Red Deer College leading the way in alternative energy learning opportunities

Red Deer College has installed 4,195 solar panels across the main campus, making it the largest institutional solar array in Canada. (Red Deer College)

Red Deer College has installed 4,195 solar panels across the main campus, making it the largest institutional solar array in Canada. (Red Deer College)

Red Deer College leading the way in alternative energy learning opportunities

Model it. Showcase it. Train in it.

This is the philosophy behind Red Deer College’s Alternative Energy Lab, the college’s latest investment in the alternative energy space.

“Students are very much interested and invested in climate change and clean energy systems,” said Joel Ward, president and CEO of RDC. “They want post-secondary institutions that will be able to support and model clean energy and clean energy technologies.”

The Alternative Energy Lab is a 5,274 square foot virtual and physical space where students can learn about alternative energy systems by experimenting with and researching different technologies, and conducting simulations of working energy systems. Approximately 1,000 students from programs like engineering and instrumentation technology, carpentry and electrician will benefit from the new lab space each year.

“It is a teaching and learning space where students have hands-on learning experience to build familiarity and confidence with alternative energy systems that they will likely to encounter in their careers,” said Ward.

In 2017, Red Deer College received – and later matched – a $5 million grant from the federal government’s Post-Secondary Strategic Investment Fund, which allowed them to begin construction on the building.

The lab has been designed to simulate systems associated with alternative energy production – such as small-scale solar or combined heat and power units – giving students a chance to install, operate and maintain various systems in a real-world setting.

For example, solar panels installed on the roof of the lab allow students to collect data, compare panel technologies and determine the most efficient, clean energy solutions for communities.

“Students are very much interested and invested in climate change and clean energy systems. They want post-secondary institutions that will be able to support and model clean energy and clean energy technologies.”
— Joel Ward, president and CEO of RDC

According to Ward, the research gathered in the lab will have far-reaching benefits. It will function as an impartial resource for alternative energy information in central Alberta and increase awareness around some of the latest technologies, while using findings to educate and support communities and businesses interested in investing in alternative energy solutions.

“Many of the businesses are looking for alternative energy [technologies] in their own industry, but they aren’t quite sure what it is and what the return on their investment will be,” said Ward, who added they are currently doing a study on the angles of solar panels to optimize for the sun in central Alberta.

Ward said the college has also designed the lab as a flexible space, because technology in the alternative energy space is constantly evolving. Much of the equipment in the lab is on wheels, which gives them the ability to adapt to new systems as they emerge, and ensures any teaching and learning within the lab stays current.

Further, RDC partners with experts in the field to facilitate public forums, as well as education for businesses and members of the community around some of the more sustainable energy options available.

These forums will help answer common questions, such as what happens when snow accumulates on solar panels and the return-on-investment if businesses decide to move away from fossil fuels and into clean energy.

Instructor and student in RDC's Alternative Energy Lab. (Red Deer College)

Instructor and student in RDC's Alternative Energy Lab. (Red Deer College)

Red Deer College’s Alternative Energy Initiative

The Alternative Energy Lab is just one component of Red Deer College’s greater Alternative Energy Initiative, which supports a five-year goal to become a net-zero campus powered by sustainable resources.

“We want to be the go-to organization in central Alberta and beyond, not just for demonstrating these new technologies, but incorporating it into our own plan to be net-zero in the next five years,” said Ward.

To reach that goal, the college is tapping into three key technologies.

First, RDC has installed a natural-gas powered combined heat and power unit that produces hot water to generate electricity. The extra heat produced is then tied into the existing hot water distribution system to heat various locations on campus.

Second, the college has installed 4,195 solar panels across the main campus, making it the largest institutional solar array in Canada, according to Ward.

Third, RDC has replaced its low efficiency lighting with high efficiency LED lighting, reducing its electricity consumption.

We want to be the go-to organization in central Alberta and beyond,
not just for demonstrating these new technologies,
but incorporating it into our own plan to be net-zero in the next five years.
— Joel Ward, Red Deer College president and CEO

Through these programs, according to Ward, the college is already offsetting almost 2/3 of its electricity demands, creating its own 9,200-megawatt hours per year in electricity savings, and decreasing its heat and power costs by almost $1 million.

Because RDC often produces more energy than it can use, the college is also looking to incorporate battery storage technology in order to store the energy until it’s needed.

