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.