HARDING: THE SOLAR REVOLUTION: INDIVIDUALS DO MAKE A DIFFER

HARDING: THE SOLAR REVOLUTION: INDIVIDUALS DO MAKE A DIFFER

Postby Oscar » Mon Jul 12, 2010 10:39 am

THE SOLAR REVOLUTION: INDIVIDUALS DO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

BY Jim Harding

Saskatchewan Sustainability

Published in United Newspapers of Saskatchewan (R-Town News)

July 9, 2010

Institutions are beginning to use solar thermal panels for heating water and photovoltaic (PV) panels and wind turbines for producing electricity. But it is home owners and small businesses who are leading the way into solar energy in Saskatchewan.

Saskatchewan’s first solar tour held in Regina June 19th showed that individuals are making a difference in our quest for a sustainable society. We visited the home of Bill Walton, one pioneer in renewable energy in Saskatchewan. Six years ago Bill installed a 2.4 kW (2,400-watt) PV system on his roof, which is the largest such residential system in Regina. He also has a 500-watt vertical axis wind turbine in his back yard. This hybrid system is tied into the grid with a battery backup. Walton is a big fan of solar-powered street lights and along with Dave Calvert operates the solar installing company, Green Power Solutions.

We also visited the home of David Orban, the main organizer of the Solar Tour, who installed a 240-watt PV system eight years ago and a 500-watt wind turbine two years ago. This hybrid system, put in before Sask Power allowed net-metering, uses batteries for storage. Orban has paid particular attention to conservation and uses about 200 kWh per month, or about one-third of the average Saskatchewan household, and his hybrid system provides about half of his electricity. Orban notes that appliances that use DC (direct current) rather than AC (alternating current) use less electricity and are now available at competitive prices.

There were nine other Regina residences that we didn’t have time to visit. Most use solar thermal panels for heating water, including one place that heats a swimming pool this way. There were a few other hybrid systems using small wind turbines and PV panels for electricity.

SMALL BUSINESS SOLAR PIONEERS

City bylaws have to catch up to the potential of solar energy. One small business that we visited, Nature’s Best Market, wanted to install a hybrid system but the wind component was turned down by the city due to alleged noise pollution. These small turbines are almost silent. You can barely hear any sound when you stand by the pole that supports the wind turbine in the back yard of Dave Orban’s small lot, and his neighbours aren’t bothered by having a wind turbine next door. For three years Nature’s Best has had an autonomous 256-watt PV system with battery storage to power some of its lights, but it should also be allowed to install wind on its roof.

More small businesses will become curious about solar energy now that Sask Power allows them to tie-into the public grid. We visited Electric Solutions, the first business to do this in Regina, which has installed a hybrid 1410-watt PV system along with two 250-watt vertical wind turbines. We ended the Solar Tour at the La Bodega restaurant, which has experimented with several solar options. It gets some hot water from thermal panels and also uses ground source heat, which is being marketed in Saskatchewan as “geothermal”, though geothermal energy is actually about capturing underground volcanic steam for running large thermal electric plants. (Iceland is one leader in geothermal.) La Bodega also installed an 800-watt wind system, though its proximity to a large building makes this questionable. This eclectic approach highlights how important it is to carefully analyze what system is appropriate for your location and to ensure that your plans will actually save energy and reduce greenhouse gases.

There are other small businesses in the Regina area that are pioneering solar energy. The new business Evergreen Energy Solutions is promoting thin film solar panels, which provide electricity even during shaded conditions. Because these take up more space than other PV panels they are most appropriate for larger installations. Ken Kelln, who headed up Sask Power’s conservation program before it was cut by the Grant Devine government, and has run Kelln Solar out of Lumsden for years, is one of the main pioneers of solar technology. Kelln Solar installs solar electric pumps for farmers and PV and wind systems wherever they are desired.

SOLAR’S HUGE POTENTIAL

There was a diversity of people on the Solar Tour including green activists, sustainable builders, solar installers and even one Regina City Councilor, Louis Browne from Ward 1. People learned more about the practicalities of solar energy and networked about future endeavours. And, as with all technological innovation, there were debating points: over vertical versus propeller type wind turbines, over rooftop versus tracker-installed PV panels, and over the waste stream of wind versus solar. Snow buildup on rooftop PV panels can be an issue. Also though PV panels now have 20 year warranties and most components can be recycled, wind remains a more benign and bio-degradable technology. And now that it’s possible to tie-into the public grid a lot of toxic materials used in costly solar storage batteries can be avoided.

When I took the Solar Tour I was in the middle of making a decision about what kind of a system to install at our place in the Qu’Appelle Valley. In consultation with Ken Kelln I have decided to put in a hybrid system with a 3.5 kW (3,500-watt) capacity which will produce electricity day and night. It will include a 1.3 kW PV system installed on a tracker that follows the sun’s rays to enhance electrical output, and a 2.2 kW capacity wind turbine installed on the windy peak of the hill behind our home. It will be an interesting experiment to see how many kWh of electricty we get from this in a year. The Qu’Appelle Valley is one of the areas in Saskatchewan with great potential for wind energy. Towns and villages, like Fort San, where I live, could lead the way in the transition to renewable energy, and hopefully we’ll soon see a Solar Tour in rural and small town Saskatchewan.

Unlike energy from fossil fuels, solar energy requires no extraction of fuels, such as the disastrous off-shore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico or at Alberta’s tar-sands. Solar energy does not contaminate water during mining or require mammoth amounts of water for cooling coal or nuclear thermal plants. And it has no ongoing toxic waste stream. It also has the advantage of being able to be installed on a decentralized basis, with the potential of bringing electricity to the two billion humans who presently do without.

In only one hour there’s more solar energy landing on the earth than the total energy required globally in a year. Saskatchewan’s first Solar Tour showed that individuals are leading the way and institutions are beginning to catch on to the obvious, that the sun is at the centre of our planetary existence. It’s time we learned to directly harvest the sun’s energy for heat and electricity so that we can quickly lessen the impact of our energy consumption on the planet that is our home. Thankfully this is starting to happen in Saskatchewan.

Next time I’ll discuss what our record-breaking wet and stormy spring may tell us about climate change and sustainability.

More articles: http://jimharding.brinkster.net
Oscar
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