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Solar Collaboration Generates More than Electricity

September 18, 2017 - 4:40pm

Solar panel

Pictured From Left to Right: (First Row) Allyson Brady, Executive Director, Saskatchewan Environmental Society, Joe Schmutz, Board Member, SES Solar Co-operative Ltd.; (Second Row) Kurt Soucy, Instructor, Saskatchewan Polytechnic, Nathan Ziegler, Sustainable Electricity Engineer, Saskatoon Light & Power; (Third Row) Peter Prebble, President, SES Solar Co-operative Ltd.

The Environmental Leadership Strategic Goal focuses on ensuring our city is growing in harmony with nature. In recent years, projects put forward under this umbrella include:

  • The creation of single-stream blue cart recycling and green cart organics programs,
  • Building a nutrient recovery system that creates fertilizer,
  • Switching to LED lights for street lighting around the city,
  • Improving precision in greenhouse watering schedules, and
  • Increasing active transportation infrastructure to create options beyond the personal vehicle commute.

These and other projects have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than 344,000 tonnes a year since 2013, equalling the removal of approximately 71,000 cars off the road. The Solar Power Demonstration Site has recently joined the ranks of these environmentally responsible projects. The site is the first of its kind in Saskatchewan and contains 92 solar panels just off Valley Road.

The site is relatively small, when compared to some solar projects around the world, but the key benefits of this project go beyond generating green electricity. The project is a collaboration that brings together sustainability efforts of the Saskatchewan Environmental Society (SES), the SES Solar Co-operative (SESSC), Saskatchewan Polytechnic, and Saskatoon Light & Power (SL&P). “Collaboration really got this project moving, SL&P and SES were planning independent solar projects in early 2015 but these weren’t really getting traction. When we started working together things started to happen and soon Kurt [Soucy from Saskatchewan Polytechnic] heard about us and joined the team. Then together we were able to achieve far more than any one of our groups would have been able to alone,” states Nathan Ziegler, SL&P’s Sustainable Electricity Engineer.

In addition to forging important civic and community partnerships the site’s key benefits include:

  • Reducing community greenhouse gas emissions,
  • Providing a tangible demonstration project for solar renewable energy,
  • Building a wealth of real place-based performance data from a variety of solar panel types that researchers or those interested in pursuing solar power purchases can use to help guide decision-making,
  • Creating an opportunity for civic staff to gain operational knowledge on the use and maintenance of solar energy systems in a pilot project atmosphere, and
  • Offering a new option to citizens looking to invest in solar panels by way the SESSC and its share of the solar installation on site.

The site has been functional since December 2016 and produces an average of 115 kilowatt-hours of electricity daily. This is enough electricity to charge a smart phone for 16 years or power the Eiffel Tower’s light display for 8 minutes. Today, the electricity created at the site is used to satisfy 40% of the Landfill Gas Power Generation Facility’s power needs. This setup is a unique combination of environmentally responsible electricity powering another “green” energy site. This aspect of the project is a source of pride for the Solar Demonstration Site’s creators.

Another source of pride for the project’s founding team is that the value of environmental responsibility not only guided the decision to undertake the project but also the procurement of the solar panel materials themselves. Peter Prebble, President of the SESSC highlights, “Our team was conscious that solar power still has an environmental footprint. While solar power’s greenhouse gas emissions are just 7% of that of coal-generated power, solar panels do contain small traces of toxic heavy metals and we wanted to ensure the panels selected for this project contained the lowest possible amounts of those materials and were recyclable at the end of their usable life. Beyond this we focused on socially responsible material sourcing ensuring the components of the panels we selected were not manufactured using undesirable working conditions or in conflict zones.” Taking this detailed look at responsible and holistic procurement was a first for the City of Saskatoon but it was met with interest and welcome.

As the site closes in on its one year anniversary, it has more than 42,000 kilowatt hours of environmentally responsible energy to show for itself and three prestigious awards including the Regional Centre of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development, the Rob Dumont Energy Management Award for 2016 Project of the Year, and the Canadian Electricity Association’s Leadership in External Collaboration and Partnerships. When asked about the next steps for those involved in the project, Allyson Brady, Executive Director of the SES responded, “The SESSC is the first of its kind in Saskatchewan and this partnership generating renewable energy between the SESSC and a municipal government is the first of its kind. So we have laid important groundwork and now we are focusing on supporting other groups and building on this model throughout Saskatoon and the province.” Ziegler closes the interview with some valuable advice for those embarking on sustainable development projects, check it out in the video below.

To learn more about the Solar Power Demonstration site or to view energy production data visit the site’s webpage.

 


Nathan Ziegler


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