This photograph was taken at the launch of Sustainable Marine Energy’s first floating tidal energy platform on Feb. 1, 2021, in Meteghan, N.S. (Photo: Courtesy Sustainable Marine Energy)
So, when Canada’s Ocean Supercluster, an industry-led, government-sponsored not-for-profit, was set up in 2018 to grow the ocean economy through bold technological advances, a question emerged: How will these innovations help rein in the carbon emissions that are damaging the very ocean we’re depending on for new economic activity?
“I think there is a tremendous awareness of the fact that we’re out of balance and that we need to get back to balance, for both the health of the ocean and for the benefit of humanity,” says Kendra MacDonald, the Ocean Supercluster’s chief executive.
To that end, potential carbon solutions are coming to life from labs across Canada to market, co-funded by industry and the Supercluster.
One intriguing effort, called the Ocean Energy Smart Grid Integration Project, aims to help remote Indigenous communities in Canada’s North to reduce their reliance on diesel. Though each remote community is relatively small in the grand scheme, the cumulative impact of their reliance on diesel is not. A report by Pembina Institute, the Alberta-based energy research organization, reckons that remote communities that are not connected to large energy grids use about 700 million litres of diesel and other fossil fuels each year to produce heat and electricity through generators.
Community leaders have long had concerns about that type of fuel, Pembina reports. Apart from climate-altering emissions, there’s also the insecurity of getting diesel to the communities. The fuel has to be shipped in. That a total reliance on diesel can leave northern communities at risk if supplies are delayed and can mean devastating consequences if a spill happens.
Plus, it’s expensive. The cost of shipping fuel has contributed to high rates of what Pembina calls “fuel poverty” in the North, and to expensive budget items for provinces and territories as they offset the costs. Dependence on burning diesel also locks remote communities into using outdated technology, Pembina says. Some Indigenous leaders say they feel held hostage to these archaic, polluting energy systems.
But fixing the problem in small communities is tough, says Graeme Allan, the smart grid’s program manager. Up until now, crafting tiny grids for these communities has been a bespoke job, especially if you want to incorporate renewable energies into the mix. Every single grid requires different specs.