Renewable Energy

Nunavut’s reliance on fossil fuels has its advantages and disadvantages. For one, diesel generators and fossil fuel based home heating are well established and reliable technologies that have a relatively low up-front cost to install. On the other hand fossil fuels are becoming ever more expensive, they are responsible for air pollution, greenhouse gases, and fuel spills are an ongoing concern. In contrast to fossil fuels is renewable energy

As the name implies, renewable energy is naturally occurring and self-replenishing, which eliminates the need to import expensive fuel. It is also clean, which reduces the amount of pollution and GHG emissions we deposit into our environment. On the other hand, some renewable energy technologies are expensive and have yet to be fully commercialized. Further still, technologies such as solar and wind produce energy intermittingly, which means in the absence of effective storage technology, energy is only available during certain times of the day.

Below is a short discussion on the various renewable energy resources available to Nunavummiut.

Solar energy emanates from the sun and approaches the Earth as short-wave electromagnetic radiation. Electromagnetic radiation that reaches the Earth is also described as insolation (incoming solar radiation). Generally, this renewable energy source can be utilized in two ways: in solar photo voltaic (PV) applications and solar thermal applications. Solar PV applications transform solar energy into electricity through the use of PV arrays (e.g., PV solar panels). In solar thermal applications, solar energy is used for heating purposes as it is absorbed by surfaces and materials (e.g., solar thermal panels).

Locations along the Hudson Bay coast in the Kivalliq region receive the highest amount of solar energy in Nunavut. The amount of solar energy that reaches coastal areas of the Kivalliq region is comparable to the amount of solar energy that reaches southern Quebec, much of Ontario, and the Maritimes. The amount of solar energy that reaches the northern half of Nunavut is lower than any other part of Nunavut and Canada. Solar PV applications have demonstrated success in northern jurisdictions. In particular, a PV array at the Arctic College in Iqaluit has delivered electricity since its installation in 1995. The PV array captures up to 20 hours of sunlight per day during the longest days of summer and five hours per day during the darkest days of winter.

Solar thermal applications have also been installed in Nunavut.  In 2010, the GN commenced four pilot projects in Iqaluit, including the installation of a SolarWall air pre-heater at the Baffin Regional Hospital and solar domestic hot water systems at the hospital’s 40-bed residence, the Baffin Correctional Centre and the Young Offenders Facility. Also, a solar thermal SolarWall project at Alaittuq High School in Rankin Inlet has operated successfully since 2002.

The use of solar PV and solar thermal systems results in energy bill savings and reduction in GHGs, although the start-up costs for installing the systems are potentially high when considering the cost of transporting equipment to Nunavut.

Solar energy heats the surface of the Earth unevenly, which results in the formation of air pressure differences between locations. Hotter air rises and cooler air sinks, and the energy flow results in wind. The wind’s energy can be used by windmills to move water or it can be transformed into electricity by wind turbines.

The amount of electricity generated by a wind turbine depends on its size, the wind speed and wind turbine height (wind speed is generally higher at elevations farther from the ground surface). Wind speed is variable and so too is the production of electricity by wind turbines. Higher wind speeds generally result in a higher output of electricity, though wind turbines will not function at wind speeds that exceed its capacity. The installation and operation of wind turbines is complex in the north due to environmental factors such as cold temperature and permafrost. Losses in efficiency occur in wind-diesel hybrid systems as a result of wind variability. Wind systems are generally installed as wind-diesel hybrids in remote communities so the diesel generators can compensate for wind speed variability. The variability of wind is what limits how much wind can be safely integrated into the electricity system. Too much variability in electricity from wind makes the electricity system unstable and unreliable.

Three wind energy pilot projects have been attempted in Nunavut, all of which were diesel grid connected. One turbine was installed in Cambridge Bay in 1994 and operated until 1999. Two turbines operated in Kugluktuk from 1997 to 2002. One turbine in Rankin Inlet operated from 2000 to 2001. The Rankin Inlet turbine was refurbished in October 2008 but was ultimately decommissioned. The Nunavut wind projects experienced equipment malfunctions, issues with routine maintenance, and financial restrictions.

