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The Pioneering Solar Project Empowering a Remote Community

2024-02-07
In Old Crow, a remote northern Canadian village, a pioneering solar project—the largest in the region—marks Yukon's foray into renewable energy. By deploying 900kW of solar panels and 350kW of battery storage, the community has made a significant leap toward self-reliance, reducing both diesel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Unlocking the Potential of Solar Energy

 

Designed to seamlessly integrate with existing diesel generators, the 450kW solar project enables Old Crow to rely entirely on solar energy during the long, sun-drenched summers. To tackle the challenge of energy availability on cloudy days or during the absence of sunlight, a battery storage system has been skillfully integrated into the solar energy system.

 

By leveraging the expertise of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation community, renowned for their understanding of permafrost, the project's engineers incorporated insulation, drain tiles, and specialized welding techniques to ensure heat and moisture are prevented from entering the ground. This pioneering approach minimizes the risk of damage to the solar infrastructure caused by the unforgiving Arctic climate.

 

Embracing the Unique Geography and Climate

 

Old Crow, located over 100 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle, experiences a distinct sun trajectory. While the sun sets towards the south in most regions of the Northern Hemisphere, above the Arctic Circle, it continuously circles the sky during the summer months and sets towards the north in the spring and fall. Understanding this phenomenon, the solar panels have been strategically positioned in a back-to-back formation, facing east and west to maximize exposure to the constant sunlight of summer. Moreover, the panels are angled vertically to prevent snow buildup, ensuring their optimal performance throughout the year.

 

Driving Economic and Environmental Benefits

 

In addition to the significant environmental advantages, this solar project is set to generate an estimated annual revenue of approximately $400,000 after accounting for financing costs. The Vuntut Gwitchin community plans to reinvest these funds back into their community, supporting further renewable energy endeavors such as wind and biomass projects. By spearheading this solar energy venture, the Vuntut Gwitchin are paving the way for other First Nations communities interested in reducing their reliance on diesel energy. A staggering 170 remote aboriginal communities across Canada still depend on diesel as their primary energy source, with the transportation of diesel contributing to both financial and environmental burdens.

 

Merging Sustainability with Cultural Preservation

 

The solar park in Old Crow is located in an area traditionally used by the indigenous community for gathering berries. In response to valuable feedback from the community, portions of the site have been dedicated to growing native plants that thrived in the area before construction. To foster inclusivity and ensure community members can freely access the site during berry season, the solar panels have been intentionally left unenclosed, with the electrical wiring neatly protected within the tent structures formed by the panels.

 

A Model of Collaboration in Energy Innovation

 

The Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation worked closely with the local utility to develop an Electricity Purchase Agreement, setting a precedent for successful collaboration between utilities and communities in future energy projects. As the Independent Power Producer, owner, and operator of the solar facility, the Vuntut Gwitchin will supply solar electricity to the utility for the next 25 years. This power will then be integrated into the grid and redistributed to the community, ensuring a sustainable and reliable energy source for years to come.

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