Dealing with urban decarbonization projects are complicated — but managing these projects in remote and potentially icy areas that may also be polar bear denning regions is a whole other level of difficult.

A keynote presentation, which was recently presented by Canadian Consulting Engineer, provided several informative insights from engineers working in the field of sustainable energy development in remote locations.

Starting with the end in mind, engineers need to work in collaboration with locals on logistics in isolated communities, consider all uses of energy (including heating, transportation and electrical utilities) and ensure the process of consultation and engagement is continual.

Michael Wrinch, president and CEO of Hedgehog Technologies, shared his experiences of leading and developing electromechanical systems for marine, mining, amusement, utility and other industries for more than 23 years. With offices in Burnaby and Calgary, he and his engineers specialize in solutions for harsh and hazardous environments, energy infrastructure and advanced controls. Wrinch has served as a board member and president-elect for Engineers Canada, a board member for Technical Safety BC and an adjunct professor of engineering at the University of British Columbia.

Profile photo of Michael Wrinch

Michael Wrinch, president and CEO of Hedgehog Technologies.

What makes remote communities uniquely challenging? “They are geographically remote, and you usually can’t hop in your car and drive there unless there’s a great expense involved,” said Wrinch, who emphasized the risks and limitations of being in a remote location, such as infrastructure challenges and equipment scarcity. For example, is there access to cranes?

There are also cultural differences that need to be respected. He joked that “going city” on someone is not the way to get things done.

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The best advice he was given when working with a First Nation group was that “when you do projects in our community, start with the end in mind.” Can this energy system be running in 20 or 50 years? Therefore, the training, support, costs, operations and maintenance variables have to be worked out in advance in order to ensure long-term success.

“It’s important to plan for the entire energy cycle,” said Wrinch, who explained how this comprehensive view keeps in mind the local energy sources. Decarbonization should involved the utility services available and the energy mix needed – for example, 60 per cent heat need for certain areas in the north.

According to Wrinch, hydroelectric, wind and solar seem to be the most mature energy options available at this time. However, there are risks with regard to intermittent energy availability due to lack of sun and wind at times. So stabilizing tools to maintain energy loads for survival in remote locations is critical, such storage batteries.

Hartley Bay

Hedgehog Technologies engineered this smart remote microgrid project for the Gitga’at Nation in Hartley Bay, B.C. Credit: Hedgehog.

Planning and decision-making process variables for clean energy projects:

  • Must be a renewable resource
  • Technology must have global maturity
  • Generating capacity must be significant
  • Environmentally sustainable
  • Project life of more than 20 years
  • Must integrate into existing system
  • Project cost must be funded or fast payback
  • Operations, ownership, and employment must be local
  • Leadership and community buy-in required
  • Construction completion must be timely (under three years)

When it comes to other social aspects, Wrinch emphasized certain variables. “Respect the social, cultural, and economic dynamics of the community,” he advises. “Engaging with local partners and ensuring that projects are culturally appropriate for optimal integration.”

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When it comes to economic aspects of decarbonizing remote communities, “initial investment costs, ongoing maintenance, and operational expenses” need to be considered, said Wrinch. “Remote renewable energy projects should be financially sustainable without imposing undue economic burdens on the community.”

The presentation was sponsored by Rheem, CIMA+ and Reliable Controls.

To view the entire presentation, click here:

Keynote: Past, Current and Future Efforts to Decarbonize Remote Communities

Featured image credit: Hedgehog Technologies.

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