Many in the solar industry claim to be green-minded and passionate about their jobs. The question is: Are they passionate enough to travel over 2,500 miles from their warm homebase into the arctic tundra just to install a 15-kW system?
Green Sun Rising talks the talk and walks the walk, installing solar in its home province of Ontario and on the tippy-top edge of Canada along the Arctic Ocean, and they love it. Founded in 2008 by Klaus Dohring and headquartered in Windsor, Green Sun Rising services all of Canada but has become known for its installations in far-away, remote places, especially in the provinces of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. The projects aren’t especially large (they usually measure between 10 and 80 kW), but they make a big difference for the community members used to waiting for truckloads of diesel fuel for power.
“Canada only has about 10% of the population of the U.S. In the remote regions, we have very few people in these facilities and locations,” Dohring said. “Canada has approximately 300 communities that are off the national grid. Some of these communities are fly-in. Some have a winter ice road. Some have a once-a-year barge coming. These communities are really expensive to supply with diesel fuel.”
The planning involved with accessing these remote areas to install solar is often more intense than the actual installation in sub-zero weather. A recent Green Sun Rising project in Colville Lake, Northwest Territories, had to be timed around once-a-year access to a winter ice road.
“The only road connection is extremely rough [with] a time window of about 6 to 8 weeks,” Dohring said. “We had to get that truck in (with 15 tons of materials) and unloaded in time. We then flew an installation team in on June 1st. June 2nd we had snowfall.”
The 82.5-kW ground-mounted system is the largest in the Northwest Territories installed in 2015 and will help the 160-member community reduce its dependency on fossil fuels. The system uses ballast trays on top of permafrost.
Two projects had to be quickly installed during Iqaluit, Nunvaut’s coldest month this year. Temperatures average -17.5° F (-27° C) during the day in February, and Dohring said the snowblindness can be awful, not to mention the wind. Working with aluminum parts and tools was difficult, because they’d often freeze together at the installation site.
“It could have been worse,” Dohring said, genuinely cheerful. “We’re wearing inner gloves and outer gloves. We did wear very warm clothing, multiple layers. Maintaining my body temperature while working, going up and down scaffolding, was the most challenging. We were well protected, but my glasses would fog up on me.”
Even with its challenges, Dohring said working in Canada’s extreme northern regions can be beautiful and rewarding in the right conditions.
“You have brilliant open skies. The air tends to be quite dry, so you have excellent visibility,” he said. “The data is clear. The [solar] harvest is magnificent.”
Dohring said the February Iqaluit project is already generating 40% higher than the DC-rated output. The low ambient temperatures of the region, along with the reflections from all the frozen surfaces and lack of trees shading systems, contribute to incredible solar generation.
While Green Sun Rising has gained a reputation for installing projects in far-away places under extreme, time-constrained conditions, the group also services Ontario and works on many projects in the south.
“The remote projects help us balance our workload,” Dohring said. “We do our solar installations in Southern Canada in the summer. These remote projects need winter work because we have to get all the projects prepared and crated up and use winter ice roads.”
Dohring said everyone involved with Green Sun Rising enjoys rising to the challenge.
“We need to respond to climate change and the damage we’ve already done. Renewable energy is the right thing to do,” he said. “We not only talk it, we live it. We have two electrical vehicles. We generate more electricity at this site than we use. We help other people to also live it. It’s the right thing to do, and we love doing it.”