Martha Lenio, Specialist Renewable Energy Arctic for WWF-Canada.
Adenfi / Can you please tell us about your mission for WWF Canada in the Arctic region?
Martha Lenio / WWF Canada has a vision for a Canada with abundant wildlife, where people and nature thrive. My role within that, for the Arctic region, is to help reduce the reliance on diesel as an energy source. The reliance on diesel in Nunavut has a negative impact on the health of communities and the ecosystems that are relied on. Nunavut energy is basically 100 % diesel (Renewable are not significant enough on the grid yet). We generally operate by supporting and enabling communities to realize projects that are community-led, and that make sense for them. As an example, one of my projects at the moment is supporting the Hamlet of Gjoa Haven as they work to establish an Energy Coop, through which they can employ people to implement and maintain green energy projects in the community, and another project is organizing a Kivalliq Energy Forum, which brings together regional energy stakeholders to learn about green energy technologies, and projects being proposed for the region.
A. / Why is it important?
M.L. / Diesel is an extremely expensive way of generating energy – this impacts everything from the cost of food, to the cost of housing, to the cost of doing business. It’s dirty, leaving black soot on snow which can increase warming and the rate of snow melt, and diesel exhaust is classified as a carcinogen by the WHO. And even though it’s a reliable form of energy, it’s logistically challenging at times – all the diesel required for a community for heating, electricity, and transportation is shipped up once a year by boat when the sea ice has melted. This presents a risk of diesel spills which can harm the fragile Arctic environment.
A. / How can Renewable Energies be part of the solution?
M.L. / Communities in the Arctic want to change – they want to keep their land clean, to generate and use energy in a way that does not harm their environment. Renewable energy is very much a part of the solution in reducing dependence on diesel, at least for electricity and some heating needs. Solar, wind, and battery technologies in particular are well developed, have been shown to work in other locations around the Arctic, and can be done at prices that are competitive with, or cheaper than, diesel-based energy generation. A lot of WWF’s focus is recent years has been breaking down some of the non-technical barriers to renewable energy – calling for an Independent Power Producer policy at the utility company, and the associated legislative changes that were required; educating community members through renewable energy project management training programs, conferences, and forums; and doing small pilot projects to show communities that renewable energy projects can be done successfully. We are now approaching an exciting time where Nunavummiut are starting to think bigger, about larger projects and how they can start reducing green house gas emissions, and the tools are in place for these projects to be a success.
A. / Is there really an opportunity for Renewable Energies in the Arctic despite of the extreme weather conditions?
M.L. / Yes, most definitely there is an opportunity for renewable energy in the Arctic, despite the extreme weather. If you look at a map of annual insolation data, you’ll notice that many parts of Nunavut actually receive more sunlight in the course of a year than Germany does, which has a large amount of solar PV installed. For much of the year, the temperature is quite cold, there is still snow and ice on the ground, and yet there is also a lot of sunlight – perfect conditions for extremely high solar PV performance. With some communities receiving 24 hours of light continuously for over a month in the summer, there is opportunity to perhaps even turn off the diesel generators for months of the year. While diesel may still be required through the winter, the excellent solar resource combined with the high cost of diesel make hybrid systems a good first step. Wind energy also has huge potential, especially in the Kivalliq region of Nunavut (the west coast of Hudson’s Bay). Multiple studies commissioned by both WWF Canada, and Qulliq Energy Corporation (the local electricity utility), identified three communities in that region as having a high potential for successful, cost-effective wind energy projects at a community scale.
A. / Is there anything that we can do at an individual level to help?
M.L. / There is a lot each of us can do at an individual level to help. The Arctic is warming at more than three times the rate that the rest of the world is, and all of our carbon emissions contribute to that warming. Fly less. Bike instead of drive. Purchase carbon offsets. Plant trees. Consume less. We should encourage politicians to introduce a carbon tax. If you have a carbon tax, make sure it keeps increasing. Be compassionate towards countries and communities that are suffering some of the early devastating environmental impacts. Look at your investments and ensure they are socially and environmentally sustainable. Invest in the future. All of this helps slow the melting of the Arctic’s ice, helping communities in the Arctic maintain their environment, their culture, their homes, and buys the whole planet more time for a peaceful and just transition to a low-carbon society.