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A Renewable Alternative in Coastal Communities

Hakai Energy Solutions implements solar energy solutions across British Columbia.
December 22, 2016

When the Tula Foundation bought an old fishing lodge on Calvert Island in 2009, the buildings were inefficient power guzzlers that burned up to 500 liters of diesel per day for heat, light, and utilities. That’s enough fuel to drive a truck from Vancouver to Toronto and back, every single day.

Hakai Calvert Island solar panels
Solar-powered weather station installed by Hakai Energy Solutions on Mount Buxton near the Calvert Island Field Station. Photo by Grant Callegari

So Hakai Institute founder and executive director Eric Peterson made plans to rebuild the off-grid site to reflect its new role as a scientific research base, by using renewable energy. But there was a problem. The right technology wasn’t commercially available.

Hakai’s general contractor assigned Jason Jackson and his colleagues to decrease the defunct buildings’ reliance on diesel and remodel the island’s energy grid with engineering and improvisation. Jackson and a creative team of journeymen electricians, fabricators, and electronics specialists learned as they went—identifying new technologies, tackling the challenges of integration, and attracting talented people.

After implementing their system, diesel use on Calvert Island dropped to less than 20 percent of what it once was, even with additional buildings and infrastructure added for the research station. Through the process, the team became experts at building cost-effective renewable energy systems in remote coastal communities.

The Off-Grid Research Station

After this success, Peterson and Jackson went into business together. They formed Hakai Energy Solutions to commercialize the systems that they’d developed on Calvert Island. Hakai Energy Solutions has since become a fully independent company, but continues to work with the Hakai Institute. One such project is a sensor and telemetry network. This solar-powered network allows researchers to access climate and oceanography data from remote field sites in near real time, all from the warm confines of their offices.

Hakai Energy Solutions also recently developed and implemented an alternative energy system with the village of Alert Bay on Cormorant Island. Similar to most coastal communities, this village of 400 people off northern Vancouver Island once relied on diesel generators. In 1946, an underwater cable was connected to Vancouver Island to purchase power for Alert Bay through the main grid.

But after the installation of solar energy infrastructure, a considerable portion of the village’s funds that would have gone toward heating municipal buildings can be used for other economic development projects. Despite its remoteness, the municipality of Alert Bay now has one of the highest concentrations of solar photovoltaic energy per capita in the entire province.

Hakai Energy Solutions - Alert Bay

Hakai Energy Solutions and the Hakai Institute share a commitment to British Columbia coastal communities. Both groups worked pro bono to support the Heiltsuk Nation in developing their Koeye River facilities for conservation and cultural education under the leadership of the Qqs Project Society.

In addition to all the science that goes on at the Hakai Institute, we’re proud to have incubated a local technology company that is now sharing its expertise across BC. It’s this blend of engineering, creative problem solving, science, and innovation that embodies the Hakai ethos.

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Technology