Additionally, the college has begun working with Calgary-based Eco-Growth Environmental to enable them to convert organic waste into biomass fuel, which will assist in powering the campus’s gasification boiler systems.

“We believe it is a moral imperative to support the diversification initiative of our province and the world we are leaving our kids,” said Ward.

“This ongoing conservation strategy not only saves money, but it demonstrates that we are serious about alternative energy and supporting strategies to mitigate climate change.”

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Calgary company uses solar solutions to heat homes


Calgary company uses solar SOLUTIONS to heat homes

We normally hear about solar panels powering up our lights or recharging batteries, but a company in Calgary is using solar energy to heat homes and businesses, providing clean solutions, while helping them save money long-term.

“There is an amazing return of investment on thermal,” said Brad Sargeant, head of sales and marketing at Off Grid Heating, which started designing and installing solar systems in Calgary nearly a decade ago. “It pays for itself quickly because of its efficiency.”

According to Sargeant, while Off Grid Heating does a variety of solar electric installations, it’s their solar thermal systems that set them apart – they are just one of a handful of solar thermal companies in Alberta.

Homeowners or businesses that install a solar thermal system will typically see a return on their investment within five to seven years, compared to the seven to ten of a solar electrical system.

Solar thermal systems are a cost-effective and energy-efficient heating solution that can be used to heat household water systems or integrated with in-floor heating. Off Grid Heating’s solar thermal systems function by heating water that is circulated through the system, which in turn heats a home’s hot water tank or in-floor heating system.

Sargeant said their system is optimized for Canadian winters because of the high-performance solar tubes, which are insulated to ensure the outside temperature does not transfer to the inside of the tubes and affect the solar heating process.

About 30 per cent of Off Grid Heating’s clients opt for a solar thermal system installation. Often, Sargeant said they will install hybrid systems – both solar thermal and electrical systems.

“We are finding that with the cost of power and energy increasing, people would rather be independent and self-sufficient,” said Sargeant, adding that it is especially true in remote areas where it may cost significantly more to for heating and electricity.

Off Grid Heating’s biggest client base comes from farmers, and those involved in the agricultural space, because they are high users of power and energy who are in search of more efficient and cost-effective solutions.

But the company also installs many residential solar systems, for individuals looking to cut costs with a more sustainable energy and heating solution.

“It’s about helping people have that peace of mind.”
— Brad Sargeant, Head of Sales and Marketing

Even though the up-front installation price for a solar system – electrical or thermal – has seen a significant decrease in the last decade or so, Sargeant said that cost is still the number one barrier to installing a solar system.

“An average solar electrical system [for a residential installation] is 5,000 watts,” said Sargeant. “At three dollars a watt, it’s going to cost around $15,000.” 

But currently, he said, residents who install a solar electrical system of that size should get about one-third of that amount back in government rebates.

By contrast, a simple thermal system, which would supplement an average home’s domestic hot water requirements, would cost $8,000. Installing a thermal system that would supplement an entire home’s heat through an in-floor heating system or a hydronic baseboard system would run about $12,000.

Homeowners and businesses must also consider space restrictions and potential tree shading on the property before installing a solar system, but since Off Grid Heating also designs the system being installed, they are able to adapt to the size and space available – by increasing the wattage of each panel for a smaller home, for example – to create a suitable system for each property.  

“We help people get set up with solar systems from start to finish,” he said.

Sargeant said they are looking at working with battery back-up systems in the future, but for now, Off Grid Heating is glad to help people find a green and cost-effective way to heat and power their homes.

“We know that there is going to be a demand on gas, and the price is going to go up, so it’s going to cost a lot for people to heat their homes in the future,” said Sargeant. “It’s about helping people have that peace of mind.”

Rural Routes to Climate Solutions facilitating education for Alberta producers


Rural Routes to Climate Solutions facilitating education for Alberta producers

A Central Alberta based project is giving local farmers and agricultural producers the opportunity to further their education – all without needing to leave their communities.  

The project’s main topic of conversation? Climate solutions that can benefit Alberta farms and ranches. 

We find that there’s not really a space for agricultural
producers to talk about climate issues as it relates to agriculture,
so we are trying to hold that space for them
— Derek Leahy, director of Rural Routes.

