Postby Oscar » Fri Jul 09, 2010 3:00 pm


BY Jim Harding

Saskatchewan Sustainability Published in United Newspapers of Saskatchewan - July 3, 2010

I joined forty others on the province’s first solar tour held June 19th to highlight the summer solstice, the longest day of sunlight. The tour was organized by the environmental advocacy group Clean Green Regina in concert with other groups. We travelled on a Regina transit bus rented for the occasion and saw eight residential, business or institutional applications of solar energy. Eleven other locations could not be visited because of the shortage of time. We saw rooftop thermal panels heating water; we saw photovoltaic (PV) panels and wind-turbines producing electricity. (Wind is solar energy as it’s created by the shifting of temperature.) We learned more about solar technology and how electricity is measured: 1 kilowatt (kW) equals 1,000 watts and 1 kilowatt-hour (kWh) is 1000 watts produced for an hour.

We went to see the 3.5 kW (3,500 watt) capacity wind turbine installed on a building at the University of Regina, but found that it isn’t yet operating. It’s a 2.5 meter high vertical axis turbine, meaning it turns vertically like an egg-beater, not like a propeller. It’s taken the university quite a while to incorporate multi-disciplinary knowledge into its energy research, having been involved in fossil fuel and uranium research for decades. The potential for solar has been literally over the academic’s heads all along. Rooftops, like classrooms and labs, can serve multiple purposes and with a little foresight every roof at the U of R could be used to gather thermal energy to heat water, and for PV panels to produce electricity. Roofs can also be used for on-roof greeneries and gardening, which is happening in many urban downtowns.

Institutions are however, slow to change. We saw evidence of institutional lag when we visited the Science Centre to see the 2.8 kW of PV panels installed in 2000 by Sask Power “for research purposes”. The Crown Corporation concluded “Results showed that the cost savings realized from the solar system cannot effectively offset the capital costs of installation”, continuing “As a result, this technology is better suited to niche applications where connection to the grid is uneconomical or when passive solar enhancement is desired.” These conclusions are antiquated. Solar panels are now tested and rated globally under Standard Testing Conditions (STC). Not only has their efficiency increased but the cost has dropped sharply. Since I priced PV panels for our place three years ago the price has dropped 50% and is now competitive with small wind turbines.


Thankfully there’s a big gap between Sask Power’s antiquated research and its new policy of net-metering. Net-metering enables a homeowner or small business to connect to the public grid. Any electricity you produce is used first and you are given credit for any excess over each 12 month period. If you install a PV system you will draw off the public grid after the sun goes down, but may generate excess electricity onto the grid during the day. If you have a hybrid system, with both PV and wind, such as we are planning to install, you could produce some excess electricity throughout the day and night. If people apply for net-metering they can also apply for a 35% installation cost rebate from the Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC) in return for access to utility records for a ten-year study of the shift to solar.

If decentralized solar energy expands it will steadily reduce the need for Sask Power to build large, expensive, polluting thermal plants. This will benefit the taxpayer and environment. Sask Power now needs to adopt a feed-in tariff, such as in Ontario and elsewhere, so that people making the capital investment are paid a fair fee for any excess electricity. Sask Power already purchases 13 percent of its electricity (460 megawatts) from industry, mostly from cogeneration stations. It should also purchase from farmers, co-ops, small businesses, Indigenous communities, towns, villages and homeowners prepared to help “green the grid”.

The other institution we visited was the Renaissance Retirement Residence in downtown Regina. The building provided their own tour-guide, who took us to the roof to see 30 solar thermal collectors used to heat water for space heating and hot water. He said if they had more room on the roof, “we could use 100 collectors.” He then took us to the basement to see what happens to the solar-heated water, explaining they had three boilers, one to store the thermal-heated water, another using ground-source heat and a third gas-fired boiler as back-up. He thought they acquired about 35% of their heated water from solar.


