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School District 71 Powers Ahead With Help From The Sun

Posted by: Emily  /  Tags: ,

School is back in session at G.P. Vanier Secondary and this year one of the special projects underway within the school is the implementation of a unique kiosk. In it students will be able to interactively access the data from a monitoring system that has been installed on the schools solar PV array.

"If people can't get a real feel for the energy that the system is producing, and its benefits, than it's just panels on the roof," says Fred McGregor, the Manager of Energy Conservation with School District 71, in the Comox Valley. Fred oversaw the Vanier install, which also has a solar module that powers the school's electric signage, as well as solar hot water installs on Highland Secondary in Comox, and Mark Isfeld Secondary School, in Courtenay. He says the district has been working to create initiatives and projects to save electricity and natural gas in schools as part of the Community Greenhouse Gas Reduction Strategy and the BC Clean Energy Act.

"We wanted to show the students, and the community, that our schools are investing in newer technology," he  says. "And that perhaps there will be careers available in these areas, so these types of installations can provide hands on demos to students of what's out there."

This educational opportunity was the driving force behind their decision to incorporate solar. He believes alternative energy is going to grow, while energy rates continue to rise and systems become less and less expensive. And this has already been proven, over the last few years PV has dropped from $12 a kW to $5. Adds Fred: "It's about using the installations as a teaching tool, to show students these systems are part of our future."

The PV system on Vanier's roof is a 5.5 kWh array, expandable to 8.5 kWh. Currently, there are 24 modules, with an oversized inverter that will allow the school to install another 12 modules down the road. This is Terratek's third solar install for the School District (over 30 in the province). Fred says they possessed an expert understanding what would work best for the school, in terms of design and technical specifications. "They were great at steering us in the right direction," he says.

While this system received fairly significant funding from the SolarBC program, which ended in 2010, Fred admits that without it the cost-savings is probably the least beneficial outcome. But this shouldn't be the deciding factor, and it's important to take into consideration the very significant reduction of Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

"There are no emissions from using the sun," he says. On this note, despite a lack of grants available, Fred adds they already have another grid-tie PV array planned for a fourth school in the district. They are currently working on other ways to raise money for that installation. "We have to continue!"  he says, speaking on behalf of the district that is setting a shining example of leadership in the renewable energy sector.