Renewables in Remote Communities

Canada's remote communities have relied heavily on diesel fuel for decades as a reliable source of energy for heating, electricity generation and transportation....

Solar installation in Sachs Harbour, NWT.

Canada’s remote communities have relied heavily on diesel fuel for decades as a reliable source of energy for heating, electricity generation and transportation. The majority of remote communities have significant diesel generation and electricity transmission infrastructure, but many of these diesel system are based on old technology and past end-of-life. Diesel consumption has harmful environmental, economic, health and societal impacts that can no longer be ignored. This is particularly true as clean energy alternatives to diesel become more viable in these communities.

Most remote communities in Canada are home to Indigenous peoples, and we believe that the transition to clean, community-owned energy systems can support self-governance goals of Indigenous government and communities, support the broader efforts of decolonization, and improve relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians. Advancing the clean energy transition in remote Indigenous communities must rest on a strong foundation of:

Solar and windTechnical advancements

Advancing proven and robust technologies so they properly function and can be maintained in the difficult climate and harsh conditions of remote communities

human capacityHuman capacity

Empowering local people with the skills, training, mentorship and networks necessary to champion projects


Better economics and viable business cases that draw private investment into clean energy projects, shifting the focus away from government funding and complicated financial subsidies

policy regimensPolicy regimes and regulatory environment

Proactive government climate and energy policies and a supporting regulatory environment that support Indigenous-led projects and stewardship (see the Indigenous Off-diesel Initiative)

Renewable in Remote Communities Conference 2022The Pembina Institute has worked for over 25 years with rural, remote, and Indigenous communities to promote the adoption of clean and renewable energy and support the transition to a low-carbon economy. Our Renewables in Remote Communities conferences have brought together Indigenous leaders, industry, utilities, academia, environmental non-profit organizations, and representatives from federal, provincial and territorial governments for a dialogue on renewable energy development in these communities.

Series: Climate and energy policy advancements

Eliminating diesel in Canada’s remote communities

Cover of Reducing Emissions from Diesel Generators

Reducing emissions from diesel generators in remote communities How smart policy decisions can drive the transition to renewables

July 28, 2021 - By Emily He

As remote communities switch from diesel to renewables, smart policy changes can advance ways to reduce the carbon intensity of existing generators, lower emissions, and pave the way to a clean energy system. This issue paper reviews some options.

Grid-tied solar installation

Better government policies will unlock the cash remote Indigenous communities need for clean energy Innovative government funding policy and strategic private partnerships are essential to finance Indigenous-owned power generation

May 4, 2021 - By Marvin Quitoras

Indigenous communities that are transitioning from diesel energy face barriers in financing their clean energy infrastructure. But governments can create the policies and programs that will give Indigenous communities better access to the money they need, either by providing financing themselves or by fostering the conditions that promote private investment.

Solar energy system in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta

What’s a fair and equitable price for renewable energy in remote communities? The rate structure of power purchase agreements in remote communities needs radical transformation to advance renewable energy projects

March 10, 2021 - By Marvin Quitoras

A well-designed independent power producer policy with a fair and equitable power purchase agreement rate promotes the adoption of locally led renewable energy projects in remote communities. A fair and equitable energy price must capture the full costs of building and operating a diesel-based energy system within an accurate PPA rate structure for renewable-energy projects. As well, energy developers in remote communities must include community- and Indigenous-led electricity developers.

How to boost renewable energy integration in remote communities Energy policy needs to catch up as innovations allow for effective integration of renewables in microgrids

Jan. 21, 2021 - By Marvin Quitoras

The widespread adoption of renewable energy could displace the centralized system of generating and distributing energy to customers and provide opportunities to unlock a more decentralized (distributed) way of managing energy. But reducing reliance on diesel, and empowering communities to produce their own energy, depends upon the support of governments, utilities, communities and consumers for the shift from centralized microgrid systems to more distributed energy generation.

Rethinking energy policy in Canada’s remote communities Moving from the diesel of the past to a clean energy future

Nov. 18, 2020 - By Marvin Quitoras

Through policy work done under our Renewables in Remote Communities program and the Indigenous Off-diesel Initiative, we are advancing work in two overarching and eight specific policy areas to support energy projects being led by Indigenous champions involved in the IODI program.

Series: Remote Communities Energy in Transition

Tracking diesel reduction progress in remote communities Report shows current diesel use in remote communities, and outlines goals and future opportunities for diesel reduction

July 8, 2020 - By Dave Lovekin

In the past few years, important progress has been made toward reducing diesel dependency in remote communities. As a result of years of leadership and work within Indigenous communities to build capacity, impressively large renewable energy projects are coming on-line, and communities are leading their own energy transition. Increases in government funding programs that support diesel reduction projects have been important to recent progress.

How B.C. can be a leader in economic reconciliation B.C.’s Indigenous utility regulatory inquiry – what does it all mean?

June 12, 2020 - By Dave Lovekin, Saeed Kaddoura

Of the 300-plus distinct First Nations reserves in British Columbia, 27 are remote communities, and most of these rely heavily on diesel generators as their primary energy source. But rather than depending on shipments of diesel into their hard-to-reach communities, they could harness abundant local renewable energy resources such as sun, wind, water and biomass to create local energy solutions that contribute to economic independence while creating local jobs.

