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Commercial clients see the light with solar energy in the Lower Mainland

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by Peter Caulfield

The City of Vancouver and many other Lower Mainland municipalities have passed bylaws that encourage the use of solar energy.
Commercial clients see the light with solar energy in the Lower Mainland

BUILDEX VANCOUVER

The City of Vancouver and many other Lower Mainland municipalities have passed bylaws that encourage the use of solar energy.

However, many people in B.C.'s construction industry still don't know how solar works or its benefits.

Seminar W08 Incorporating Solar Into New Builds within the City Of Vancouver and Lower Mainland aims to correct this situation.

The panel discussion will explore the use of solar energy in building projects of different sizes, from large-scale commercial to single-family residences.

The panel consists of Landon Aldridge, principal of Terratek Energy Solutions Inc.; Scott Fleenor, principal with Terratek Energy Solutions Inc.; Joe Geluch, president of Naikoon Contracting Ltd.; and Rachel Moscovich, Sustainability Group green building planner for the City of Vancouver.

Speaking for the City of Vancouver, senior sustainability programs manager David Ramslie said that single-family residential demand for solar is stagnant, but that commercial tenants and owners are becoming interested.

There are two types of solar energy in B.C.: Solar hot water, which is more common, and solar electric.

Solar hot water systems convert sunlight into heat by solar collectors mounted on the roof of a building.

The collectors are situated so that they face south at an angle of 30 degrees to 35 degrees from the roof.

As the sunlight passes through the collector’s glazing, it strikes an absorbing material, which converts it into heat.

The heat is then transferred from the collector through a heat exchanger and into an insulated water tank, where it is stored until it is needed.

The electricity generated by solar panels in solar electric systems can be used to power everything including street lights, household or business appliances.

Excess energy can be stored in battery banks for later use, or sold to BC Hydro.

The main system components are photovoltaic (PV) modules, which capture the sunlight and turn it into direct current (DC) electricity.

Solar modules are available in many sizes, voltages and formats.

They require little maintenance and most manufacturers offer 25-year warranties.

Many B.C. municipalities are keen to replace more traditional forms of energy with solar.

For example, Vancouver has had a Solar Homes Pilot and Green Homes Program for one and two-family dwellings since 2008.

The Green Homes Program requires that every new house be equipped with two 50 mm pipes that run from the service room (where the water tank is located) to the attic.

This allows for the future installation of roof-mounted solar energy generating equipment.

In addition to Vancouver’s bylaw, other B.C. municipalities have adopted the provincial government’s Solar Hot Water Ready Regulation, which requires most new single-family homes to accommodate the future installation of a solar hot water system.

Ramslie said solar thermal energy is 50 to 60 per cent efficient in turning solar into heat, while solar electrical is 16 to 19 per cent efficient in turning solar into electricity.

“In addition, solar thermal replaces natural gas, which reduces greenhouse gasses, one of the city’s goals,” Ramslie said.

“Over 90 per cent of the 75,000 homes in Vancouver heat their water with natural gas.”

Whether the systems are thermal or electrical, Joe Geluch said installation is straight forward.

“The panels are situated on the roof, with lines running into the mechanical area, where the system’s other components are located,” he said. “The cost of components has come down substantially over the past few years, so it makes sense to install solar now.”

In Geluch’s experience, solar installation involves few challenges.

‘We’ve had issues with noise and vibration, but they all have been satisfactorily rectified and noted to avoid for the next time,” he said.

Scott Fleenor said there are somewhere between 500 and 1,000 solar installations in the Lower Mainland, most of them residential.

“Solar is increasing in use here, but slowly,” he said.

“It’s more widely used in China, Japan and Europe than in Canada, because energy is so much cheaper here. We get inquiries whenever Hydro increases its rates. Likewise when smart metres were introduced.”

Fleenor said most commercial solar power users offset 10 to 50 per cent of their total electricity usage.

PV panels and inverters, which convert DC electricity to AC, are becoming smaller and more efficient.

“In the future, we are going to see more solar systems that are integrated with buildings,” he said.

“For example, PV modules will be installed in skylights and awnings and in roofing tiles and shingles.”

Seminar W08 Incorporating Solar Into New Builds within the City Of Vancouver and Lower Mainland takes place Wednesday Feb. 13 starting at 8:30 a.m.

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