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Replacing Diesel with Sunshine in Remote Indigenous Communities Across Canada


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In July 2019, the Pembina Institute published an exhaustive study of 170 Indigenous communities across Canada. And the clean energy thinktank’s core findings were that many of the most remote populations exist outside the country’s official energy infrastructure – living without reliable access to grid electricity or natural gas.

Instead, this diverse group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous remote communities rely heavily on a patchwork of diesel-based solutions to power their heating, electricity, and cooking needs. However, the study also highlights some of the limitations of traditional diesel generator usage, including:

  • Logistics – diesel generators require constant refilling, with some communities going days without power due to lack of reliable delivery infrastructure.
  • Cost – diesel itself is expensive, with price volatility often having an outsized impact on communities that are already financially stressed.
  • Human health – diesel generators can only be used “safely” in well-ventilated areas due to the toxic fumes they emit during operation. They also produce noise pollution, which negatively affects those in close proximity.
  • Environmental health – even under optimal conditions, diesel generators still rely on dirty fossil fuel whose emissions pose immediate environmental risks for local habitats and long-term risks for the entire planet at large.

None of these drawbacks are specific to Canada. Diesel generators pose the same hurdles, costs, and risks no matter where they’re used. And continued reliance on the technology remains a significant obstacle to Canada’s mission to become net-zero by 2050. But in the more immediate future, this reliance also presents serious challenges in a country with notoriously cold winters. A broken component or delayed diesel delivery could be the difference between life or death.

Against this backdrop is a growing movement to provide greater energy security across the nation – particularly for those communities with the least access.

How Renewable & Solar Energy Solutions Can Wean Us off Diesel

Over the years, experts have proposed numerous solutions for speeding Canada’s transition away from diesel technology. One of the more popular options includes building out grid infrastructure to reach far-flung communities.

However, this approach is prohibitively expensive in many cases – which is precisely why basic grid infrastructure is often lacking in the first place. Moreover, expanding Canada’s electricity network does little to solve the environmental and human health risks outlined above. Most of the country’s utility power still comes from fossil fuel resources like oil, natural gas, and coal.

A much more promising option involves investing in sustainable power generation technologies that can be installed and used locally. Solar photovoltaic (PV) technology is already a proven leader in this field – providing on-site power generation to millions of homes and businesses around the globe. And when developed intelligently, solar can counteract many of the drawbacks of both diesel power generation and grid electricity:

  • Solar is a self-contained technology that doesn’t require long transmission lines or relay stations. When coupled with onsite battery storage, PV systems also deliver reliable power once the sun goes down. And this makes solar one of the cheapest and fastest of all energy sources to deploy.
  • Solar is infinitely scalable, allowing communities to add as little or as much capacity as required. PV’s modular design also makes it easy to expand existing systems based on energy needs and budget.
  • Solar is incredibly resilient, with no moving parts (and thus zero noise pollution). Less wear & tear means less overall maintenance and fewer breakages. And this explains why most modern solar panels now ship with 25 years of warranty protection. However, a well-installed system with high-quality components can easily last 40+ years with very little upkeep.
  • Solar doesn’t pollute, making it one of the most sustainable energy generation technologies we have. Rather than burn fossil fuel, the technology converts clean sunshine into equally clean electricity. Given that sunshine is also free, solar is one of the cheapest energy technologies to operate once installed. 

So if solar PV offers so much potential, why hasn’t it already become the standard for Indigenous communities across Canada?


The Structural Limitations of “Remote” Solar Energy

There’s little question that solar can play a crucial role in offsetting diesel consumption. But there are several reasons why adoption of the technology hasn’t been more widespread.

Historically, the primary hurdle was cost, with even modestly-sized PV systems requiring tens of thousands of dollars upfront. But thanks to increased economies of scale and competition, panel prices have fallen more than 80% in just the past 10 years alone. Battery storage has also seen dramatic price decreases for the same reasons. In effect, the invisible hand of economics has helped make the technology far more affordable for a growing number of people around the world.

Improved solar financing has also helped make the technology more accessible. The same is true of green incentives like net metering and solar rebates. However, most loans and subsidies are calculated using metrics that aren’t always available in remote communities. 

For example, Alberta will soon launch its Clean Energy Improvement Program (CEIP) – an ambitious initiative designed to help provincial businesses and homeowners finance new PV systems using their property taxes. But this PACE-inspired program is clearly designed for those who already own their property (which requires access to banking infrastructure) and who already have utility electricity (which requires access to grid infrastructure). 

In British Columbia, Indigenous populations are better represented, with a number of initiatives specifically designed to help remote communities reduce reliance on diesel and other fossil fuels. Some of the more popular programs include:

  • Renewable Energy for Remote Communities (RERC) – which provides Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities with funding to offset diesel consumption using renewable power technologies like solar PV.
  • First Nations Clean Energy Business Fund – a BC initiative designed to promote greater participation among Indigenous groups in the province’s clean energy sector.
  • Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation – a branch of the BC government dedicated to reconciling the economic and energy needs of First Nation communities throughout the province.
  • BC Indigenous Clean Energy Initiative (BCICEI) – which is administered by the New Relationship Trust and funded by Canada’s Strategic Partnerships Initiative (SPI) and the province’s CleanBC Plan to encourage more clean energy development among underserved populations.

In addition, there exist several funding opportunities at the federal level, including from:

  • Community Opportunity Readiness Program (CORP) – which helps First Nations finance a broad range of economic opportunities, including those related to community-scale solar power development.
  • The Lands and Economic Development Department – administered by Indigenous Services Canada (ISC), this program helps First Nation communities plan, finance, and deploy local initiatives like clean energy development. 
  • Western Economic Diversification – a regional initiative that provides advocacy support, access to financing, and economic development for Iindigenous and non-Iindigenous populations throughout the region.

EVOLVsolar can work with your community to identify and apply for relevant funding – based on your province and the type of project you are looking to execute.


How Solar Has Democratized Energy Access

Stronger government support and easier access to financing would certainly go a long way in speeding the transition to solar-based solutions. But both are becoming increasingly less necessary as the technology continues to mature:

  • Solar PV has already reached grid parity in most utility markets nationwide – even once you account for subsidies. 
  • Given the direct and hidden costs associated with diesel, solar has long surpassed parity with traditional generators. 

This means a growing number of underserved communities can now finance PV installations that would’ve been impossible to afford just a few years ago. And with or without external government support, Indigenous populations that use solar to offset diesel consumption also enjoy improved health, greater energy security, and more financial stability – benefits that begin accumulating the moment their PV systems go online.

And the message seems to be taking hold. 

At EVOLVsolar, for example, we’ve recently started receiving more inquiries from communities that have historically been pushed to the sidelines of the solar revolution. And as Western Canada’s premier solar installer, we’ve begun to expand our focus – leveraging our extensive experience in financing and project development to provide turnkey solutions for Indigenous populations that understand the value of clean, affordable, and reliable solar energy.
If you live or work in a region of Canada where reliable access to power remains a challenge, please contact us directly. We’d love to help you offset your own diesel reliance with free energy from the sun.

EVOLVsolar is Western Canada’s leading solar company. We have one mission: to make solar energy affordable while giving back to the environment. By investing in solar power, you can save money on energy bills, upgrade the value of your property and reduce your energy output. You can expect high-quality solar panel installation, world-class workmanship, excellent customer service and the best solar technology available. Our success has established us as the go-to solar installers in BC and Saskatchewan, and one of the leading solar companies in Alberta. Experience the EVOLVsolar difference by contacting our corporate office today at 1 (844) 276-4004.

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