Solar panels installated at a remote Canadian community

Rebuilding Canada’s economy includes energy resiliency in remote communities Communities need a thoughtful economic rebuild that makes us more resilient

May 19, 2020 - By Dave Lovekin

This is the moment to create a roadmap for a society that is more resilient to these macro shocks – whether they are brought about by a pandemic or climate change. Canada’s response must support a more resilient, healthier economy that is competitive and shows economic strength in a decarbonized global market.

The future of the electric utility in Canada’s remote communities Regulatory and business model reforms could accelerate clean energy transition

May 10, 2019 - By Dylan Heerema

In Canada, both utilities and proponents of renewable electricity projects face many challenges when working together to transition remote communities to clean energy.

Remote communities meet renewable energy solutions Challenges and opportunities for hybrid microgrids

Jan. 28, 2019 - By Dave Lovekin, Dylan Heerema

There are many successful examples of renewable energy sources being integrated in remote communities to create hybrid microgrids — and the list continues to grow as projects demonstrate they reduce operating costs, carbon pollution, and reliance on imported diesel fuel.

The True Cost of Energy in Remote Communities Understanding diesel electricity generation terms and economics — 2nd edition

March 6, 2019 - By Dave Lovekin, Dylan Heerema

This backgrounder breaks down some common fuel cost terms that are important for conversations around transitioning remote communities away from diesel.

Diesel, renewables, and the future of Canada’s remote communities Introduction to microgrids

Jan. 15, 2019 - By Dave Lovekin, Dylan Heerema

Since remote communities are not connected to the North American electricity grid, they make use of their own small-scale microgrids.


Diesel Reduction Progress in Remote Communities Research Summary

July 6, 2020 - By Dave Lovekin, Jeremy Moorhouse, Vincent Morales, Ben Salek

This report collects and quantifies cumulative national diesel reduction progress from 2015-2020, outlining the progress made so far, and the opportunities to advance renewable energy and energy efficiency measures to reduce diesel use in Indigenous remote communities in Canada.

Power Shift in Remote Indigenous Communities A cross-Canada scan of diesel reduction and clean energy policies

July 9, 2019 - By Dylan Heerema, Dave Lovekin

In this report, we conduct a cross-Canada scan to evaluate the current policy environment for community-led projects in each province and territory with remote Indigenous communities.

Comments on Qulliq Energy Corporation’s proposed IPP policy Pembina Institute submission on independent power producer program in Nunavut

March 27, 2019 - By Dave Lovekin, Dylan Heerema

A well-designed IPP policy in Nunavut would create valuable opportunities for Indigenous communities and project proponents in developing renewable energy projects.

Renewable Energy Partnerships and Project Economics Research supporting Indigenous–utility partnerships and power purchase agreements

Oct. 25, 2018 - By Eryn Fitzgerald, Dave Lovekin

This report examines strategies for enhancing collaboration and partnership between Indigenous power proponents and utilities and territorial / federal governments.

Renewables in Remote Communities 2017 Conference Proceedings

July 16, 2018 - By Dave Lovekin

This report discusses how Indigenous leaders, government representatives, business, experts and the nonprofit sector shared insights into how to advance diesel reductions in remote communities.

More articles

Indigenous clean energy shift must be built on trust and respect Improving relationships key to ending diesel dependence in remote communities

Dec. 12, 2018 - By Dave Lovekin, Dylan Heerema

Our research indicates that a meaningful effort and focus is needed to improve relationships and create new opportunities between utilities and Indigenous power proponents.

Reflections on the 2017 Renewables in Remote Communities conference Increasing the Human and Financial Capacity of Renewable Energy Systems in Remote Indigenous Communities

Dec. 18, 2017 - By Dave Lovekin, Aletta Leitch

It's is an exciting time for renewable energy development possibilities in Canada’s north.

Reconciliation and Budget 2017: unlocking support for Indigenous communities’ transition to clean energy Last week’s federal budget provides solid direction for Indigenous communities to lead their own clean energy transition

March 30, 2017 - By Dave Lovekin

Budget 2016, the first budget tabled by the Trudeau government, committed $8.4 billion over five years in new funding to Indigenous communities across Canada. This represented a significant increase from previous government commitments.

Unlocking clean energy opportunities for Indigenous communities Federal funding will help communities develop renewable energy projects and transition off diesel

Feb. 24, 2017 - By Dave Lovekin

Despite progress made in recent years in Canada’s move toward cleaner energy production, many remote Indigenous communities still rely on dirty and expensive diesel fuel for their energy needs. Of Canada’s 292 remote Indigenous communities, 257 of these rely entirely on their own micro-generation networks for electricity.

Ottawa moves to support clean tech in Indigenous communities

March 3, 2016 - By Dave Lovekin

Ottawa has announced that it will provide welcome financial support to help ramp up clean energy capacity in Indigenous communities in B.C.

Innovation and resiliency on the microgrid Upcoming Renewables in Remote Microgrids Conference will showcase how northern communities are adapting and benefiting from clean energy

July 30, 2015 - By Dave Lovekin, Barend Dronkers

Renewable energy technology can reduce the use of diesel fuel in remote communities. Wind, solar, micro-hydro, geothermal and biomass are substantially cleaner and reliable forms of power generation.


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