Energy Award

City Should Turn Attention Toward Sun
The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) by Paul Hanley – April 5, 2005

Solar energy is beginning to come into its own. Last week, for example, the federal government announced a plan to build and operate North America's first large-scale solar-heating system using seasonal storage in Okotoks, a town close to Calgary.

The system will supply more than 90 per cent of the space-heating requirements for the Drake Landing Solar Community of 52 homes being built in Okotoks. The demonstration project will collect solar energy through panels mounted on garage roofs and transfer it to underground storage. The storage temperature increases over the summer and then, during the winter season, the thermal energy is retrieved and distributed through a district heating system to homes in the community.

Currently, the solar system is more costly than conventional natural gas heating. However, the demonstration project will provide useful experience with the solar approach, which will inevitably become competitive with conventional heating systems as natural gas costs rise due to increased demand and diminishing supply. Solar energy also has the advantage of being environmentally friendly. There are no air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions are cut by about five tonnes per residence.

Okotoks is an interesting town. Seven years ago it decided to adopt a sustainable approach to future development. Since 1998, it has implemented many sustainable community initiatives. Using alternative energy sources and retrofitting town buildings with energy efficiency equipment and lighting is part of Okotoks' ongoing commitment to reduce the environmental costs of using non-renewable resources for heating, cooling and lighting for public buildings.

There are four solar heating installations in Okotoks already:

  • The Swindells Pool uses solar energy to help heat the town swimming pool's water. For a neat, real time summary of the use of solar energy at the pool visit solar/realtimedata1.php. When I looked at this web page, the pool had obtained 98 per cent of its heat from the sun in the previous 30 minutes. During the previous month, 68 per cent of the pool's heat came from the sun and the rest from natural gas. This saved enough gas to heat 20 homes and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 13 tonnes.
  • The Murray and Piper Arenas solar ice resurfacing system is a kind of solar zamboni. An active solar heating system was installed at the town arena in 2001. Solar collectors on the roof of the arena provide much of the heat needed for ice resurfacing. A natural gas boiler is used when the solar heating system does not provide enough heat.
  • The Recycling Centre's cardboard baling building uses an active solar heating system. Heat flows through pipes from eight solar collectors on the roof into the building's concrete floor. Heat radiates through the concrete, warming the building. This solar in-floor system provides most of the space heating for the building.
  • The Town Operations Centre solar wall heating system uses energy from the sun to heat fresh air before it is brought into the building. A solar wall uses dark-coloured metal paneling on a south facing outside wall or roof. The metal panel is installed with an air cavity between the building and the panel. When the sun shines on the wall, the air is warmed and a ventilation fan draws it through the air cavity into the heating system. In the summer, the system is also used to cool the building.

If Okotoks can go solar, why can't Saskatoon? Many of these applications would work well here. We already have the solar powered Saskatoon Advanced House and buildings like the Alice Turner Library, which use passive solar heating.

The new Willow Grove neighbourhood is planned to maximize solar exposure. Why not take it a step further and adopt projects and incentives to encourage developers, homeowners, and businesses to use solar technology in many of the new buildings?

This would be a valuable step toward a sustainable Saskatoon, envisioned in the Roadmap 2020 process. For more information on a sustainable Saskatoon visit