Solar-powered cheese

Sylvan Star Cheese is drawing on the sun to keep its award-winning cheeses cool.

Sylvan Star Cheese is drawing on the sun to keep its award-winning cheeses cool.

The cheese makers recently flipped the switch on a solar energy system that will produce enough power annually for about 14 average-sized homes.

It will also provide enough juice to allow the cheese producers to become net-zero energy users, meaning they will put as much power into the grid as they take out.

Red Deer-based CarbonBite Innovations installed the system, which is comprised of 460 solar panels mounted on the roughly 12,000-square-foot roof of Sylvan Star Cheese’s facility a few kilometres west of Red Deer on Hwy 11A.

Jennie Schalkwyk, who with husband John, owns Sylvan Star Cheese said with all of the sunshine they get the saw potential for easing power costs with solar energy.

They spend about $2,000 a month on power, much of it used for air conditioning and refrigerating to keep their products cool.

It cost about $300,000 to install the system, which the Schalkwyks’ expect to recoup in about seven years.

Sylvan Star Cheese showcased its brand new solar system on Friday as part of the third annual Alberta Green Energy Doors Open. The event encourages users, producers and advocates of green energy to show off some of the local achievements.

Kerry Wood Nature Centre and an off-grid passive solar monolithic dome in Lacombe County also participated this year.

Mark Whittaker, who handles technical design with CarbonBite, said the Sylvan Star Cheese solar array is the biggest private system in Red Deer County and likely Central Alberta.

Built and installed with no subsidies, the system is designed to provide power for the cheese farm’s air conditionining, refrigerating and other power needs for 25 years.

Excess power produced in the summer is sold into the province’s electrical grid. In the winter, when solar power production is down, electricity is bought from the grid. In the end, the two will balance out.

Solar power can be a good option, especially for commercial users, requiring large amounts of power.

Central Alberta and is more than 1,200 hours of sunlight a year has plenty of natural power at hand.

“It’s a good location for solar,” said Whittaker.

While the current low electricity prices make converting to solar a tougher sell, that situation won’t last forever.

“There’s nowhere to go but up,” said Whittaker.

The system installed at Sylvan Star Cheese will produce about 137,000 kWh per year. A typical house uses about 8,000 to 10,000 kWh.

There is plenty of potential for residential applications as well. A south-facing roof not encumbered with vents or chimneys is ideal to mount solar panels.

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

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