Municipalities and Renewable Energy Opportunities

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BUILDING COMMUNITIES WITH RENEWABLE ENERGY

--Rsiegent 20:06, 20 January 2010 (UTC)

BC communities and renewable energy walk hand-in-hand. “Investments made today in established renewable energy technologies can reduce building operating costs, the savings of which can be allocated [for instance] to community programs.” Municipal buildings are ideally suited, as they are built for the long-term with quality and durability, and social and environmental responsibility in mind.

Renewable energy systems such as GeoExchange (geothermal heat pumps) and Solar Hot Water (“Solar”) are common renewable energy technologies used in commercial scale buildings. They are durable, proven, and low maintenance. GeoExchange harnesses the vast, low-temperature solar radiation stored in the earth’s surface layer to provide ultra-efficient, and emission-free heating and cooling for buildings. Solar captures the sun’s radiation throughout the year (yes, even on cloudy winter days), and excels in applications such as swimming pools and domestic water heating. GeoExchange systems consume up to 75% less energy than their conventional counterparts, and solar systems consume a staggering 99% less energy. These renewable energy systems have a lifetime of 20-30 years that lend municipally owned buildings a solid economic and “future-proofed” advantage.

In June this year, the Renewable Energy retrofit of the Meadow Park Sports Centre in Whistler was featured in local Pique Newsmagazine. Mr. Ted Battiston, Strategic Energy and Emissions Manager for the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW), refers to the combined GeoExchange and Solar retrofit as “a very strong business case”. Long after the simple payback-on-investment of only four years, the municipality will own and reap the benefits of the energy produced at the facility.

While traditional building energy upgrades target payback periods of less than five years, renewable energy systems provide much greater, long-term benefits. To best appreciate this, it is recommended that they are evaluated by their lifecycle energy cost, usually in $/kWh.A solar pool system may produce energy starting at $0.02 per kilowatt-hour (kWhr) for 30 years after purchase—this is already more competitive than today’s electricity costs of $0.077 per kWhr. As a Climate Action Charter community, RMOW’s retrofit project fulfills their environmental and economic commitment to sustainability. Mr. Battiston says, "We want to make reductions before we have to buy offsets".

Earlier this year, also the Quesnel Arts and Recreation Centre had a rooftop solar system installed. Facility Manager Gary Stuart explains in an interview with SolarBC, “I just finished a tour up to the roof. It’s minus 25 out and we’re bringing in 150 degree water!” Municipalities that undertake solar retrofit projects today, have access to more than 50% in grants from SolarBC and ecoENERGY.

Buildings that are well suited for solar are commonly aquatic centres, fire halls, hotels, apartment buildings and co-operatives—preliminarily due their vast hot water heating needs. GeoExchange is an energy source of choice to a wide variety of buildings, however site- and building-specific conditions will determine the design options and their economics.

Despite their versatility and adaptability, any renewable energy system must be properly planned in order to maximize benefits. A feasibility study can examine design options, system sizes, economics and associated benefits. It provides a learning opportunity, and a strong foundation and support for any retrofit or new construction project. Drawing from such knowledge, quality decisions can be made today that help municipalities create vibrant, attractive and resilient communities for the future.

Richard Siegenthaler is a Renewable Energy Specialist with Hemmera, a BC-based environmental and renewable energy consulting firm. With a team of specialists, Hemmera provides full-scope services in GeoExchange and Solar Hot Water. Richard was involved with the concept design at MPSC and design-build of the Quesnel system. Contact Richard at 604-669-0424 or rsiegenthaler@hemmera.com. Website: www.hemmera.com.