Saskatchewan’s per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are amongst the highest in the world; 72 tonnes compared to a global average of 4 tonnes. Forty percent of these come from the oil and gas industry and one-quarter come from electrical generating plants. Using solar energy for heating or electricity will begin to cut these emissions down and move us towards a more sustainable society. If every building followed the lead of the Renaissance Retirement Residence the reduction in GHGs would be substantial. So why don’t our building codes require the installation of both thermal and PV solar upfront? If these were included in construction or installed through upgrading buildings the savings from the reduced demand for fossil fuels would reduce operating costs and emissions, providing both a public and private benefit.

Students at Regina’s Campbell Collegiate didn’t wait for changes in policy. We didn’t get to see the solar thermal system installed on the roof of this high school after students raised money for the project. But the whole school system should follow the lead of these students, who were awarded a Saskatchewan Environmental Network (SEN) Activist Award this year.

Once we stop thinking that electricity comes from a light-switch, and that heat comes from a thermostat and realize the capital and ecological costs of our unsustainable energy, we become more motivated to conserve. Conservative estimates are that through better construction, more energy efficient technology and being conscientious, we could all conserve around 30% of the energy we presently, wastefully, consume. So before anyone considers a small solar system they will want to take action to reduce their demand; then the solar system won’t have to be as big and costly. This is a vital aspect of what’s called demand-side management (DSM).

Regina and region is one of the sunniest places in Canada. Kelln Solar, one of the sponsors of the tour, reminds us that if every home just had a small 1 kW PV system, requiring 5 panels covering about 50 square feet, it could generate 1361 kWh of electricity per year from the 5.5 average hours of sunlight. This alone would provide more than two months of the average household consumption of electricity per year. With conservation measures the percentage of electricity coming from solar will increase. Use of trackers to keep PV panels facing the sun’s rays will further increase solar production. Expanding the use of thermal panels for heating water will accelerate the shift from non-renewables. And remember, though one of the windiest in-land regions in all Canada, we have barely begun to harvest wind power. The solar tour showed the potential is there; it is political will and enlightened policies that lag.

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Postby Oscar » Tue Jun 26, 2012 9:24 am


BY Jim Harding

For publishing in R-Town News on June 29, 2012

I expected 19 people from Regina’s annual solar-solstice tour. When I walked up from the coulee where I was clearing brush I found 50 filling the driveway and a huge stagecoach parked beyond our gate. With such public interest why is Saskatchewan such a difficult place to make the transition to clean, sustainable energy?


We now have a full year’s experience producing renewable electricity, so in preparation for our solar tourists I reflected on what I’d learned, what I might do differently and how to encourage the province to better embrace renewables.

Last May we installed a Skystream 3.7 wind turbine on a 35 foot tower atop the hill behind our house in the Qu’Appelle Valley. The turbine, with fiberglass blades on a head which rotates to find the wind, starts at 8 mph with peak production of 2,400 watts. This sounds like a lot until you realize how variable the wind is, even on the edge of the Qu’Appelle Valley. I’ve learned much about the wind. Sometimes, the turbine is turning so fast that I can still hear its’ whine as I walk up the coulee out of sight of the tower. When I return a little later the blades may be motionless.

Because of wind’s variability we also installed 5 solar panels on a tracker that follows the sun and can produce 1,075 watts. I’m learning that the variability isn’t just seasonal but is also climactic. We’ve noticed that since we built our passive solar house the number of days with overcast has grown. In the winter we burn more wood when it’s overcast and around zero than when the sun is brightly shining at 30 below. And now we’ve found that the overcast affects our solar-electrical output too.


Wind production steadily increased last fall and winter, while solar electricity declined. Last August, with less than one-half the capacity (1,075 to 2,200 watts) our solar panels were producing as much as the wind. Yet, last December, around the shortest day of the year, wind was producing 5 times the electricity coming from solar.

I’m therefore glad I didn’t take the advice to go all solar, for the wind accounted for 3,200 of the 5,000 kWh produced in a year. Installing a much larger solar system could produce this much but the output would vary more by seasons. I’m also glad that I didn’t passively accept the “truism” that solar is much more expensive than wind. After subtracting the SRC grant (35% of installation costs), the solar system cost us around $7,000 and the wind $15,000. When you look at output, which is around 2:1 for wind, the cost per kWh is very close. I also found that it isn’t true that solar is “maintenance free”; so far all our problems have been with the tracker and the force of the wind on the panels.