Wind speeds in Nunavut have been modeled in the Canadian Wind Energy Atlas. Cape Dorset, Arviat and Rankin Inlet are among the communities that have high wind resources (i.e., wind speed). Communities with moderate wind resources include Cambridge Bay, Kugaaruk and Resolute Bay. Iqaluit, Coral Harbour and Kugluktuk are among the communities that have the lowest wind resources. The Canadian Wind Energy Atlas is based on wind speed data collected at Nunavut airports, not by wind monitoring towers. Wind monitoring towers will likely be installed at potential wind project sites before committing to a development since modeled data is not as reliable as real data. The QEC is planning to erect two wind monitoring towers in Cape Dorset and one in Arviat.

The energy in flowing water can be transformed into electricity by directing the flow of water to pass through turbines. The turbines are connected to electrical generators, such that the movement of water causes the turbines to rotate, which results in the production of electricity.

There are two types of systems that can be used in hydroelectric power plants: a “run-of-river” system or a “storage” (dam) system. A run-of-river system contains turbines that are situated in rivers that are sufficiently steep. Storage systems involve the construction of dams to create reservoirs of water allowing for control of water flow. Small run-of-river hydropower systems generally have lower environmental effects than storage systems but they also have more maintenance requirements. A run-of-river system in the Arctic has to be installed in a river that does not freeze to the bottom during winter to allow for year-round operation or they would have to be removed in winter creating significant additional operating costs. Storage type hydroelectric power plants can produce electricity year-round in Arctic conditions if water reservoirs are maintained at operational levels.

Storage and run-of-river systems have operated successfully in northern jurisdictions such as the NWT, Yukon and Alaska. Potential hydroelectric sites have been identified in Nunavut. In particular, assessments of hydroelectric potential have been completed for various locations near Iqaluit and in the Kivalliq region. In the Kivalliq, many potential sites are far away from community centres resulting in an increase in development costs. The demand for electricity in many Nunavut communities is too low to economically justify hydroelectric development, which has left hydroelectric resources underdeveloped in Nunavut. However if significant mining development occurs there may be opportunities to economically develop these resources in the future. The hydroelectric potential of rivers that flow through the Kitikmeot region have been performed, however, the details are unavailable. Further study of potential hydroelectric development in the Kitikmeot is needed. The first hydroelectric project to be developed in Nunavut would likely be in Iqaluit. The Armshow River Long and the Jaynes Inlet sites have been identified as potential hydroelectric developments.

Residual heat refers to energy that escapes as heat, which is produced by friction between moving parts of a generator, instead of being converted into electrical energy. One way in which residual heat produced by diesel generators can be recovered is in district heat systems. District heat systems are comprised of three components: diesel generator, distribution piping system, and energy transfer stations. Heat exchangers and exhaust heat recovery systems recover heat energy from the diesel generator. The distribution piping system distributes the captured heat energy to buildings connected by insulated distribution pipes. Energy transfer stations control, measure and transfer heat energy to each connected building. The use of residual heat decreases fossil fuel consumption and GHG emissions by providing heat energy to buildings that would otherwise be heated by oil transported to the site. Residual heat recovery is one type of alternative energy that is currently used by QEC in several Nunavut communities. Funding for residual heat recovery systems has been made available by various government agencies for diesel power plants in Nunavut. QEC has plans to expand existing residual heat systems and establish new residual heat systems in other Nunavut communities.

Legally combustible industrial, agricultural, and domestic (household) waste materials that normally end up in landfills can be incinerated in Waste-to-Energy (WTE) plants to produce electricity and / or heat. The heat produced by waste incinerators can be used to generate steam, which drives turbines to produce electricity or is distributed to buildings connected to a district heating system. WTE plants have demonstrated success in generating electricity and / or heat in northern jurisdictions. There are five WTE plants in Greenland and there are currently plans to increase the capacity of the WTE plant in Nuuk, the capital of Greenland.

The GN’s Energy Strategy (2007) proposes to initiate a feasibility study to identify the potential for small-scale WTE projects in Nunavut. To determine if the use of small-scale waste incinerators for heat generation are a feasible option for Nunavut, a review of Nunavut’s waste management system is required. To this end, a small-scale waste incinerator was purchased in early 2014 by the City of Iqaluit, with support from the Canadian Northern Development Agency.

