Green leaf in the shape of a lightbulb, hovering over someone’s palm

Summary

  • Canada’s rural communities have predominantly relied on diesel-powered energy generation for as long as energy has been available in the country. Plagued by remoteness, electricity problems arise due to insufficient energy infrastructure in rural territories.
  • Diesel fuel has been associated with emissions of highly toxic substances. Bulk transportation and long-term storage may pose environmental and economic threats, leading to societal inequality. Adopting sustainable energy may help diversify Canada’s fuel resources for rural communities.
  • Solar-biomass hybrid systems are central to reducing diesel dependence across rural regions. This electrification scheme helps increase electricity reliability and transition toward cleaner and more sustainable energy sources.

Introduction

These off-grid communities collectively consume about 700 million litres of diesel and other high-polluting fossil fuels per year to generate electricity and heat.

Powering rural communities while reducing environmental risks is a primary goal of the Canadian government. Currently, the country’s three northern territories comprise 20 to 85 percent of aboriginal populations that fall outside their national grid or energy distribution pipeline. These off-grid communities collectively consume about 700 million litres of diesel and other high-polluting fossil fuels per year to generate electricity and heat.

Fossil fuel dependency locks indigenous populations into decades-old technology, exposing them to the consequences of climate change and increased environmental risks. In addition, the high cost of diesel transportation contributes to fuel poverty rates in remote indigenous communities.

In response to these electricity issues, provincial and territorial authorities allocate subsidy budgets to invest in more affordable and eco-friendly solutions. Many remote communities explore opportunities to transition from the past technology to a green energy future. One significant example is the development of solar-biomass hybrid systems to replace diesel-based energy sources with energy efficiency measures.

This article reviews the economic and environmental advantages of using a solar-biomass hybrid system and its potential to contribute to the long-running rural electricity issues in the country.

What Is a Solar-biomass Hybrid System?

Perhaps the most fundamental advantage of using renewable energy sources is their dependence on more economical and sustainable materials that may not easily run out.

Solar-biomass hybrid systems are regarded as generally efficient energy schemes. Biomass is defined as the “biodegradable fraction of products and waste materials from biological and agricultural resources, such as vegetal and animal substances, forestry and other industries including fisheries and aquaculture.” This sustainable material can produce energy through combustion or a series of conversion procedures. On the other hand, solar technologies convert sunlight into electrical energy using photovoltaic (PV) panels that generate solar radiation.

Perhaps the most fundamental advantage of using renewable energy sources is their reliance on more economical and sustainable materials. However, it should be noted that the availability of these energy sources largely depends on meteorological aspects, causing uncertainty when it comes to the immediate energy supply across larger communities. Nonetheless, an intriguing alternative concept is the hybridization of sustainable energy sources.

The strategic combination of solar and biomass technologies aims to generate sustainable electricity by using Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) during the day and biomass energy during periods of reduced solar radiation, for example, nighttime and cloudy weather. This provides an excellent opportunity to maximize the use of local biomass and solar radiation resources. With improved local energy structure, some of the climate conditions causing the potential unavailability of resources may be addressed quickly and effectively.

An infographic showing various sustainable energy sources in local communities

The Impact of Solar-biomass Hybrid Systems on Environmental and Societal Health

In theory, biomass emissions through biopower technologies is considered a carbon-neutral process because it captures carbon dioxide before it is released into the atmosphere.

Certain imbalances in the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere can negatively affect the environment. To address this issue, Canada has recently joined more than 100 countries in committing to net-zero energy emissions by 2050. Part of the plan is to create an independent advisory group of experts from across the country with diverse experience in business, science, policymaking, and related areas.

In addition, a $3 billion budget is set to help large industrial emitters move their operations to net-zero energy emissions techniques (NETs). In a few words, net-zero energy emissions occur when man-made greenhouse gas emissions follow reduction measures to stabilize global temperatures and create a safe environment for individuals.

Biopower technologies convert sustainable biomass materials into energy through burning, bacterial decay, or gas conversion. Although the benefits of using biomass energy are still the subject of many debates, biomass is thought to have significant advantages over fossil fuels due to reduced carbon emissions.

In theory, biomass energy conversion through biopower technologies is reportedly a carbon-neutral process because it captures carbon dioxide before it is released into the atmosphere. In this light, access to biomass energy may not contribute to the greenhouse effect as long as carbon dioxide is controlled effectively during the conversion process.

Solar power is one of the purest and abundant renewable energy sources available, and Canada has some of the richest solar resources in the world. Alongside wind, tidal and biomass energy sources, solar energy accounts for over 60% of the country’s electricity generation. When combined with biomass energy, solar power can have a fathomable impact on the environment and societal health. Making full use of this hybrid energy system helps reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality.

Final Thoughts

Harnessing local renewable energy sources has numerous benefits to the environment. Rural communities looking to adopt energy hybridization are an ideal starting point toward reducing fossil fuel dependency. Reducing dependence on such limited materials while taking advantage of free and abundant energy sources means more economical energy consumption, decreased carbon footprints, and a more sustainable energy future. Nonetheless, there’s still unarguably a lot of work to be done when settling northern Canada’s electricity problems despite the government’s best efforts to integrate indigenous knowledge and futuristic goals. Considering the unique political, social, and economic conditions in remote areas, policies for the widespread adoption of renewable energy sources must balance indigenous knowledge and local implementation capabilities to successfully deploy hybrid renewable energy systems.

 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is a solar-biomass hybrid system?

 

A solar-biomass hybrid system combines energy from the sun and biomass materials to improve the power efficiency of each source. Solar panels and biomass combustion are arranged in parallel to generate solar radiation and produce heat and electricity.

 

How is biomass related to solar energy?

 

Organic matter, such as trees and plants, produces biomass energy via photosynthesis. The organic matter converts light energy from the sun into chemical energy during this process. Biomass contains stored chemical energy that can be converted into heat, electricity or biofuels through burning, decaying or combustion.

 

Is biomass or solar energy better?

 

The energy conversion efficiency of solar cells is more or less 30%, which is admittedly low but still higher than biomass, which is approximately 10% on average. Solar energy may be more appealing in terms of efficiency levels. On the flip side, biomass energy may be more useful when there’s a significant reduction in solar radiation due to cloud cover, air pollution and other factors.

 

Why is biomass considered a renewable energy source?

 

Biomass is a renewable energy source because it can produce energy from the sun through organic matter, which regrows relatively quickly. All living and once-living organisms take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert it into biomass energy, making it a renewable power source.

 

Why should you consider hybrid solar-biomass energy systems?

 

Rural communities facing electricity problems may take advantage of the abundance of solar and biomass energy sources. Doing so helps diversify local energy sources to suffice the increasing power demand in remote indigenous areas. With advanced energy hybridization, renewable energy sources are utilized at peak usage times, thereby promoting energy efficiency and independence.

 

Westbridge Energy Corporation

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