eau Terre Environnement Research Centre.

The event gave researchers from Iceland, Sweden, and Quebec an opportunity to review the state of knowledge in this multidisciplinary field. They concluded that:

  • The scarcity of equilibrium temperature measurements in Quebec leads to considerable uncertainty when analyzing regional geothermal potential
  • Deepening our knowledge of available geothermal resources is critical to dealing with the growth of the drilling industry, which may affect the energy market
  • Geothermal energy can be used anywhere, regardless of local geological conditions
  • There is a lack of data on northern Quebec, and an easier access to geothermal data is essential
  • Demonstration projects are required to validate assumptions regarding low temperature heat pumps
  • Research on new materials is boosting the performance and reducing the cost of geothermal systems

“Iceland’s and Sweden’s experience with geothermal energy in the Arctic Circle is paving the way for Quebec,” asserts INRS professor Jasmin Raymond, holder of the Northern Geothermal Potential Research Chair.

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