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Arctic: how is alternative energy developing in Canada and Alaska? - EastRussia |






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Other Arctic

Alternative energy in action

Other Arctic

Canada is the second largest Arctic power after Russia. Canada’s northern regions — the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut — make up almost 40% of the country’s territory and are comparable in size to a country like India. Like the Russian North, these regions are rich in minerals, but due to the harsh climate they remain difficult to access and relatively sparsely populated. According to the 2006 census, a little more than 100 thousand people live in the northern territories of Canada, more than 50% of the population are Inuit and other indigenous peoples of the North.

In the last decade, the development of the North has come to the fore as one of the priorities of Canadian domestic policy, it is considered the “challenge of the 21st century”

“Canada is a northern state. The North is the basis of our national heritage and identity, its development is vital for our future, ”says the Northern Strategy prepared by the government of the country. The funding of the northern territories increases annually. In 2013 – 2014, the federal government will send more than $ 3,3 billion in subsidies to support schools, hospitals, infrastructure and social services in northern settlements.

In 2007, the governments of the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavuta developed and approved a joint development concept that focuses on increasing the share of renewable energy in these regions. “Dependence on imported fossil fuels puts us at a disadvantageous economic situation, all three territories are vulnerable to high costs, sharp price fluctuations and supply disruptions,” the authors of the concept indicate. They pay attention to the environmental aspect of the problem, since the combustion of hydrocarbons leads to the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. As part of this policy, the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut have already developed and are implementing plans aimed at improving the energy efficiency of their energy systems and developing renewable sources - using water, sun, wind, geothermal energy.

Hydropower North
Hydropower generation in northern Canada has historically evolved due to federal investments and in relation to mining projects. According to official data, in the Yukon, hydrogeneration accounts for almost 67%, or 76 MW, of installed electric capacity, and in the Northwest Territories - about 30%, or 54 MW. These are mainly small hydropower plants built in the middle of the 20th century. The largest of these is the Whitehorse (Yukon) hydropower plant with a capacity of 40 MW. Most of the settlements supplied from hydropower plants retain diesel installations as backup power sources.

According to government experts, the main obstacles to the development of hydropower in the North are the high cost of construction, the lack of capital and guaranteed consumers, as well as the threat of damage to the environment. The largest project for the development of hydroelectric generation in the Canadian North was the installation of a third generator with the capacity of 7 MW at the HPP of Lake Eisheyik (Yukon). It was completed in 2012 and cost $ 13,8 million at an initial project price of $ 8,8 million, which caused criticism in the local press due to the growth of the final tariff for consumers.

A year earlier, due to economic considerations and due to a shortage of consumers, a major project to expand the HPP on the Thalston River (Northwest Territories) was suspended.

Despite this, Canadians are generally optimistic about the future development of hydropower plants in the North. The energy workers of the North-Western territories even calculated that the total potential for the development of hydrogeneration in their region only reaches 11,5 thousand MW. In this case, in the near future, the increase will occur, most likely, due to a mini-hydro power plant with a capacity of less than 1 MW.

The energy of the polar day
Another promising direction is the use of solar energy. Canadian experience shows that hybrid systems consisting of photovoltaic panels with batteries and small gas or diesel generators work most successfully in the North. Thus, solar panels can reduce the amount of fuel consumed by conventional generators. The main limitation for the use of this technology in the North is its seasonality. In winter, in conditions of polar night and peak demand for electricity, solar energy is practically unavailable. Until recently, the high cost of power compared to diesel plants also prevented the wider distribution of solar cells. With the development of technology, world prices have also declined, so the northern territories of Canada are actively planning development in this area.

The largest solar project in the Canadian North was the installation of a system of 258 photovoltaic panels with a total power of 60,6 kW in the city of Fort Simpson, located just north of the 61 parallel. A project worth $ 760 thousand was completed in February 2012 of the year.