But I’m glad we installed a hybrid system, for wind and solar can be complementary. When we go to bed to sleep through the long winter nights I can sometimes (barely) hear the wind turbine churning out electricity. A disproportionate amount of the excess electricity we produce, which goes on the grid to our neighbours and builds up our Sask Power credit, comes from this night-time production, when the solar panels are also “asleep”.


I haven’t re-calculated the payback time for our investment, but as the price of electricity continues to rise the time-period will certainly shorten. But if our first year is any indication it will be many years before our electrical bill savings add up to the $22,000. And then there are the maintenance costs that will come with time.

However, I didn’t do this because I thought we were going to immediately save money. My main reason was to demonstrate to ourselves and any other parties who cared what was required to move energy usage towards sustainability.


Most Saskatchewan electricity still comes from coal plants and “clean coal” is going to be an expensive oxymoron. Both coal and nuclear will become obsolete. Interestingly, SNC-Lavalin, which the province contracted to sequester carbon at the Boundary Dam, now also owns the AECL. Also, it is now being investigated for unexplained payments to Libya under Gaddafi’s rule.

Our province has the highest per capita carbon footprint in all Canada, and probably the world, in part due to its dependence on coal. The expanding oil and gas industry is also a major contributor to our record-breaking pollution. For every 1,000 watts per hour (kWh) of electricity that comes from renewables you prevent about 1 pound of carbon that would be produced from coal plants. So what delights me most is that, in our first year, we produced the equivalent of about 80% of what we used, which translates into about 5,000 pounds of carbon not going into the atmosphere. People still ask me whether I am bothered by the whine of the wind generator. I usually reply that we can surely accept the immediate feedback of cleaner energy (some noise) instead of carrying on with the “out of sight, out of mind” approach which accepts strip mining and air and water contamination when it’s “Not in My Back Yard” (NIMBY). And the newer wind turbines apparently will have little or no noise pollution.

Our goal is to produce the equivalent of what we use. This will require more conservation from switching to more LED lights and more energy efficient appliances, which is actually cheaper than installing more capacity. Our passive solar house has already greatly reduced our carbon footprint. If the sun is shining it takes no fuel at all (wood or gas) to keep our house at 70 degrees when it’s minus 30 outside. As we move further towards zero carbon electricity, our car will remain the biggest carbon culprit. It’s hard to imagine that because the carbon in gas combines with oxygen during combustion that a 6 pound gallon of gas turns into 20 pounds of carbon spewing out of the exhaust pipe as we head down the highway. And most of the energy from internal combustion is actually waste heat, which isn’t used to motor on at all.


Like the other 200 plus people who have net-metering agreements with Sask Power, we remain in a bit of a catch-22. Sask Power gives credit for electricity we put on the grid. Yearly they subtract what went on from what we took off the grid and only charge if there is an excess from them. But they don’t give credit or purchase any excess from us. There’s a policy double standard and there’s no incentive to produce more than we use.

Many other jurisdictions adopted feed-in tariffs where small producers are guaranteed a price per kWh that will cover the installation costs and return some income. Such a policy reduces the huge capital costs of installing new capacity for the crown utility. If Sask Power had a feed-in tariff they might also avoid putting in costly, higher voltage lines to bring in more coal-generated electricity from afar to meet rising regional demand. This would be both economically and environmentally prudent.

Thinking ahead we installed a larger cable than now required along the 250 foot trench to the wind turbine. If a feed-in tariff comes we can add another wind tower. With this and expanded solar panels we could produce enough electricity for our neighbours and become a carbon-free coulee. And perhaps someday, a carbon-free village or town or city! And so on! This matter is beyond our immediate control and becomes a political-policy matter. We’ll all have to keep working both personally and politically if we are going to make it to a sustainable society.
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