Energy Award

Drake Landing exceeding expectations; Communal energy system developing ahead
Byline: Don Patterson, Okotoks Western Wheel – June 2, 2010

The Drake Landing Solar Community in Okotoks has hit a new world-leading milestone with 80 per cent of the energy used to heat homes in the development coming from the sun.

The community's solar energy system has reached the 80 per cent plateau after three years, one year ahead of schedule.

"The system is working more efficiently than before and with better solar collection than we expected," said Okotoks communication specialist Melanie Heemeryck.

The solar community was the first large-scale seasonal solar energy storage system and it's the first of its kind in the world to reach the 80 per cent level. The target was to reach the 90 per cent mark within five years, a level it's anticipated to reach by next year.

"We can save 90 per cent of the emissions that would be burned to heat these houses," said Keith Paget of Sterling Homes which built the houses in Drake Landing.

The solar community includes 52 homes tied to a communal heating system. Rows of solar panels on the garages are used to heat water, which is then pumped underground. The heat is stored in the ground and the temperature slowly rises each year. On cloudy days or in the winter, the flow of energy is reversed and the stored hot water is used to heat the houses.

The system hit the 55 per cent mark in its first year and 61 per cent in its second, which was actually behind schedule. Paget said they were able to catch up over the past year thanks to a warmer winter and improvements in efficiency.

He said they readjusted the amount of energy sent to the homes after they found too much was being sent out. As well, Paget said they were able to improve the system after draining and replumbing the short-term storage tanks.

According to Paget, the key is to keep a close eye on the system and constantly monitor it to ensure it's working effectively efficiently.

The Town has also launched a live web site where the public can track the system's performance. It provides current data for solar energy available, the amount of solar radiation collected and current temperatures of the energy storage tanks.

The site can be accessed through the Town's web site at www.okotoks.ca and selecting the Drake Landing link in the Sustainable Okotoks menu.

dpatterson@okotoks.greatwest.ca