IT Hero Awards – BC’s Gitga’at First Nation band together on smart meters

The Gitga’at who’ve lived on the Northwest coast of British Columbia for thousands of years have always worshipped and nurtured the land and water in which they live in. But despite their strong ties to age old customs and traditions the Gitga’at are turning to 21st century technology to harness and conserve electric power and sustain the environment.

The Gitga’at Hartley Bay Band, a community of about 180 people living in a waterfront village in Great Bear Rainforest some 600 kilometers north of Vancouver, have recently installed networked energy smart meters throughout their village.

When fully operational this smart grid will help the community save money, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and lower pollution levels in the area, “according to David Benton, Gitga’at band manager.

“We have this vision to be the greenest First Nation village,” Benton said.

The band is also looking into harnessing the water of the nearby Gabion River to produce hydro electric power and retrofit buildings with geothermal furnaces to will wean away the village from heavy dependence on coal and diesel generator.

“Because of our remote location, we rely heavily on diesel-powered generators. Last year, our diesel consumption was about $500,000”, Benton said.

In 2008, the community worked with Indian Northern Affairs Canada, the Province of BC and contracted Pulse Energy to install the networked energy metering devices.

The Gitga’at Hartley Bay Band is among the several Canadian individuals and organizations that were nominated for the 9th Annual ITAC IT Hero Awards presented by Intel.

The awards, which will be presented at the annual ITAC (Information technology Association of Canada) Chair’s Dinner on June 23, celebrate and recognize the creative application of information technology that significantly improves the lives of Canadians and demonstrates social and economic benefits.

Learn more about other IT Hero Award nominees:

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With the smart meters in place, Benton said, energy consumption from all the homes and buildings in the village can me accurately monitored. Data from the meters will be transmitted to the band office which then relays it to Pulse Energy’s facilities. Pulse Energy will then “synthesize” the data and make it available to users and the band office administrators via Internet connection.

“The idea is that users will be able to determine how much electricity they consume and identify their peak consumption hours. People then have the choice to alter their energy consumption habits,” explained Benton.

The system, Benton said, can also be equipped to allow the band office to monitor energy leakages and regulate energy use in certain buildings.

The band manager believes the new technology will fit very well with the Gitga’at established routines.

For instance, Benton lives in the house of his partner whose mother is the matriarch of the Eagle clan. To meet her obligations to the clan, the matriarch maintains a large food supply in nine freezers inside the house.

The freezers can be hooked up to a smart device that can shut power of the freezers when other high consumption appliances such as a stove are in use. Or the smart devices can keep the freezers on alternately to save on power.

“The devices can be programmed to keep the freezers off just long enough until the temperature inside the appliance in at a safe level,” said Benton.

With the smart meters, the community can cut its diesel consumption by as much as 15 per cent or an estimated $75,000 annually.

Smart meters can also extend the life of the community’s planned hydro electric program by 40 years, said Benton.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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