Energy, Mines and Resources

Energy Branch / Energy Solutions Centre

Installing solar systems in Old Crow

Displacing diesel in a remote northern community

The community of Old Crow has relied exclusively on diesel generators for all of its electrical needs. The remote location of Old Crow means a connection with Yukon’s hydro grid is not feasible, so power had been produced exclusively by diesel generator.

The high cost of importing and burning diesel in this fly-in community makes generating electricity from renewable sources, especially solar energy, a viable option.

Renewable energy is consistent with the Vuntut Gwitchin values of self-sufficiency and regional stewardship. The Vuntut Gwitchin Government took a leadership role in developing solar energy as a means to reduce the environmental footprint of Old Crow.

Two photovoltaic (PV) solar array systems with a cumulative capacity of 15.1 kW now provide power to the community.

Project profile

The Vuntut Gwitchin Government has been increasing its PV capacity since 2009.

In that year the John Tizya Cultural Centre was built with a 3.3 kW solar array system. A year later, the Arctic Research Facility was built with an 11.8 kW PV solar array system.

Based on the annual performance of solar PV arrays in Yukon, which typically produce approximately 1,100 kWh/year per installed kW, the Old Crow systems are estimated to produce a combined total of 16,600 kWh/year.

The installed PV systems have demonstrated the significant solar resource that exists in Canada’s northern regions.

Both systems are owned and operated by the Vuntut Gwitchin Government.

Project benefits

Improved use of a local renewable resources
In 2014, the Yukon government conducted a solar energy pilot by monitoring the performance of three grid connected, solar electric demonstration sites. The pilot was to evaluate the effectiveness of this technology in Yukon’s unique northern climate, and allow the Yukon government to build capacity and knowledge of this technology amongst Yukon contractors and public. Old Crow was included in the assessment to evaluate the impacts of winter on PV performance. While the solar resource is effectively reduced to zero from December to February, the data clearly demonstrates that despite this mid-winter absence of sun, there is a significant resource available even in Yukon’s northernmost community overall.

Daily solar insolation at Yukon communities: while Old Crow is further north than other Yukon communities, on an annual basis, the solar energy received is quite similar.

Decreased electricity costs and reduced greenhouse gas emissions
Since about 3 kWh/L is generated in a typical diesel power plant annually, the 16,600 kWh generated by Old Crow’s solar PV installations can displace about 5,500 litres of imported diesel fuel. This corresponds to a reduction of approximately 15 tonnes of C02 equivalent greenhouse gas emissions per year. Recently, the community joined the Yukon government’s micro-generation program, where it exports unused excess electricity generated from the solar arrays back to the diesel micro-grid system existing in the community and owned by the utility.

Increased self-sufficiency in renewable energy production
Generating power with PV reduces the need to import expensive fossil fuels into Old Crow.

Lessons learned

Sizing of the PV systems is an important consideration
As is evident in the resource potential graph above, Old Crow gets little solar irradiance during the heart of winter. During the shoulder seasons, sun hours are few and projected northward, low on the south horizon. In contrast, the panels are exposed to abundant solar energy during summertime. It is important to ensure PV systems are sized properly to optimize power production when the available solar resource is lower but to also reduce the need to “spill” power in the summer when it is not needed.

Solar aspect is also important
Both of the existing systems installed the PV panels in an upright, due-south orientation. This optimized energy generation in the shoulder seasons and winter, coinciding with increased heating and lighting demands. During the winter months, when the sun is positioned at the low angle, the vertically oriented panels catch the sun’s rays reflecting off the snow but also maintain good generation during the bright summer months.  

Transportation is expensive
All the building and PV solar array materials were flown into the community. The high cost to transport materials into remote communities can affect the business case for renewables. In the case of the two PV systems installed in Old Crow, it was essential to seek out and develop partnerships with Parks Canada (a tenant of the John Tizya Centre) and other federal government partners to offset these costs and improve the return on investment resulting from the projects.

Next steps

The Yukon government is working with the Vuntut Gwitchin Government to install real-time PV monitoring equipment, which will allow both governments to track the systems’ performances.

Once the monitoring system is installed, the Yukon government will document and analyze PV generation data, seasonal and annual generation profiles, generation tools and the amount of energy exported by these systems to the Old Crow grid. This data will increase the understanding of how PV generation works at higher northern latitudes. Data will be shared with the public.

This project demonstrates the value of partnerships. Prior to the installation of the remote monitoring system, the Vuntut Gwitchin Government collected data manually. This valuable data has allowed for these preliminary findings to be assessed.

This case study was done in partnership with the Vuntut Gwitchin Government.