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Published on May 7th, 2015 | by Glenn Meyers


Stand-Out Solar Community: Drake Landing Solar Community

May 7th, 2015 by  

The footprint of one remarkable solar community can sometimes offset the notoriety of a country known for excessive carbon emissions.

A 2013 Globe and Mail story cites a report by the Climate Action Network Europe (CANE) and Germanwatch ranked Canada 55th out of 58 countries in terms of tackling greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, placing it ahead of only Iran, Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia.

In spite of its notoriety for an overly abundant use of fossil fuels, Canada can also claim a sizeable notch on the renewable energy scorecard as home to the Drake Landing Solar Community (DLSC), North America’s first large-scale seasonal storage solar heating system serving some 52 solar-heated residences.

On September 24 of that same year, the DLSC in Okotoks, Alberta, received the prestigious 2013 International Energy Agency (IEA) Solar Heating and Cooling (SHC) Programme SOLAR AWARD in Freiburg, Germany. This award recognizes significant achievements in solar thermal market development and reductions in market barriers.

I applaud the innovative design thinking used to build this solar community. The underground infrastructure allows solar energy to be absorbed during the summer months, where it is stored underground and returned to homes as heat in the winter. In 2012, the community surpassed its own world record by achieving nearly 100% of space heating needs from solar energy.

Located some 15 minutes south of Calgary, we learn that 90% of the DLSC’s heating needs for 52 single-detached homes are being distributed via solar thermal energy. According to the DLSC website, this heat delivery system is “unprecedented anywhere else in the world.”

How It Works

  • 52-house subdivision have space and water heating supplied by solar energy
  • Solar energy captured year round by 800-panel garage mounted array
  • Combination of seasonal and short-term thermal storage (STTS) facilitate collection and storage of solar energy in the summer for use in space heating in winter
  • Borehole thermal energy storage (BTES) is an in-ground heat sink for seasonal energy storage
  • Short-term thermal storage (STTS) tanks are central hub for heat movement between collectors, district loop (DL)/houses, and (BTES)
  • DL moves heat from the STTS to the houses

Location: Okotoks, Alberta. 51.1 deg N, 114 deg W, 1084 m elevation
Weather: Winter -33 C; Summer 28.3 C DB/15.6 C WB

DLSC plan Simple-District-loopDLSC collectorThere are five main components of the DLSC project: the solar collection, the Energy Centre with short-term energy storage, the seasonal Borehole Thermal Energy Storage (BTES) system, the district heating system, and the energy efficient homes certified to the R-2000 Standard.

For background, this project was conceived by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), a federal department of the Government of Canada. Construction began in 2005.  To see the DLSC through to fruition, NRCan has established partnerships with environmentally conscious companies that had longstanding, credible reputations within their industries.

The Benefits of DLSC

According to the community, the DLSC represents an “energy showcase, modelling how an environmentally friendly residential community can be accomplished.”  Relying on an unlimited clean energy source, the sun, communities like this will significantly reduce our traditional dependence on fossil fuels.

US developers with renewable energy goals should look closely at the DLSC model. When calculating the energy savings, the large infrastructure costs can be offset over time. Potential homeowners may need convincing about future economic benefits that might be gained from being more independent from traditional utilities.

But the DLSC website seems less interested in selling first and foremost:

The most immediate benefit of this project will be a decrease in green house gas (GHG) emissions.  An average Canadian home produces approximately 6 to 7 tonnes of GHG per year. Estimates for DLSC are that each home will produce approximately 5 tonnes fewer GHG emissions per year.

The longer-term benefits of this project are dependent on how often and how quickly this system, or its parts, can be replicated, in Canada or other countries. The standard roadblock to accepting solar thermal technology in cold climates –the sun’s diminished presence during winter — might be eliminated, especially with the addition of rooftop solar panels for electricity support.

The DLSC demonstrates how the effective integration of energy efficient technologies with seasonal thermal energy storage can overcome this traditional seasonal barrier, and will hopefully encourage increased investment and development opportunities for this renewable technology.

The DLSC stands out as a showcase for energy savings and reducing carbon and methane emissions. Now we wait for a host of innovative developers to expand on this model.

As energy prices rise the economics of this type of system will become more attractive, and as replication does occur, the design and construction costs will decrease. As this happens, the environmental benefits will be multiplied.

Image credits via the Drake Landing Solar Community

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About the Author

is a writer, producer, and director. Meyers was editor and site director of Green Building Elements, a contributing writer for CleanTechnica, and is founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.

  • Martin

    Some other info about Drake landing.
    It was government supported, not the current one of course, but when it comes to energy efficiency it has matured to the point that the identical system could be used for 10 x the housing stock of highly energy efficient ones.
    There was a program that funded and supported net zero housing in Canada, a pilot project and it was very good.
    There are a number of builders in Canada who build only either net zero ready house, at an extra cost of only about 1 % of regular housing stock or true net zero houses.
    The only incentives those builders have, is doing the right thing for our planet.
    I wish our politicians would learn from those people.
    There used to be program/incentives for energy efficiency, very cost effective, and job creating as well, but our current government stopped it, I guess giving 1.4 billion per year to oil and gas companies was more important! :((

  • Matt

    Shared thermal load is an method that is way under used. You see it in some northern EU area for heat and a couple of tropic locations doing it for cooling. But neither is used near as much as it could be. For example, LA has very cold water just off shore a large pipe and you could cool the whole down town. Cheaper, with less CO2, and noise that is down with every building having AC units.
    Now it is a big infrastructure project
    Have to work out pricing model, be done else where but no in “our town”.
    Could replace aging water/sewer lines while at it.
    Could split sewer, rain water while at it.
    Would be a big jobs project
    In locations that need head also can allow business to dump waste heat into a hot system, instead of running cooling towers.

    • vensonata

      Toronto cools a lot of it’s office towers with Lake Ontario water. So that is an example of massive big city use of this type of tech. Drakes landing came to my attention several years ago and I expected it would get more notice, but no. In the North (where I am, I share the same latitude 51 N, which is also London England) the only way to go completely solar is to use seasonal storage. A 3000 gallon water tank with super insulation, which I have, can store 1000kwh of heat…over 3 million BTU. That can be collected in the fall for winter use. There is a long history of experiments with seasonal storage, starting in the 1930’s. It may make a resurgence. See Thorsten Chlupp’s house in Alaska. He is close to making it through that wicked winter in his super insulated house with seasonal solar hot water in a 5000gal tank. So it does work.

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