EDITORIAL: The affordable energy dream

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This is the proposed SSi Energy system in full. Central to it is an “energy server” that would orchestrate the whole operation. graphic courtesy of SSi Energy

Whether you’re a ruthless capitalist determined to drill or a militant environmentalist bent on cutting carbon emissions, one thing we can all agree on is that energy efficiency is a good thing.

That’s why you might be disturbed to learn that 23 of the territory’s 33 communities rely on diesel-fired power plants for electricity. These generators are highly inefficient and fail to capture some two-thirds of the power they produce. The rest is wasted as heat, friction and noise.

We’re isolated from the rest of the country, we live in a harsh climate with rough terrain and a lack of adequate infrastructure, so our reliance on diesel is understandable, but the consequences are bad as the NWT has the highest cost of energy in the nation behind Nunavut. It also has the third highest per capita consumption of energy in the nation, according to the National Energy Board.

It shouldn’t be this way.

Energy efficiency will be one of the most important elements we will need to meet the territory’s climate change goals. It is also an enormous economic opportunity.
Never mind the significant environmental impacts, the high cost of energy is hamstringing Northern communities and businesses. In 2017, households in the NWT were paying an average of about 30 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity, while the average national price was 12.9 cents, states the National Energy Board.

This is why entrepreneur Jeff Philipp should be applauded. Born and raised in Fort Providence, Philipp made his fortune by growing a small computer repair shop into SSi Micro, a well-respected Northern telecom company that provides internet and cellular services across the NWT and Nunavut.

With SSi Energy, a division of SSi Micro, Philipp hopes to revolutionize the way small communities use electricity by building an innovative power grid in his hometown that could reduce the cost of energy by 40 per cent.

His idea is to use multiple small diesel generators instead of one or two large ones. By shutting off some of the generators during low usage hours, Philipp said his system would allow them to operate at maximum efficiency.

Jeff Phillip is the founder and CEO of SSI Micro. photo courtesy of Jeff Philipp

In addition, his system would employ thermal batteries to save the heat produced by diesel generators so that it can be re-purposed to warm homes. It would also have an “energy server” that would orchestrate the whole operation.

The system’s centrepiece innovation are graphene batteries. These powerful batteries are considered by many to be the driver needed to make the cost of renewable energy technologies like wind and solar competitive

They charge quickly, hold a lot of energy and operate well in temperatures ranging from -40 to 120 C.

Philipp is offering to build the new system for free.

“I’ll fund it,” he said. “It’s not a risk.”

“They can turn on (the) old power plant if ours burns to the ground or fails to produce power.”

He has presented his idea to the legislative assembly and to the hamlet council of Fort Providence and our politicians would be wise to at least give his proposal a glance.

We need cheap and reliable energy to create sustainability and affordability in the North. And, as our grandparents always said, waste not want not. Save what you can because you might need it in the future.

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