Energy Award

Panel Discussion Canada Slowly Opens Doors to Solar Power
By Yvette Putter, The Calgary Sun – November 25, 2006

Every morning as we greet the day, we're given a reminder of where the future of energy lies – the sun.

The solar energy industry is booming with an average 35% annual growth rate worldwide.

The industry is so hot it's become a $15-billion a year industry with serious investors such as Shell, General Electric, BP, Mitsubishi, Sanyo and Sharp.

And the end is nowhere in sight for solar energy – not only is its source unlimited, but it is the only energy technology whose prices have consistently dropped during the past two decades.

Not wanting to miss the boat, Canada has taken cues from Europe and, in the early 2000s, developed a joint program between Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), the home-building industry and a small Alberta town.

NRCan approached Okotoks, 30 km south of Calgary, to be part of a program focused on showing how solar energy could merge with residential communities.

After the town jumped on board, NRCan approached a local land developer, United Communities, and a homebuilder, the Sterling Group of Communities, to work on the Drake Landing Solar Community (DLSC).

"This project was to demonstrate that solar energy could be used in 'normal' homes and to show governments of all levels that with the co-operation of communities, homebuilders and land developers, solar energy can be used to heat homes," says Keith Paget, special projects manager for Sterling.

Setting a world precedent, the DLSC far outdid its European counterparts and today meets 90% of residential space heating needs from solar thermal energy – compared to the European standard of 60%.

This achievement is significant as nearly 80% of residential greenhouse gas (GHG) in Canada is produced from space and domestic hot-water heating.
As a result, the DLSC, with 52 homes (the largest solar complex in Canada), will save about five tonnes of GHG per house per year.

The success of the DLSC lies in a North American first – the Borehole Thermal Energy Storage system.

It collects solar thermal energy in the summer and stores it underground for winter use.

Meanwhile, homeowners at DLSC are realizing the benefits of this technology in their pockets as well.

Michele Morissette is one resident happy with her choice to invest in a DLSC home.

"Bills are a lot lower and the house itself is much more efficient," Morissette says. "It's been a very good experience so far and it's the most comfortable house I've lived in."

For those who don't yet have a solar-community option to move into, there are many smaller ways to implement solar energy.

Companies like EnerWorks Inc. let consumers purchase Residential Solar Water Heating Appliances that will collect solar energy and transfer it to a storage tank where it will be available to provide hot water for washing, cooking and space heating.

For more information, visit The Canadian Solar Industries Association at www.cansia.ca