It was jointly funded by the government of the Northwest Territories and the local energy company. According to calculations by power engineers, the power of these solar cells is enough to save up to 15 thousands of tons of diesel fuel per year, and in the summer to provide 8,5% of the electrical consumption of a city with a population of 1200 people. In February, 2013, the capacity of this installation was increased to 104 kW.

Along with the production of electricity, solar energy is used in the summer to generate heat and hot water. In particular, the Northwest Territories are already producing 79 MW / h of heat in this way. Since 2002, in the village of Rankin Inlet (Nunavut) with the help of SolarWall technology (solar wall), solar energy is used to heat the building of a local school. The area of ​​the wall, which is located on the south side of the school gymnasium, is 66 square. The technology allows to heat incoming air at 17 – 30 ° С depending on weather conditions. Canadian experts estimate that installing solar water heating systems in all 40 thousand households in the North will save 80 thousand MWh of heat per year from conventional energy sources.

North wind energy
Attempts to experiment with wind generators in the northern territories date back to the 1990-th years. In particular, the energy corporation Nunavut then bought five units at once for the villages of Cambridge Bay, Rankin Inlet and Kugluktuk. Four wind generators could not stand the harsh northern conditions and went out of order almost immediately: one of them was struck by lightning, another was overturned by a strong wind, two simply refused to work. Only the installation in the Rankin-Inlet 50 kW, connected to the same network with diesel generators, worked with 2000 for 2012 year. She allowed to save fuel in the amount of $ 22 thousand per year at the cost of servicing $ 10 thousand. Last summer she also failed - her blades collapsed.

According to the company, these projects were very costly. For example, the capital cost of Kugluktuk generators, which worked for only three years, from 1997 to 2000 year, reached $ 650 thousand, and the final savings were only $ 41 thousand. The installation was expensive to maintain, because repair technicians had to be delivered to the village by plane. However, the company is not going to give up wind energy and plans to use it for heat production.

More successful was the experience of using wind turbines in the Yukon, near the capital of the territory, the city of Whitehorse. In 1993, a 0,15 MW turbine was installed there, and in 2000, a larger 0,66 MW unit was built next to it. This power is enough to provide renewable energy to 150 homes. At the moment, the local energy company is exploring the construction sites for several more wind generators in Whitehorse.

According to the Federal Department of Indigenous Affairs and the Development of Northern Canada, the average cost of wind-generated energy is still higher than the cost of energy from traditional fuels. Depending on the specific conditions, it can vary from $ 0,05 to $ 0,15 per kWh. At the same time in remote areas the cost of electricity from diesel stations can reach $ 0,70 per kW / h. A significant advantage of wind turbines is their environmental friendliness. The main difficulty remains the inadequacy of the majority of installations made to work in northern conditions. The Ministry notes the need for a very thorough assessment of the economic efficiency of wind generation projects and the consideration of the need for special maintenance of this equipment.

Alaska's power system
The northernmost state of the United States - Alaska - is in climatic conditions similar to northern Canada, so its energy is in many ways similar to the energy systems of its Canadian neighbors. With the exception of cities connected to the Railbelt regional power grid along the railroad, most of the settlements in Alaska are isolated from large electrical grids. Remote settlements, as in the north of Canada, use diesel generators. In winter, fuel is stored in tanks or, as a last resort, delivered by air transport. The 2013 statistics of the year indicate that most electricity — 303 GWh — is produced in Alaska using natural gas, hydropower accounts for 102 GWh, followed by fuel oil and coal, roughly in 50 GWh. Close the list of renewable sources (in addition to hydro), which give 8 GW / h of electricity.

Just like Canadian colleagues, Americans believe that renewable sources will play a very important role in the development of the region in the future. Experts from the Alaska Energy Authority hope that alternative energy will help, above all, reduce the economic risks arising from the sharp fluctuations in the prices of natural gas and diesel fuel. Recently, the state legislature passed laws that, by 2025, the 50% of Alaska's electricity should be generated from renewable sources. During 10 years, it is planned to reduce energy consumption per capita by 15% due to energy saving measures. In 2008, the state created a special fund that allocates $ 50 million per year to support renewable energy. Priority is given to projects in areas with the highest cost of electricity and heat.

