Editorial: Move over, diesel
March 20, 2018 - In February the federal government announced a new program that will fund renewable energy projects in diesel-reliant communities. The program, called Clean Energy for Rural and Remote Communities, will dole out $220 million over six years for projects that support clean technology or develop local capacity in one of Canada’s 200 communities or industrial sites that rely on shipments of diesel fuel for power and heat.
I first heard in January that this program was coming down the pipeline. Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) released a video in advance of the official announcement and after watching it I was confused. The video explains the problems with diesel power generation – transportation challenges, aging infrastructure, pollution – and mentions both wind and solar as solutions, but fails to mention bioenergy. Was the program going to exclude biomass as a renewable energy alternative to fossil fuels?
Wood is already a common home heating source in many rural, forested communities and a handful of municipalities in N.W.T. and northern B.C. already have biomass-fuelled thermal or CHP systems in place. But there is a lot more to be done to increase the efficiency of older systems and to develop local biomass supply chains.
When Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr officially announced the program details on Feb. 16, it became clear NRCan recognizes bioenergy is an important part of the solution to transitioning away from diesel. The program is divided into two tracks:
- BioHeat, Demonstration & Deployment Program Streams
- Capacity Building Stream
Within the first tract proposals are being accepted for projects under three categories: Heat production from biomass, demonstrations of innovate technologies to reduce diesel use, and electricity production from hydro, wind, solar, geothermal, and bioenergy.
It turns out this program is wonderful news for the Canadian bioeconomy, and industry is already reacting.
“I think this program is a huge game changer and will have a significant impact in terms of moving biomass heating forward. The funding program validates bioenergy as a viable renewable energy option,” Fink Machine’s David Dubois, a well-known voice in the world of biomass boilers, told me in an email. Biomass as a fuel source tends to be local, he noted, which aligns with many communities’ goal to have energy independence. And the more applicants funded by the program the better a region can support strong local supply chains, he said.
The Atlas of Canada has a Remote Communities Energy Database that identifies communities according to power source. There are notably large pockets of diesel-powered communities in both northern Ontario and southwestern B.C. There is ample opportunity in these forested regions for biomass to heat and power communities, many of which are Indigenous.
Dan Adamson with Radloff Engineering was integral in the development and implementation of a wood gasification biomass project at Kwadacha First Nation in northern B.C. (read feature article in January/February issue). He tells me the program is good news for funding feasibility and design work, but cautions the funding of new and highly innovative systems. “There is a need for proven technology in remote areas,” he said.
Adamson suggests that companies looking to sell their systems into remote communities need to ensure their equipment is robust, easy to maintain and repair, that parts are reasonably accessible, and that operators don’t need specialized tickets.
Proposals for the program are being accepted until May 17. Learn more at www.nrcan.gc.ca/energy/science/programs-funding/19791.