Nanaimo Foodshare demonstrates solar power sustainability

NANAIMO – Demonstration system gathers data on solar operating costs and offsets expensive B.C. Hydro power.

Workers install a solar panel at Nanaimo Foodshare location on Pine Street.

Nanaimo Foodshare Network has plugged in to a solar energy system to promote sustainable power.

The organization, which promotes local sustainable food production systems, also uses its building at 271 Pine St. to demonstrate and promote energy conservation technologies.

In the late 1990s the building was retrofitted for energy efficiency. Viewing areas were included in the walls with tags attached to various insulation components so visitors can see the structure and composition of insulation systems.

“It’s already got a really good building envelop to it, so it’s an energy-efficient building,” said Paul Manly, Nanaimo Foodshare Network employability skills coordinator. “That’s what you want to do before you install something like solar where you’re generating energy.”

The building is now deriving part of its daily electrical consumption from its own roof-mounted photovoltaic solar panel array that has been operating since late February.

Photovoltaic panels convert sunlight directly into electricity, which is fed into a building’s electrical supply to offset electricity costs.

The eight solar panels, arranged in two separate arrays on the building’s roof, are capable of producing a maximum of 2.2 kilowatts of electricity.

The demonstration system is a joint partnership between the foodshare network, Nanaimo-based solar energy promoter Energy Solutions for Vancouver Island, Osprey Electric, which installed the system free of charge, SRM Projects and Mid Island Co-Op which donated $8,500 toward the $9,500 cost of the system. Co-op is evaluating the system’s performance for possible use in its gas bars.

Scot Merriam, of SRM Projects, who engineered the foodshare system, said it will produce sufficient power to offset B.C. Hydro Step 2 electricity costs. He said solar prices are falling as B.C. Hydro rates continue to rise.

“When you offset the expensive power that’s when your solar system makes a lot of sense,” Merriam said.

The system’s real-time performance and other information can be viewed online at www.nanaimofoodshare.ca/solar.

“Eventually what we’ll have on the website is hydro bills from previous years and people will be able to compare them to hydro bills in the years after we had the solar panels installed and be able to see what the difference is,” Manly said.

The system operates in the background and requires no attention from the staff.

“It’s pretty close to being zero maintenance … and it really fits in with Foodshare’s values around sustainability,” said Jen Cody, Nanaimo Foodshare Network executive director.

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