Greenland is the largest island and least densely populated country on Earth. Its 57,000 inhabitants are spread over a vast area the size of Western Europe, with most living in small communities along the fjords of the west coast. Most of these communities are accessible only by boat or airplane during the summer and by dog sled in winter. But as HARMEET BAWA writes, due to the self-contained nature of Greenland communities, each town generates its own energy and distributes it via a micro-power grid and local district heating network. This article originally appeared in The Circle 03.15.
HISTORICALLY, this energy has been generated in Greenland by diesel-driven power plants, which require costly imports of fossil fuel and are the biggest single contributor to the island’s greenhouse gas emissions.
In recent years, however, Greenland has been replacing its diesel power plants with hydropower plants – using its vast resources of glacial meltwater to generate lower cost hydropower and reduce the country’s fuel imports and greenhouse gas emissions.
The latest of these renewable energy projects is a 22.5 megawatt (MW) hydropower plant for the town of Ilulissat on the west coast, the third largest community in Greenland with a population of 4,541 as of 2013. The plant replaces an existing diesel-driven power plant and will provide electricity for the town and the local district heating network.
Asea Brown Boveri (ABB), a global leader in power and automation technologies, was selected to supply a complete electrical and control solution for the hydropower plant by the Icelandbased engineering, procurement and construction contractor, Ístak.
Operational reliability is critical for the plant owner, Nukissiorfiit, the government-owned energy provider. The plant is unmanned and located in an isolated fjord 45 km from Ilulissat. If a fault were to occur during harsh winter storms, access would not be possible for days or weeks and the old diesel-driven power plant would have to be restarted at great inconvenience and extra cost.
This is the third complete power and automation solution that ABB has supplied for Greenland’s ongoing push to renewable energy. In 2010, ABB supplied a similar solution for a new 15 MW hydropower plant that supplies Sisimiut, the island’s second largest town, with clean electric power. Prior to that in 2007, ABB completed the delivery and commissioning of the communication and control system for the 9 MW Qorlortorsuaq hydropower plant.
As a result of these and other hydropower projects, almost 70 percent of Greenland’s electricity is now generated by emission-free hydropower.
HARMEET BAWA is head of communications for ABB’s Power Products and Power Systems.