It took “unique and inventive thinking” to portage the components of Diavik Diamond Mine’s four 2.3 MW wind turbines to the island job site in the far reaches of the North Slave region, let alone figure out how to keep them running in a subarctic climate, but the result has all been worth it the company claims.
The numbers for 2015 are in, and the world’s most northern wind farm is working better than expected.
In the last year, the turbines produced 20.8 gigawatts of energy per year, offsetting 5.2 million litres of diesel and 14,404 metric tonnes of carbon – about a seven per cent reduction of CO2 produced at the site.
“What this demonstrates is that renewable energy works in subarctic climates,” said Doug Ashbury, a communications advisor for DDM. “We pioneered this, the first large-scale wind farm in Canada’s North.”
Due to the “unreliability” of wind power – some days are certainly less blustery than others – diesel remains the primary source of power for the off-grid operation. Energy produced by the wind farm, however, accounts for 11.2 per cent power penetration, surpassing the 10 per cent target established in feasibility studies, which were quarterbacked by engineer Liezl van Wyk.
“When we first installed the wind farm, that particular winter of 2012-2013, it was very cold and there were some challenges associated with the turbines,” Ashbury said. “We had some issues with lubrication, blade heating systems and the electronics inside the towers in the base, we actually had to retrofit those towers with some space heaters because the electronics, they didn’t like the cold, which was not surprising.”
Heaters were added to the blades, to ensure they would not frost over and would continue whirling, even on the coldest day. With those problems addressed during the wind farm’s first year of operation, the kinks have been worked out and the success of the turbines has even inspired further research on wind power in the Arctic.
The work done by Diavik in designing its renewable energy project earned the company a Canadian Wind Energy Association group leadership award and recognition from the Northwest Territories and Nunavut Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists for environmental excellence.
The project originally cost about $31 million with an expected payback of seven years. Should the mine close, Ashbury noted the company would support the donation of the turbine to power a northern community or business, so long as they are mechanically and electrically sound.
Diavik Diamond Mine is operated by Diavik Diamond Mines Inc., a subsidiary of Rio Tinto Group. A joint arrangement stipulates that Rio Tinto operates the mine while Dominion Diamond Corp. pays 40 per cent of the mine’s operating and capital costs while receiving 40 per cent of the mine’s diamond output.