Vast distances separate Canada’s remote communities from their neighbors — and the energy systems many of us take for granted when we flip a switch. Since remote communities are not connected to either natural gas infrastructure or the North American electricity grid, they must produce their own energy by burning diesel fuel (derived from oil) to heat their homes and buildings, and to power their small-scale electrical microgrids.
As with any electrical system, reliably operating a microgrid requires that the supply and demand of power be matched exactly, every minute of every day. To achieve this balance, microgrids rely on just a few energy sources — often a single diesel engine. In contrast, larger electricity grids are more resilient and better able to manage sudden demand surges or unexpected loss of a power-generating source.
Maintaining 24-hour system reliability is a priority for all electricity system operators. Consistent (or non-intermittent) energy sources such as diesel and hydropower can deliver energy around the clock. Conversely, intermittent sources of energy such as wind and solar power deliver a variable output, complicating grid operations in a number of ways for microgrids. Nonetheless, there are many successful examples of renewable energy sources being integrated in remote communities to create hybrid microgrids — and the list continues to grow as projects demonstrate they reduce operating costs, carbon pollution and reliance on imported diesel fuel.