GLOBE Foundation

The Remote Frontier

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Courtesy of Courtesy of GLOBE Foundation

Regardless of what tech industry you're associated with-cleantech, IT, biotech, telecommunications-you're aware of how valuable emerging global markets are.

As a member of the United Nations Energy Access Practitioner Network, I am consistently amazed at the level of innovation and entrepreneurship being applied to technology challenges across the globe, particularly in the fields of renewable energy and cleantech.

The term 'emerging markets' naturally calls to mind the rapidly growing resource and technology needs of the distant developing world. However, Canada's own remote communities represent an emerging market at the gateway to the country's vast resource wealth-one in need of innovative technology solutions that are sensitive to local context and culture.

The Canadian government has expressed a commitment to advancing economic prosperity through the strategic development of the nation's abundant natural resources.

Much of Canada's resource wealth is located across the country's remote and wild frontiers. Accessing these resources and attracting investment will require at a minimum: water that is clean and safe; affordable housing; health care; energy that is economical and environmentally sound; transportation links; and broadband telecommunications.

As Canada's resource economy expands, the demand placed on remote communities for reliable services and infrastructure will necessitate rapid investment in these areas.

Looking specifically at clean energy, the opportunity exists to facilitate Canada's participation in the competitive global cleantech marketplace by addressing domestic needs for innovative technologies in remote communities. Rather than taking the traditional view of remote communities as areas ofsubsidy, there is the potential to apply a critical business lens to this market and identify valuable opportunities forinvestmentin these regions.

2011 NRCan report identified 292 remote Canadian communities not connected to the North American electrical grid or the piped natural gas network. With a total population of approximately 200,000, these communities extend from over 20 degrees of latitude and 90 degrees of longitude, from arctic to coast, and from mountains to plains. Their populations range from 10 permanent residents to more than 20,000, and accordingly, their energy demand varies dramatically, ranging from 70 MWh annually to upwards of 270,000 MWh.

One element that unites these communities, particularly given their reliance on diesel generation as their primary power source, is the high cost of maintaining a reliable power supply.

This cost has been identified as a significant deterrent to any industry consuming even a moderate amount of electricity. These expenditures also add to the cost of living for remote populations, many of which struggle with high rates of unemployment and poverty. With diesel-generated electricity costs as high as $1.75/kWh, a compelling business case can certainly be made for renewable power generation. When combined with meaningful local collaboration, such projects can drive regional employment, training, and capacity building.

Developing remote community partnerships around innovative cleantech solutions will simultaneously create highly marketable products for export. Autonomous community technology solutions and advanced microgrid systems can offer a quality and diversity of services that centralized energy systems have historically been unable to offer to consumers.

Subsequently the global demand for such systems reaches across a host of market segments including, emerging energy markets in the developing world, campus environments, and military environments.

The microgrid market is expected to follow an adoption trend analogous to exponential growth over the next 5 years. North America, and especially the United States, is expected to represent the best overall market for advanced microgrid applications, suggesting that projects deployed in Canadian remote communities are well positioned to access this export potential.

Strategic partnership opportunities that can be explored through remote community projects include:

  • Microgrid management software;
  • Power system design and modeling;
  • Hardware for connecting to grids;
  • Renewable energy project development and financing;
  • End user change management programs; and
  • Integration of ancillary community infrastructure around food, water, waste, and building technologies.

Of course the federal government should take the lead in developing a long-term strategy to allow Canada and remote communities to benefit from investment in the resource sector, but sustained private investment ensures that a business lens is applied to these opportunities.

Canadian firms should look to remote communities for opportunities to demonstrate, commercialize and deploy their innovative technology solutions. Strategic collaborations between the private sector, remote communities, and public institutions, should play to participants' strengths, to reimagine remote communities as centers of social, environmental, and economic prosperity for Canada.

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