Rural Routes to Climate Solutions– a project with the Stettler Learning Centre– is using a hands-on approach to provide opportunities for agricultural producers to explore about the benefits of implementing climate solutions in their day-to-day business activities.

Now a year into the project, Rural Routes facilitates workshops and field days, bringing in different experts and presenters in the climate solutions and agricultural space. Attendees also have the chance to talk one-on-one with presenters after the conclusion of the events. 

In addition, Leahy has found their podcast series is one of the best ways to disseminate information to producers across the province. 

“Podcasts are a great way to provide access to the resources,” said Leahy. “They give the project some longevity, because people can listen to them whenever they want to.” 

Adopting climate solutions

Agriculture may be one of the sectors most impacted by a changing climate, affecting growing season length and harvest timing, pollinators and pests. On the other hand, agriculture could be a significant lever for reducing emissions, since it is a natural way to store carbon.

According to Leahy, one of the most effective climate solution methods for Alberta farms is soil carbon sequestration – a process through which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and absorbed into the soil, decreasing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. 

Agricultural producers can activate and maintain the process by minimizing soil disturbance through reduced tillage methods and not overgrazing pasture land.  

While there is an environmental payoff to implementing this method, soil carbon sequestration could also have economic benefits for Alberta producers. 

“Carbon is a key element in soil health and fertility,” said Leahy. “The more you have in the ground, the better your land is doing. In theory, that should result in more productive farms and better yields.” 

Another popular discussion topic at Rural Routes is on-farm solar and energy efficiency – adopting energy-efficient technologies that could have a long-term impact on the climate. 

Leahy said because both solar and wind are prevalent in Alberta, agricultural producers could harness those elements to minimize their environmental impact and streamline some of the costs associated with operating a ranch or farm. 

For example, large-scale dairy operations could install solar energy systems, which would make them less reliant on fluctuations in the energy market and result in a more efficient and cost-effective farm, said Leahy. 


Changing the narrative around climate solutions  

For Leahy, providing producers with educational resources is one of the ways to empower rural communities, and begin to change the narrative surrounding farmers and the climate. 

“Producers are so used to hearing people say that agriculture is bad and is destroying our planet, but in reality, the land is everything in agriculture,” said Leahy. “There is a connection to the climate.”

He said while there are many agricultural organizations that talk about ecology, diversity and soil health, there are few that create conversations explicitly around climate solutions. Rural Routes provides that space. 

Currently, their primary audience is smaller-scale farmers, but Leahy said Rural Routes plans to engage more with the industry, talking with commodity groups and developing partnerships with some of the large-scale agricultural operations in Alberta. 

“We are all pushing for the same thing,” said Leahy. “We want what’s best for the land, we’re just coming at it from a different direction.” 

For more information on how to undertake your own energy efficiency project, check out the resources page.

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Canmore Solar Initiative: Bringing renewable energy to Alberta’s Bow Valley

IMG_2436 (1).JPG

Canmore Solar Initiative: bringing renewable energy to Alberta’s Bow Valley

Mountains, glacier-fed lakes, wildlife … and solar panels?

Solar panels have been popping up on many Canmore homes over the last few years, thanks in part to Canmore’s Solar Incentive Program.

“This is something tangible that homeowners can do,” said Lori Rissling Wynn, sustainability coordinator for the Town of Canmore. “A lot of times we feel we don’t have a lot of control in these choices, but a person absolutely does.”

Now in its fifth year, the program provides an opportunity for people in the community to invest in renewable energy by offering a financial incentive to residents and businesses to help offset the cost of purchasing and installing a solar system.

There were 15 solar incentives of $1,000 available in 2019, and recipients – chosen by a lottery – were notified in March. Funds for the program are identified annually in the town’s operating budget for “greenhouse gas mitigation activities.”

Rissling Wynn said the program is often oversubscribed. This year, 25 people submitted applications.

“It demonstrates the appetite the community has for the program,” said Rissling Wynn, who is responsible for administering the program, processing applications, managing the lottery and corresponding with successful recipients. “People are interested in contributing to the energy transition.”

For many individuals though, the upfront capital is one of the major barriers to solar installation; the Canmore Solar Initiative is meant to help reduce that barrier.

Even with the financial incentive, Rissling Wynn said they recognize a solar panel installation is a big economic decision, and families need to decide whether a solar system is the right fit for their home. But it’s an over-simplification to say that a solar panel system is too expensive as an investment for most homes.

