This is a map of PEI's Confederation Trail - nearly 400 km of old railway bed that is a wonderful biking/hiking experience. Many visitors who ride the trail ask me "Rob - wouldn't it be great if PEI could get its railway back? Think of the environmental savings! Think of the Convenience!"
Well it would cost too much to restore the railway but we are thinking of doing something that will have the same effect - allow a person in say Alberton to do what her granny used to be able to do from this station, walk to a spot in town and be connected to any place on the Island, or off for that matter, while reducing the footprint and environmental cost of the journey. So what are we are going to do? Just wait a moment while I ask and answer another question that is related to this one.
Imagine you live in a northern community in Canada. There are about 170 of them. They rely on shipping in diesel in the summer and running generators all winter. Their cost per KWH? Over a$1.0. They use about 330 million litres a year and generate about 1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. As fuel prices rise what will happen to you? What if your remote community could break free from oil. Not just for power but for your vehicles as well? What if after the capital costs, there was only maintenance? What if the technology used was very robust and could be serviced by you?
So what are we doing on PEI that can address both these questions?
Meet Mark Victor. It's his job as project manager of PEI's Hydrogen Village Project to find the answers. Mark has a busy 2007 ahead of him.
By the end of 2007, he will be testing how to link Wind with Hydrogen production. Our intent is to see if we can deliver a small scale package that can offer both electricity and hydrogen for small communities with wind as the pivot.
The first test will be to power up the buildings at the Wind Energy Institute on the north west tip of PEI and then to add houses running south from the cape. At night, when the demand for electricity drops, we will produce hydrogen that will fuel vehicles that have internal combustion engines adapted for hydrogen. At first we will test a truck or two but we have plans to test buses. Even snowmobiles can be adapted.
We have the best wind resource in populated Canada. If PEI is to become more independent, we have to find a way of storing our wind power. Hydrogen for vehicles is one of the ideas that we are looking at.
It is our hope that if all goes well, we can consider establishing a public transportation system that will replicate the value that the old railway offered Islanders but with an environmental twist of no emissions and all the energy coming from locally owned renewable sources.
Our focus at first is to see if we can deliver a small and robust package that can work in any small community such as those that we find up North. If we can do this - then a world market of remote sites opens up for us - and they too can hope for independence.
So why us on PEI? Well of course the story is more interesting than the wind which is only nature's gift. This story begins with the courage and the perseverance of one man - Carl Brothers.
I first met Carl 12 years ago. He was then running the Atlantic Wind test Site - where the Wind Institute is now. He was Canada's lonely wind man. Scraping by with a tiny budget and no support, he kept the faith. I and most others would have given up. Not only did he hang in there but he went further.
This is Ramea, a small Island off Newfoundland. Carl believed so much in what he had developed, that he mortgaged his house, bought these turbines second hand and went to Ramea. That is the kind of person that he is.
Carl's personal research is in making effective switches between wind and other power. It sounds simple. The wind drops and the diesel cuts in. But it isn't. If you live in a remote place like Ramea, you want the assurance that when the wind drops your power supply will remain constant. Much of what will be done in the Wind Hydogen project has its roots in Carl's work on effective switching.
Mark will be providing me with updates throughout 2007 as the project moves from plans to reality. Check back now and then and see how he is doing