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What’s the Alternative?

Alberta’s alternative energy sector is growing fast

Many large industrial manufacturers and suppliers are reducing their carbon footprint through solar panels.

Shanthu Mano, principal and CEO, and Dr. Godo Stoyke, principal and president of Carbon Busters®, know what utopia looks like. They should – they have designed it. It’s called The Willows, a fully integrated community-style village that is not only carbon neutral and powered 100 percent by alternative energy, but will also be an incubator for green jobs, social justice, and sustainable development. The proposed model will provide 403 residential and 40 commercial units, institutional buildings, and a community centre for a population of 1,451. A community garden, electric cars and car sharing programs, walking and bike lanes are part of the plan. Trees will not be cut down to create The Willows. The plan involves building around them – then planting even more trees.

Does it seem too good to be true? It’s not. The Willows, which has been in research for more than a decade, is nearly reality. The community is under consideration by a neighbouring county.

Is this the future of Alberta in a province that is famous for coal, gas and oil? Carbon Busters says yes.

“Alberta is ready for a change. Over the past decade we have seen more calls for solar energy and projects like The Willows. As plans for The Willows develop, we have lots of interested parties calling us saying, keep us in the loop,” says Mano.

Dr. Stoyke points out another benefit of The Willows, “It takes 15-20 years to recoup retrofits to a typical family home to include alternative energy sources. It costs far less to build it right the first time. From the start, The Willows has farms, electrical car charging stations and many more opportunities and features beyond just green heating and cooling.”

But is Alberta truly ready for this?

Mano and Dr. Stoyke are lifelong green living advocates but there is nothing fringe about the science they rely on, or their championship of this alternative lifestyle. Backed by a team that includes design specialists, an analyst, and an HVAC specialist, along with partnerships and affiliations with some of the largest green-focused councils and societies in North America, the partners know their ideas have roots. They have travelled the world to see how communities like The Willows function outside of Canada, and are intent on bringing the model home.

“There is no doubt that we are a good 10-20 years behind Europe,” says Dr. Stoyke. “Alberta is a producer of energy and Canada still has a frontier mentality that sees our natural resources as unlimited.”

Mano also chalks up Alberta and Canada’s slow change of mindset to its young age. “Europe has felt the impact of high populations for centuries, as have countries that must import energy because they don’t have natural resources of their own.”

Carbon Busters is far from the only company in Edmonton dedicated to green living and alternative energy. While the pipeline wars and trucking convoy protests continue to make headlines, the city’s alternative energy sector has been quietly growing, as is the demand for its products.

“There has been a drastic increase in the uptake for solar PV on residential and commercial properties,” informs Jake Kubiski, CEO of Kuby Renewable Energy Ltd.

This company, which is 100 per cent locally owned and operated, was founded by two friends that used to work in the oil/gas and mining industry. The founders envisioned a province run by renewables, and now services all of Western and Northern Canada with solar PV, energy storage, electric vehicle chargers and electrical solutions.

“I would say, easily, there has been a growth of 300-400 per cent year over year on both the residential and commercial side for solar PV,” Kubiski continues. “The biggest driving change is the current governments being pro-renewables. The cost of the equipment has come down drastically in just 3-4 years. Government rebates are also a driving factor, as is consumer awareness and media coverage on large projects such as Red Deer College’s Green Campus initiative.”

Cost used to be a prohibiting factor for solar PV, but as Kubiski explains, “Solar technology is following the Moore’s law, where the number of solar panels is doubling every year and the price is halved. Computers took the same curve and electric vehicles are also on a similar curve. This tends to happen with new tech that gets adopted on a worldwide scale.”

He demonstrates how homeowners can recoup the cost of a solar retrofit. “With the Energy Efficiency Alberta rebate and the COE grant of 10 per cent, homeowners will see a return on investment in 12-15 years, conservatively. This is tough to pinpoint as the big swing factor is the cost of electricity over the next 12-15 years. Data from the Alberta Utility Commission states that there is an expected increase of 4 per cent per year, and we use this to try and predict electricity rates. If rates go up faster, the customers payback is lessened. However, the price point is at the place where it needs to be to see a return, and only gets better every year.”

As for solar PV’s efficiency, he says, “Snow is not a big factor in how solar operates in Alberta winters. Batteries are not used for the majority of the installs we do; and to answer the biggest question we get, hail will not destroy your solar panels.”

While many are warming up to the idea of solar panels, another green technology is heating up.

GSS Integrated Energy Ltd. specializes in alternative energy designs using advanced SmartPower CHP cogeneration and bore hole thermal energy storage. The company’s ongoing R&D develops and improves self-contained energy and utility systems.

“Thermal energy exchange and storage systems are an important part of energy conservation as it enhances a number of alternative energy solutions, making them more efficient, particularly in colder climates,” says Michael Roppelt, GSS’ president and CEO.

He explains how thermal energy exchange and storage (TEES) can address limitations with existing green technologies.

“Geothermal systems have limitations on how much ground energy they can deliver. In cold climates, as energy is extracted the ground temperature drops, causing the returning water to be colder. This makes the system less efficient. Solar thermal installations typically require an auxiliary heat source for the majority of the space heating requirements. Combined heat and power cogeneration produce low carbon electricity and heat typically at an 85 per cent or better efficiency level, but this only applies if you can use all of the heat efficiently, otherwise it becomes very expensive electricity. Most systems are designed to meet heat demand and cannot be used to meet continuous electrical demand.  This means they typically have payback periods that could take a decade or more.”

GSS’ patent pending TEES systems accept rejected or generated heat and store it for months.

“Thermal energy can be injected and/or extracted simultaneously, and the rate of flow within the multi-loop system can be variable based on the amount of energy required to be absorbed or transferred,” he explains of TEES. “The TEES system uses a simple controller to assess which zones thermal energy should be delivered or extracted.  The TEES system also has a footprint that is 50 per cent smaller than a typical geothermal design. GSS uses a patented installation process and the plastic pipe used in these systems can tolerate temperatures from -40°C to 70°C.”

Roppelt feels the time is right for innovations like TEES. “Individuals and companies are more interested in alternative energy now than they were 10 years ago.  Conventional energy costs and carbon taxes are making it harder for families and businesses to meet their bills, and are making Canadian companies less competitive.  Alternative energy offers opportunities to reduce or eliminate these monthly costs.”

To help homeowners and businesses understand alternative energy options, GSS has developed software called Ripple Design Studio. The user inputs information based on their location and the software lets the user design an alternative energy system for their house or business using multiple technologies individually or as an integrated system. Based on the preferred result, the software can connect users with local suppliers for those products and services, for pricing, and to answers consumer questions.

“The overwhelmingly positive response we have received from the initial beta rollout of this software is indicative of today’s alternative energy climate and the shift of more energy-conscious home and business owners,” says Roppelt.

Alberta is known for its energy sector. It’s an area where the province has benefited, innovated, and carved out a global presence. However, Alberta is also known for being a tough, scrappy, determined province filled with entrepreneurs and visionaries that are always at the ready to capitalize on the big ideas that change the world. We can – and should – continue the fight for the best and fairest use of our resources, but alternative energy should play a role in the future of our province, right now and as far into the future as the eye can see.