“If you look at a solar panel system as an appliance that you are putting on your home, what other appliance pays you back? Eventually this will be paying you back dividends.”

Depending on the size of the system, it takes eight to 10 years to completely recover the capital cost, but most get at least a portion of their bills covered within the first year.

Moreover, installing a solar panel system on their home tends to have ripple effect — residents become increasing mindful about the amount of energy they use on a daily basis, like turning off lights and running the dishwasher during the day when the panels are generating power. By monitoring energy production versus household consumption, families can reduce energy costs by consuming power when the solar installation is producing energy.

“It’s important that we aren’t just telling people to do this, we are doing it ourselves, too.”
— Lori Rissling Wynn, on the role municipalities play to encourage residential solar installations

The solar energy investment doesn’t just benefit the homeowner. According to Rissling Wynn, the number of solar installers working in the valley has tripled since the initiative first started in Canmore, spurring the green economy and increasing employment opportunities.

Further, the increase in solar installations around town have helped to debunk the myth that solar energy was not possible in the valley. 

A report, commissioned by the Town of Canmore to evaluate the solar potential of the community, found that rooftop geometry and design has significantly more impact on solar potential than mountain shading and location within the valley. This bodes well for new residential developments in the community.

It’s not just residents and local businesses looking for opportunities to offset their energy usage.

“It’s important that we aren’t just telling people to do this,” said Rissling Wynn. “We are doing it ourselves, too,”

Within the next two years, Canmore will add five new solar panel installations to their municipal buildings, on top of the systems currently in operation, which include the solar photovoltaic systems installed on the roofs of the Civic Centre and Waste Management Centre. The town is also looking for opportunities for ground-mounted solar to help offset corporate energy usage.

“We are recognizing that the grid needs to be maintained, and renewable energy needs to be a part of that mix,” said Rissling Wynn.

For more information on how to undertake your own renewables project, check out the resources page.

Submit your new energy story here.

Geothermal Innovation in Alberta

Geothermal innovation in Alberta

The world’s first geothermal power plant was completed in 1914 in Italy. Fast forward more than 100 years, and Canada still does not have a single large-scale geothermal facility. Alberta company Terrapin hopes to change that.

Geothermal energy is a form of renewable energy harnessed from converting heat stored deep underground into electricity. Terrapin plans to build an eight-megawatt geothermal power generation facility near Hinton, Alta.

Sean Collins has worked in sustainable energy for about a decade, beginning with co-founding Student Energy – a global non-profit energy organization – and working for clean-tech companies in the province. After the Alberta Climate Leadership Plan was released in late 2015, Collins said he knew the electricity sector would have to change significantly following the coal phase-out. He founded Terrapin, a company focused on transforming waste heat and geothermal heat into usable energy. Now, he is the company’s president.

By phasing out coal, more renewable energy will be needed to make up for the gap in electricity supply and demand. Much of Alberta’s renewable energy will come from wind and solar power, which are intermittent, only producing electricity when the wind is blowing or when the sun is shining. One of the advantages of coal is that it can produce electricity all of the time. An advantage of geothermal is that it too can produce electricity on demand.

There’s not much difference between drilling an oil well and drilling a geothermal well
— Sean Collins

In principle geothermal seems straightforward, but there are at least 27 different technologies used to transform heat to electricity. Depending on the situation and heat source, some technologies perform better than others. Terrapin’s role is bringing expertise and understanding to which solutions are ideal.

Collins sees geothermal as a natural fit for Alberta.

“There’s not much difference between drilling an oil well and drilling a geothermal well,” he said, explaining Alberta has a lot of expertise in building massive facilities, such as billion-dollar oil and gas refineries, and these skills are easily transferable to building large-scale geothermal facilities.

Many predictions on global energy show oil and gas will still play a role 30 years from now, but there will be a massive increase in renewables. Collins considers this balance of energy sources as crucial. He says creating sustainable electricity will allow our oil and gas to be used most effectively, instead of for nearly everything as it has been for decades.

The price on carbon pollution has created an additional focus on renewable energy innovation.

“Alberta may be building our last pipeline,” said Collins. “We need to dig in and see how we play in the new world.”

To achieve this shift to renewable electricity, he says Alberta needs to be more entrepreneurial and ambitious.

