Sunny side up: Nunavut hamlet’s solar panels soaking up spring sun
“I was just thrilled to have that final inspection happen and have them on and know that everything’s working”
It’s official: sun is power in Clyde River.
After a somewhat challenging installation of 27 solar panels on Clyde River’s community hall last August, and then a belated electrical inspection and approval this spring, the panels, and their inverters, are now converting sunlight into power.
“I was just thrilled to have that final inspection happen and have them on and know that everything’s working,” said Duncan Martin, solar expert with Vancouver Renewable Energy Cooperative, or VREC.
“It’s big news when the alternative is having to go north again and troubleshoot something. So it was a big relief—good spring news for us.”
The panels, which cost about $35,000 and were transported north on the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise last summer, were part of a pilot project led by the environmental organization’s Canadian arm and VREC to promote alternatives to dirty and expensive diesel energy in the North.
The solar system was turned on March 9 and from then until May 3, the panels have generated 1.77 Megawatt hours or MWh of power.
Martin did the math and, based on the posted $0.69/Kilowatt hour that Qulliq Energy Corp. charges for non-domestic government buildings, the hamlet has already saved $1,233.
According to websites that track sunlight around the world, Clyde River, about mid-way up Baffin Island’s eastern fiord-lined coast, started recording sunlight toward the end of January.
As of May 1, the community of just over 1,000 people was enjoying more than 19 hours of daylight. By mid-month, the sun will be visible for 24 hours a day until the last days of July when it starts to dip below the horizon again.
Daylight time will then grow shorter until the end of November when the sun disappears again until the end of January.
Martin said even a few hours of sunlight a day will be enough to “wake up” the panels and get them converting the sun’s energy into power for the hall’s electrical system.
At the peak of summer, the panels will likely produce more energy than the hall can use in which case, the energy will feed back into the local electrical grid and reduce the hamlet’s need for diesel fuel.
But under the QEC’s planned net metering program, anticipated to come on line this spring, any excess energy produced by the panels would be credited to the account holder, Martin said, so in this case, the hamlet.
The QEC would have to install a smart meter, that records both energy use and production, before that can happen, Martin said.
While the VREC has installed panels in various remote locations, many of them on islands and coastal communities in British Columbia, those systems are usually connected to Wi-Fi so VREC can track their performance.
In the case of Clyde River, a hamlet employee is recruited to go to the community hall, open the janitor’s closet where a panel has been installed, take a photo of the panel’s data and then email it to Martin.
Martin is hoping this can happen weekly just so he can monitor the equipment, make sure everything’s working properly and keep track of how many Kilowatt hours are being produced.
“Once the panels are up and running, it’s really hands free so it’s just a matter of monitoring them now,” Martin said.
And so far, all the solar inverters are working—those are the mechanisms that turn direct current (DC) output from a solar panel to an alternating current (AC) so that it can be fed into an electrical network.
Martin said interest generated from the Clyde River project has prompted calls from Pond Inlet to do a similar project there.
Talks are still preliminary, Martin said, and it wouldn’t be as simple because unlike Clyde River, the community would have to find money to ship the panels and installers north, or else launch a fundraising campaign.