Northern Reflections – from Fort Simpson, NT to Orillia, ON

It has been just about 6 months since the installation of the 60.6 kW solar array in the Northwest Territories and I think this is an appropriate time for some reflection on the largest solar system in Canada’s North.

As I sit by the lake in the plus 35C weather of Orillia, Ontario, I think back to the minus 35C temperatures that were faced during the installation in Fort Simpson, NT. The install for the Northwest Territories Power Corp. certainly had its challenges, given the biting wind chill and very few hours of sunlight. Frozen tools and frozen fingers seem to have its toll on the team, despite the small propane heater in our mostly unlit trailer. Even the 23’ screw piles, that had to penetrate the 6’ of frost, needed some thermal encouragement.

Screw pile heating

Prior to the project, I had wondered “Why, oh, why had this project been scheduled in January?” “I had always heard the fishing was great in the summer.” The remoteness of Fort Simpson and those very waters were the answer. The city was virtually inaccessible by road for heavy loads during the summer, because of the rivers and road conditions. The ice bridges of the MacKenzie Highway provide the only route for many vehicles and even they have their limitations. This load of screw piles would collect about 600 pounds of snow for every 100 km traveled and would need to be removed for safe passage.

Frozen screw piles

The people of Fort Simpson were certainly hearty folk and the solar equipment would need to match if it were to survive all four seasons up there. Modules, wires, and inverters all needed -40C ratings. Conergy and Enphase provided the products to match our needs. The monitoring of the modules using the Enphase Enlighten system surpassed the requirements of the Power Corp, but I’m glad we did it as I am able to look over production numbers for the last 6 months from my Muskoka chair on Lake Simcoe.

Fort Simpson solar materials

Waiting for the sun to rise at 11:00am and watching it set at 3:00pm was another aspect of the trip I am happy to look back on. The sun must have felt the same as we did when it poked its head above the trees to see the frozen land scape. It had the luxury of going back to sleep before the day’s work was complete though. Those 4 hours of sun may not seem ideal for a solar electric system but today, while the sun sets in Toronto at 10:00pm, Fort Simpson residents are still basking in daylight.

Fort Simpson Enphase monitoring

Looking at the Enphase Enlighten monitoring, this 60kW system has generated 465kWh in one day. That’s a full month’s worth of electricity at my home.  This system will produce more energy annually in Fort Simpson than if it were located in Germany, the world leader in solar installations!  It is also a great location because Fort Simpson is one of the territories’ largest consumers of diesel electricity. This system will help reduce the amount of diesel being ferried by boat across those mighty rivers of the North.

Fort Simpson grid tied solar electric system

Since the installation, this system has gained a following, with a mention in the CanSIA SOLutions magazine, “Powering the North”.

In another 6 months, I know I will be checking up on the production of the system after a full year. The daily output will be reduced, but I will get to look back on writing this blog and the steamy temperatures I am currently enjoying. Who knows, maybe Nunavut is interested in adding solar to its energy portfolio, once the ice roads have frozen of course.

Jeff Smalley, Photovoltaic Technician.

Lake Muskoka