“We as a province need to raise our risk factor.”

Learn more about Terrapin here.

For more information on clean tech projects and opportunities in Alberta, see our resources page.

Submit your own new energy story here.

Building your own Sun-In-A-Box


Building your own Sun-In-A-Box

After electrical engineering students Nathan Olson and David Roszko completed a research project involving medical electronics at the University of Alberta last year, they decided to try their hand at solar technology. They figured it would just be another project that began and ended in the classroom. But Roszko’s wife Ashley, a graduate student in Community Engagement at the University of Alberta, had a bigger idea.

“I was like, [this project] is so cool; we could use it to teach people about renewable energy and how solar power works,” says Ashley Roszko.

In turn, the trio began a year-long interdisciplinary project teaching people how to build personal solar units, which they called a Sun-In-A-Box, with the broader goal of driving grassroots engagement with solar technologies.

“There were kids working with seniors … someone holding a screwdriver while someone else screwed in a panel. It was just so neat.”

Practically speaking, a Sun-In-A-Box is a beefed-up solar-powered charger. The wooden frame, about the size of a shoebox, contains a battery pack, a pivoting solar panel and a small computer that can be programmed for various tasks. The box’s 12-volt rechargeable battery can charge or power anything that plugs into a USB port.

“It was designed to support itself for two days without any sun,” said Olson, one of the two electrical engineering students who designed the box.

That means it can charge about five phones before it needs a new dose of sunlight. In addition, with a few modifications, the wooden box can be rugged and weather proof, and can be used camping, or left outside for longer stretches to harness the sun’s energy for daily use.


Sounds cool, and maybe you want one of your own, right? But you can’t buy a Sun-In-A-Box. You have to build it. That’s the point.

The venture was created as an education project – a way to get kids and community members excited about solar energy, and to scale the power of the sun down to something people can understand and use themselves.

Once the two engineers had developed and finalized the unit specs – the parts cost about $350 and can be found at Canadian Tire, Home Depot, any electronics shop, or just lying around your house – Ashley kicked her community engagement skills into action. The trio gave presentations to elementary schools and community groups in the Edmonton area, showing participants how the Sun-In-A-Box works. In July, thanks to the support of EcoCity Edmonton, they put on a workshop through the Alberta Green Economy Network with the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues, Relay Education and the Riverdale Community to teach people how to build a Sun-In-A-Box.

Ashley Roszko said the workshop participants’ diversity and cooperation was inspiring.

“There were kids working with seniors … someone holding a screwdriver while someone else screwed in a panel,” she said. “It was just so neat.”


From an engineering perspective, Olson said it was interesting to work with an interdisciplinary team, sharing solar technology with people who aren’t technical, and helping them make it a reality.

“It’s easy to get siloed and you don’t see what’s on the other side of the fence,” he said. “As engineers, we didn’t really consider the community engagement aspect.”

Being able to share their knowledge and passion with others who haven’t thought much about renewable energy was an exciting opportunity, Ashley Roszko said, especially when it came to hearing people’s ideas for what to do with a Sun-In-A-Box. Beyond charging phones, people suggested hooking up a wildlife camera, or powering a pump to use the water from a rain barrel or plugging in a soil sensor.

“[It was cool to see] what sustainability looks like to them when they realized that they could actually build their own,” she said.

Equally important, she added, is that there isn’t just one way to make a Sun-In-A-Box.

“We’re trying to show people something you can do, but you don’t have to do it exactly as we did,” she said, pointing out there are plenty of improvements people can make. Indeed, the project is open-source, and they are continuing to update documents and directions online, so that people can make their own suggestions and customizations.

“That’s one of the areas we hope it will continue to grow,” she said.

Detailed instructions on how to build your own Sun-In-A-Box can be found here.

For more information on how to undertake your own education project, check out the resources page.

Submit your new energy story here.

Solar Power Can Be a Community Effort

24. Evansdale Community League.jpg

Solar Power Can Be a Community Effort

In Edmonton, almost every neighbourhood has a community league. These locally elected boards of community volunteers do the work of running facilities and programs and engaging in civic issues. There are 158 such leagues in the city. It’s the most grassroots level of representation we have and these dedicated volunteers drive the communities’ agenda.

