Nature centre embraces solar power technology

Kerry Wood Nature Centre has turned itself into a testing ground for solar power technology.

Kerry Wood Nature Centre interpreter Todd Nivens sits on the roof where 20 more panels will be added to the solar array this summer.

Kerry Wood Nature Centre has turned itself into a testing ground for solar power technology.

The centre’s 40 solar panels produce electricity to supplement the power coming in from the grid, ensuring the 10,000-square-foot facility at the Gaetz Lakes Sanctuary gets some of its power from a renewable, non-carbon source, said Todd Nivens, programs co-ordinator for Waskasoo Park Interpretive Programs.

The solar panels were hooked up in 2004, and since late 2005, when on-line monitoring began, the centre has generated about 18,700 kilowatt hours of electricity. One kilowatt hour is the amount of power needed to keep 10, 100-watt light bulbs burning for an hour.

By using sunlight, the centre has also saved the equivalent of 16,000 kilograms of carbon emissions and more than $2,000 in electricity bills.

The nature centre plans to double the size of the solar panel arrays mounted on the roof of the centre. A solar power consultant is already shopping for the next array of 20 panels and it is expected they will be installed by the end of this year.

The $15,000 cost of the panels has already been raised and the centre plans to raise a similar amount to finish off the project with a final array of 20 panels.

When the centre installed its photo-voltaic power system, it was the first of its kind in the area.

“We are very much a test bed,” he said. “Before us, there wasn’t a solar-based (photo-voltaic) system in Red Deer.”

The system uses sunlight to generate direct current electricity that is routed through a series of inverters to turn it into the alternating current power that is required by the grid.

The centre does not have the capacity to store electricity, so a local power outage would turn out the lights at the nature centre as well. Installing a series of batteries to store power posed maintenance and cost issues the centre wanted to avoid.

Nivens said he hopes the centre’s system serves as an inspiration and a model for others to follow in the community. Similar systems can be installed as part of net-zero home initiatives, which aim to create houses that produce as much power as they draw off Alberta’s grid.

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