Biofuels can be produced from oils, fats and sugars derived from plants and animals. There is no agricultural activity in Nunavut, therefore, plants such as canola and soybeans that are used to produce biofuels would have to be imported. Importing plants is not a viable renewable substitute for fossil fuels.

Biofuel programs using fish waste (offal) have demonstrated success in remote communities (e.g., in Alaska) and in the Energy Strategy the GN has expressed interest in exploring the possibility of developing similar programs in Nunavut. The Nunavut fishing industry processes Arctic char and some Greenland halibut. Fish are made commercially available through four fish processing plants. One plant also processes marine mammals (seals and whales). Only two of the four fish processing plants in Nunavut purchase whole fish (i.e., with guts intact) but do so only in the winter months. During the summer, purchased fish have been already gutted by the harvester. The fish by-products produced in fish processing plants are limited to mostly frames (which are supplied to local dog owners) and a small amount of offal (which is discarded).

To assess the development of biofuel as a renewable energy resource option in Nunavut, it would be important to conduct a fish and marine mammal offal inventory. However, there are concerns that the purchase of marine mammals for biofuel production could exceed the food price and thus could cause conflicts and impact food security.

Ocean energy is produced in various forms (e.g., from tidal currents, wave energy, ocean thermal energy and salt gradient energy). Ocean energy technology is relatively new and only tidal current energy (tidal energy) technology has been applied on commercial scales. There is worldwide interest in tidal energy because tidal energy resources are up to 50 times as dense as wind resources and are 100 times more efficient than solar photovoltaic (PV) resources. The advantage of using tidal currents to produce electricity is their predictability and persistence. Presently, there are two leading ways to convert tidal energy into electrical energy: tidal barrages and in-stream turbines. Tidal barrages are similar in concept to hydroelectric dams, where water is stored and directed through turbines to generate electricity. In-stream tidal turbines are analogous to wind turbines in that turbines are designed to utilize existing current flows without necessarily controlling them.

There are a number of different in-stream tidal turbine designs, but all follow the same principle of using the ebb and flow of underwater tides to rotate a turbine. In-stream turbines are submerged and are usually installed onto the seafloor. In-stream turbine technology is currently being investigated in Canada (e.g., British Columbia and Nova Scotia), the United States (e.g., Alaska), and Europe (e.g., Ireland and Scotland).

The cumulative mean potential tidal current energy of Nunavut is estimated to be highest in Canada. Many sites with tidal energy potential are in remote parts of Nunavut and it may not be feasible to explore the development of tidal energy in these areas. In-stream turbines are expensive and investing in the development of tidal energy may be risky especially when considering Arctic conditions and issues. There is potential for tidal energy development in Frobisher Bay, where tides are among the highest in Canada. In-stream turbines in Frobisher Bay could supply electricity for Iqaluit, where population numbers and electricity demand may be at high enough levels to support the high cost of tidal energy development.

Modeling studies of tidal currents and tidal energy in Frobisher Bay are recommended as next steps in assessing tidal energy potential for Iqaluit. Sea ice conditions in the bay have to be considered as well as sea ice and sea ice floes could negatively impact the turbines.

Large-scale nuclear power generation may be suitable for populated areas of southern Canada, but Nunavut’s comparatively lower power demands and decentralized habitation patterns could make the use of smaller-scale nuclear reactors (also referred to as “nuclear batteries”) more practical.

Small scale nuclear units are being developed and could be an alternative to fossil fuel electricity generation in northern, remote communities, and development sites. These small nuclear energy systems can be prebuilt and delivered to the site. They consist of modular units and are therefore are easy to transport. Because these reactor systems are modular and can be designed to meet a community’s energy needs (e.g., using only one unit or bundling several reactors together for larger power demands). These types of reactors have not yet been approved for use in Canada and are at the pre-commercialization stage.

Like large-scale nuclear reactors, small-scale nuclear reactors have potential for problems that may lead to environmental and health risks. Environmental and health risks of radioactive leaks, the transportation of radioactive materials, and the safe operation and decommissioning are issues that have been raised relating to nuclear power generation.

Small-scale nuclear reactors are currently operating in Bilibino, Siberia (Russia). Four reactors supply power to the remote community of 4,500 residents.

Energy Tips

Use plastic window covers to help prevent heat loss during the winter time. Up to 25% of heat loss occurs through windows.


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