Off-grid Solar Electric System – South Nahanni Outfitters

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In 2015, South Nahanni Outfitters installed a 6.1 kW solar photovoltaic (PV) system at its camp in the Root River drainage basin in the Mackenzie Mountains, northwest of Fort Simpson. The owner, Werner Aschbacher, had the system installed to reduce diesel consumption, save money, and reduce noise from running the generator. 

The camp is occupied about 14 weeks a year, from early July to mid-October. Normally, around 10 people stay there at a time, but up to 30 can be at the camp at peak times. 

Sunfind Solar Products Inc. of Red Deer, Alberta, supplied the system, which was installed by camp staff. An electrician retrofitted the existing generator, changing it from three-phase to single-phase power, which enables the generator to charge the batteries. 

The system allowed South Nahanni Outfitters to drastically reduce its fuel usage and associated costs. The savings come not just from the solar panels themselves, but also from the batteries. Previously, the camp’s generator had to run constantly to provide power. When little power is being used, a generator runs inefficiently. With the battery bank in place, the generator runs only when needed to charge the batteries. Since the generator is under a high load to provide that charge, it runs more efficiently when it is needed. 

System Overview

ItemQuantityDescriptionTotal Capacity
Solar Panels24255W Each6.12 kW
Inverter1Includes charge controller, power distribution panel, control panel and automatic generator start.6.5 kW
Batteries166V AGM batteries (48V total)37.4 kW/h
Generator1Diesel-powered25 kVA

Estimated Average Monthly Diesel Consumption

The graphs above show the drastic reduction in diesel consumption seen at South Nahanni Outfitters after installing the solar PV system. What the graphs do not show is that there is ample solar power production from July to late September, which provides enough electricity to power the entire camp, meaning the diesel generator does not need to be used. Once fall arrives, the weather conditions and the reduction in sunlight mean the solar array cannot produce enough power on its own and the camp has to run the generator to fully charge the batteries.

Ground-mounted racking of the solar panels at a 45-degree angle.
The batteries and inverter that provide useful power to the camp.

Annual Electricity Production

Estimated potential production, Jul. 1 – Oct. 10
(based on RETScreen analysis)
Estimated power needed, Jul. 1 – Oct. 10
(average 16 kWh/day)

Estimated Payback

Capital Cost
(before funding)
AEA Funding$11,000
Estimated Payback
with AEA Funding
without AEA Funding

2.3 years
3.5 years

PDF Download of Cast Study:

Caste Study – South Nahanni Outfitters

“At first we were wary of the capital cost required to invest in solar PV, but the AEA rebate helped push us to go for it. Now, after seeing how successful our solar PV system has been and how quickly the investment paid for itself, if I had a new camp, installing solar is the first thing I would do. Even if I didn’t get a rebate I’d still do it this way. It just makes sense. It’s also much quieter in camp without having a generator running regularly.”

—Werner Aschbacher, Owner of South Nahanni Outfitters