Sustainable Energy Solutions for North Shore Homes
At April’s Cool Drinks, Rob Baxter of Vancouver Renewable Energy Cooperative and Ben Themens of Lonsdale Energy Corporation discussed how solar and district energy technology works and how they offer better and greener energy alternatives for residential buildings on the North Shore.
Rob Baxter, VREC
VREC primarily installs solar photovoltaic, solar hot water and solar pool systems in the Metro Vancouver region. The city has good levels of solar production at 1.2 MWhr/kw, which is comparable to Frankfurt and Hanover in Germany, the leading country in solar production.
To heat water using solar energy, it is warmed in copper pipes inside a storage tank on the roof of a house or multi-unit building. Solar collectors are also installed on the roof. The water then travels through a heat exchanger/boiler before reaching the building. On cloudy days, hot water heaters can provide additional supply. To provide electricity using photovoltaic systems, sunlight travels through the outer layers of PV panels placed on the roof to reach electrons and semi-conductors. The electric current then passes through a controller and the main utility service panel, where the DC current is converted to AC, before continuing to energy loads in homes or the utility grid.
Presently, the cost of solar energy is still higher than traditional sources; however, they offer certain advantages. Solar hot water is a more efficient alternative and provides greater greenhouse gas emission reductions. Meanwhile, photovoltaics have low maintenance, do not waste energy and have lower emissions. Depending on the size of the system, PVs range from $8,000-35,000 with a simple payback period of 25-30 years while solar hot water systems cost $8,000-9,000 and take about 30 years to pay off. Existing energy rates average about $0.14 /kwh for systems ranging from 25-100 kw. Bulk buying is available when several home owners in neighbourhoods wish to purchase solar energy cost effectively.
Ben Themens, LEC
Through its 6 mini plants and 8 km of distribution pipes, Lonsdale Energy Corporation provides space heating and hot water to 63 customers and 4.3 million sq. ft. of building space that are connected to its district energy system in Lower Lonsdale, Central Lonsdale and Marine Harbourside. LEC is expanding into Moodyville and planning to connect Marine Drive to Central Lonsdale.
The company presently uses natural gas boilers that emit lower levels of nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide, solar thermal panels, heat pumps and heat recovery from buildings as its main heat sources. In the future, it plans to incorporate waste from Metro Vancouver’s waste treatment plant, biomass, waste energy from businesses, and heat recovery from cooling. In fact, the latter energy source has already begun by recovering heat from Tap & Barrel and Onni Centre View buildings, among others.
Since its inception, LEC has developed key innovations to enhance its service to customers. The distributed network of plants enables the strategic placement of capital and the ability to incorporate new generation technologies as they develop over time. As a result of installing 6 mini plants, LEC can switch between the plants to provide a dependable supply of energy for clients. In addition, Lonsdale Energy is able to use alternative heat sources and adjust the sources without affecting customers. The focus to 2025 will be to continue to diversify energy sources and use most suitable and economical ones. To provide flexibility to clients, all new in-building heating systems are designed to connect to LEC’s system. High density developments will facilitate the implementation of more sustainable technologies.
When comparing the rates of LEC to those of other municipal district energy systems in the Lower Mainland along with BC Hydro and Fortis BC, Lonsdale Energy Corporation consistently offers lower prices. For instance, LEC’s rate is $80.60/MWhr for hot water while BC Hydro is $108.78/MWhr for electricity, Fortis BC is $88 for a standard boiler, and Southeast False Creek District Energy System is $103/MWhr for hot water. Besides providing regular energy cost savings, LEC clients also do not need to purchase boilers. Therefore, they further save money on capital and maintenance costs.