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Wind-powered micro-grids in Nunavut – pipe dream or real possibility?

When three Newfoundland and Labrador men heard of the CanInfra Challenge back in January, they decided to go for it.

photo courtesy of IceGrid
Brandon Copeland, Brett Favaro and Dave Lane of Newfoundland and Labrador won first place in the CanInfra Challenge May 29 with their IceGrid pitch. The challenge was intended to bring out new infrastructure ideas to benefit Canada. IceGrid proposed a wind-powered micro-grid in Iqaluit.

"The challenge was a national competition to solicit ideas for infrastructure projects that would be transformational if they were built," said conservation biologist Brett Favaro, who along with Brandon Copeland and Dave Lane, decided to put forward IceGrid.

"They were supposed to be really big thoughts that would advance our thinking about what infrastructure would look like in Canada."

IceGrid is a pitch for a wind-powered micro-grid in Iqaluit. The trio chose Iqaluit for a few reasons. Nunavut is the only Canadian jurisdiction solely dependent on diesel for electricity.

"The other thing is it could really be a beacon of hope. To our mind, if you can prove you can do this, if you can get it done in a northern climate where there's a lot of challenges then there's really no excuse not to do it in other places, as well," said Favaro.

"And imagine the Canadian leadership."

Team Polar Power presented convincing research and statistics, convincing enough that the panel of judges gave them first place and $50,000. The panel was made up of global consulting firm BCG senior advisor George Stalk, former deputy minister of infrastructure Drew Fagan, ‎managing director of infrastructure and natural resources for the ‎Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan Olivia Steedman, and co-head of Debevoise & Plimpton's Global Infrastructure and Finance Group Drew Buchanan.

In addition, the win has opened up a world of networking so they can start moving from idea to project.

photo courtesy of IceGrid
IceGrid, a pitch which won first place at the national CanInfra Challenge, lays out the numbers of a wind-powered micro-grid as compared to a diesel power plant.

Favaro says the technology is there, even for cold-weather climates, and it's getting less and less expensive by the year. He says it's absolutely doable and could pay for itself in approximately eight years.

"The savings are so profound. Compare that to the Site C dam in British Columbia, which will take 71 years," he said. Site C is a BC Hydro clean-energy project.

The team did send an e-mail to Qulliq Energy Corp. (QEC), but Favaro says they didn't hear back.

Qulliq president Bruno Pereira, speaking at an Iqaluit Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting in early June, said he's constantly approached by southerners hoping to solve Nunavut's "diesel problem", but who have no idea of Nunavut's real-world logistics.

And Favaro gets that, but he says if Norway can do it there's no reason why Canada can't.

Favaro popped up on the Iqaluit Public Service Announcements with the IceGrid. Public comments ranged from "Who the hell are you people?" to outright skepticism, while private messages demonstrated interest, he said.

Either way, Favaro says this is an idea, and any such project in Nunavut would have to be community-driven, and funding should not be on the backs of Nunavummiut. For now, the three men are speaking with whoever approaches them.

Nunavut News asked Pereira what he thought of the IceGrid pitch.

"The installation of renewable energy into Nunavut’s power supply falls in line with QEC's desire to move away from diesel. The corporation is interested in reviewing a business case for the IceGrid: A Renewable Energy Micro-grid for Nunavut proposal as it may be eligible for one of the corporation's upcoming programs," sated Pereira by e-mail.

"QEC anticipates launching an Independent Power Producer policy and program that will allow the corporation to purchase power from external electricity generating systems, such as those described in IceGrid's proposal. More information will be made available on this program closer to 2019."

Pereira also congratulated the team on their win.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had a few words to say at the CanInfra conference and to the team.

"While we continue to innovate and create, we can't underestimate the effect on people. Canada needs people like you who are ready to innovate and seize opportunities," he said.