When the Evansdale Community League started a big infrastructure refurbishment project, it raised $800,000 to repave the ball hockey and basketball courts, install a new outdoor hockey rink and build an accompanying winter sports facility. As part of that project it also installed super-efficient LED rink lights and two LED parking lot lights. The icing on the cake: a 13.6 kilowatt solar system cost only $43,500 to install.

Gordon Howell is the electrical engineer who designed the system. By his calculations, this project will generate about half of the electricity used over the course of a year.

“Over the longer term, it’s a phenomenal investment,” says Howell. Making the decision even easier was that the City of Edmonton and the government of Alberta covered 85 per cent of the upfront costs with an infrastructure grant. With that, the solar project has a simple payback of four to five years, depending on the price of electricity. The final cost of the system came in at $3.20 per installed watt.

"Each of these [projects] feels like a small piece of the puzzle, but when you add them up, it’s the only way you actually get any real change"

“All the money that you save in the meantime [with solar], you can put towards community sports programs and the like,” says Howell.

Although it’s a small project, both the LEDs and solar system tie into the City of Edmonton’s community energy transition plan. The City announced recently that it wants 100 percent of Edmonton’s electricity generated from renewable sources by 2030. Community league roofs are a great place to start.

Ben Henderson is an Edmonton city councilor. He supported the energy transition plan and considers projects like this to be crucial to achieving those goals.

“Each of these [projects] feels like a small piece of the puzzle, but when you add them up, it’s the only way you actually get any real change,” says Henderson.

“Our energy transition strategy is about two things. It’s about how we can up our game and show leadership in terms of our own practice, but it’s also creating incentives that make it easier for businesses, for [community] leagues, for all sorts of non-profit groups, and for individuals on their own houses to be able to step up as well and take away some the real or imagined barriers that are stopping people from making those choices.”

Read the full story on Green Energy Futures here

For more information on how to undertake your own renewables project, check out the resources page.

Submit your new energy story here.

Canada’s First Concentrated Solar Thermal Plant


Canada’s first concentrated solar thermal plant

Medicine Hat is called the gas city, and for good reason. It sits on sizable natural gas reserves, which meant the city never suffered at budget time. In 2007, the city started down a path that should serve as a model to those lucky places that are endowed with fossil fuels.

The city’s one-megawatt concentrated solar thermal plant is the first of its kind in Canada. Row after row of large concave metal mirrors glow in the sun on the hill above the Trans-Canada Highway.

By focusing the sun’s rays onto a point, you can generate incredible amounts of heat. This project creates temperatures of 340 degrees Celsius. That heat is used to make steam, which spins a turbine and generates electricity.

"We had to reinvest, we had to diversify because all of our eggs were in that one basket"

It’s the farthest north a concentrated solar thermal project has ever been built, yet it makes sense in Medicine Hat. This is one of the sunniest cities in Canada, receiving more direct sunlight annually than Miami.

Concentrated solar thermal was the original renewable energy pacesetter. Massive projects were built in Spain, California and other sunny, arid places in the ‘80s and ‘90s. But solar photovoltaic modules, the familiar solar panels, have surpassed concentrated solar thermal. There are four gigawatts of installed concentrated solar thermal projects in the world but more than 300 gigawatts of installed solar PV.

The Medicine Hat project cost $9 million, with the funding split evenly between the city, the Province of Alberta and the Alberta Climate Change Emissions Management Corporation (CCEMC), the Province’s carbon technology mitigation fund. This installation works in concert with the city utility’s neighboring 204-megawatt natural gas fired power plant.

“We knew at the time we had to give back in some way. We had to reinvest, we had to diversify because all of our eggs were in that one basket, which was natural gas,” says Medicine Hat mayor Ted Clugston.

Read the full story on Green Energy Futures here

For more information on how to undertake your own renewables project, check out the resources page.

Submit your new energy story here.

Green Acres, one of Western Canada's largest solar farms


Green Acres, One of WEstern Canada's Largest Solar Farms

The Green Acres Hutterite colony has a population of about 80 people. Breakfast and dinner are communal while lunch is eaten in the home. Despite their apparent quaintness, the Hutterites are ambitious industrial-scale farmers. This colony near Bassano farms 20,000 acres, runs a hog and chicken operation, operates Crowfoot Plastics, a one-of-a-kind plastics recycling plant, and more than 7,600 solar modules in its two megawatt solar farm. Once you understand a bit about Hutterite culture, their embrace of solar power makes sense.

