In 2009, Raglan, our nickel-copper mine in Nunavik, northern Quebec, began examining options for its diesel-powered operations. Energy is the mine’s second largest budget item, as its remote location means it cannot connect to the hydroelectric grid or natural gas network. 

The decision to install Canada’s first industrial-scale wind power facility with storage came after nearly five years of careful investigation, assessment and analysis. Because of the Arctic conditions at the mining site, gathering in-depth data was an essential first step. Very quickly, studies showed that wind was a promising option. We began collecting data from wind measurement systems and conducted a benchmark study across Alaska, Switzerland and Scandinavia, observing how wind turbines fare in harsh climates. 

We then developed a financial framework in November 2012, which combined government incentives for reducing greenhouse gases and grants for using renewable energy. We also undertook consultations with local communities and other stakeholders. 

The final design incorporated three storage technologies: a flywheel, batteries, and a hydrogen storage loop with an electrolyser and fuel cells. These innovative storage technologies brought the wind penetration level from 15 to 20% and for the 3 MW wind turbine alone, up from 35 to 55%. 

Wind energy takes a molecule of water and creates both hydrogen (H2) and oxygen. By storing the H2, the mine can later combine it to create energy for running vehicles. The flywheel increases and improves the energy levels available to the power grid, smoothing out the energy curve as wind levels fluctuate. 

The project was implemented in two phases, to test whether the technology can work under harsh Arctic conditions and reduce the financial risk. The first stage involves the gradual implementation of a wind farm with a five-year demonstration period. In the summer of 2014, we built the storage facilities and an Enercon wind turbine. The second stage, due in 2016, is construction of three to five wind turbines. Once completed, the facility is expected to reduce our diesel consumption by over 50%, with a major decrease in GHG emissions.  

In its four months of operation the wind turbine has already saved 643,000 litres of diesel and 1,793 tonnes of CO2 emissions. Over the 20-year life of the wind turbine, we estimate savings of more than $40 million in fuel as well as operating and maintenance costs. 

The Canadian and Quebec governments are committed to helping mining companies improve their environmental practices; both are supporting the project financially. If the pilot produces the results we expect, its expertise and technologies will be exported to 14 local Nunavik villages.