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
There 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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