This policy generally fits into the overall US trend. In his annual address to Congress, President Barack Obama noted that, thanks to federal support, the use of renewable energy in the country has almost doubled in recent years. According to official figures, it accounts for 9% of total energy consumption. The US Department of Energy predicts that in 2013, the consumption of heat and electricity from alternative sources will increase by 3,3%, and in 2014, by another 4,4%. The most noticeable increase is expected in wind power, where the installed capacity will increase to 73 thousand MW by 2014 year.

Alaska Alternative Energy
An interesting feature of renewable energy in Alaska is the successful, albeit limited, experience of using geothermal sources. The Aleutian Islands and the coast of Alaska are part of the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, where most of the volcanoes operating on Earth are located. Studies have confirmed that the state has several high-temperature hydrothermal systems that can serve the needs of energy. Now, with the help of geothermal sources, one of the resorts not only attracts tourists, but also provides heating and power supply for its buildings. Several dozen geothermal heat pumps, which are used to heat buildings, are also installed in different cities.

For heating in Alaska, they use not only the heat of the earth, but also biomass — wood, fish and woodworking waste, and municipal waste. In recent years, due to high oil prices, the use of wood in the United States has become profitable, not only for heating individual households. In 2010, a chip-burning boiler was installed at the Tok city school, which saved 65 tons of fuel oil per year. Now more than 40 settlements of Alaska are considering plans to install boilers on wood. The first large biodiesel plant from waste vegetable oil from local restaurants opened. It can produce up to 1 tons of fuel per year. A curious project implemented a few years ago near the city of Fairbanks. A local power company built a power station with a capacity of 500 kW, which burns paper pellets and cardboard. Its heat energy is used to heat greenhouses where vegetables are grown for sale in the local market.

The use of photovoltaic batteries in the municipal energy sector in Alaska is still considered unprofitable due to the small number of sunny days per year. From the point of view of the energy management of Alaska, a more promising direction is the use of solar energy to heat water. Pilot projects in this area are being implemented in the cities of Nome, Kotzebue and McKinley Village.

But wind energy has become widespread in Alaska and ranks second in the list of renewable energy sources after hydrogeneration. The total installed capacity of state wind turbines - from small wind turbines that provide individual houses with electricity to turbines with a capacity of more than 1 MW - in 2012, reached 60 MW in the year. The natural conditions for wind power are most suitable for the west coast of Alaska. In 2009, the first in the state of the 1,5 MW turbines were installed in the city of Kodiak. Now they provide up to 9% of its electricity needs. At the same time, a wind farm from 18 turbines appeared in the city of Nome. The largest project for the development of wind power in Alaska was the construction of a park of 11 turbines with a total capacity of almost 17,6 MW near the city of Anchorage. They are connected to the Railbelt regional power system. Wind energy saves 500 million cubic meters annually. m of natural gas; it is enough to provide electricity for about 6 thousand houses of the state capital.

Of course, renewable energy in the North still needs substantial legal and financial support from the local and central authorities. Projects in the field of alternative energy also require a purely individual approach, adaptation to the needs and capabilities of individual localities, including buildings. Such sources can be profitable in areas with developed infrastructure and guaranteed consumption, as well as in settlements with high costs for imported fuel oil.

Plans for the Canadian territories and the state of Alaska indicate that the use of renewable energy sources in the North is a long-term trend that is supported by the need to protect the fragile northern ecosystem and ensure the sustainable economic development of the Arctic regions.

One of the important conditions for successful and sustainable development of the Canadian North economy is reliable, and most importantly, cheap energy supply. A characteristic feature of the northern settlements of Canada is their isolation from gas transmission systems and North American power grids. According to official data, in 2011, almost all settlements of three northern territories fell under the definition of “isolated”. The main source of energy in them are diesel generators. They account for between 43% (in the Yukon) and almost 100% (in Nunavut) of installed electrical power. Fuel oil is used as the main source of heat.