“It still blows me away to this day,” says Jake Hofer, Green Acres’s electrician. “You look at the system, day after day, and there’s nothing moving, no moving parts, and yet it creates all this energy.”

“Every piece of our colony’s livelihood is an asset and is very important,” says Jake’s brother, Dan Hofer. “You grow and supply your own meat, you grow and supply your own garden and vegetables as much as possible, so [solar power] falls kind of in the same category. It’s self-sufficient. You’re relying on your own resources; you’re not relying on someone else.”

Building a two-megawatt solar system is a little more ambitious than planting potatoes. It required an investment of $4.8 million. But after careful analysis the numbers seemed to add up nicely and the banks agreed.

“We did it for economic reasons,” says Dan. “They didn’t have an issue at all. After seeing some of the numbers, how the economics would work out, they were fully supportive.”

For project developer SkyFire Energy, the project was a first in terms of scale.

“The solar resource here is some of the best in Canada,” says David Vonesch, Skyfire’s chief operating officer. “A system installed right here will produce about 50 or 60% more than if the same system were installed in Germany, where there’s more solar [installed] than anywhere in the world.”

The wind resource in Southern Alberta is also among the best in Canada. So why did the colony choose solar and not wind? “Maintenance was one of the big issues,” chuckles Jake. “And I’m terribly scared of heights.”

Green Acres pushed the envelope on the cost of the solar. They secured an original quote to build their two-megawatt solar farm for $2.80 a watt, but reduced that to $2.40 a watt through their own labour.

The result is a payback of 15 years if electricity prices remain low, or as few as 10 years if they start to escalate.

“I think because of this system, because of Green Acres taking this leap, we’ve seen increased interest in these types of systems, and this scale of project,” says Vonesch. “It’s taken the ‘what’s possible’ to a new level, and lots of people are looking at it and following suit.”

Read the full story on Green Energy Futures here

For more information on how to undertake your own renewables project, check out the resources page.

Submit your new energy story here.

Starland Farmers Love the Sun

8. Starland County.jpg

Starland Farmers Love the Sun

Bob Sargent, a farmer who also runs an oilfield services company and serves as a counselor, lives in Starland County north of Drumheller. He never would have installed his 10-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system if it hadn’t been for the county. Matthew Kreke is a project manager for Starland County and he says it all started with water.

“We wanted to bring rural water to most of our residents. That requires a lot of pumping and a lot of these pumping stations are very remote. So, originally we’re trying to look at ways to cut costs with our energy for bringing water to our citizens. And that’s sort of how we stumbled onto solar. From there we’ve been involved with several different programs trying to bring solar out and we’ve seen the cost fall from there,” says Kreke.

All told, the county runs 65 kilowatts of solar at pumping stations and community buildings.

Inspired by their success, Starland County wanted to help its residents take advantage of this technology as well, so they developed the Starland County Solar Incentive working with the Municipal Climate Change Action Centre and Bullfrog Power. The goal was to install 100 kilowatts of solar and they wanted to keep it affordable.

Through discussions with farmers, Starland County found a tipping point. If they could bring the payback down from 20 plus years they would have no trouble attracting people to the program. To bring the costs down they worked hard to develop a creative and affordable template for 10-kilowatt solar systems.

With the help of Bullfrog Builds and the Municipal Climate Change Action Centre they were also able to offer a grant of up to $5000. With farmers doing some of the installation themselves, plus tax incentives they got the payback scenario down to 10 to 13 years and the cost down to under $30,000.

“Some of these farmers out here… have lots of land, they’re comfortable putting together machinery, taking care of equipment and they also make large capital expenditures on an ongoing basis, so a typical farmer in our county isn’t going to be scared away from a $30,000 purchase,” says Kreke.

Sargent is enthused, and already predicting better than planned performance. “Originally I thought roughly a 10-year payback, but I’m going to be less than eight years. But there is a 25-year warranty, so in eight years I’ll get my money back plus I’ve still got 17 years left of warranty,” says Sargent.

Sargent says he and his farmer brethren are comfortable thinking outside the box. This small county in the middle of the Prairies is a leader. They have pioneered an affordable template for farmers to add solar to their operation.

Read the full story on Green Energy Futures here

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