Study investigates solar energy benefits at Nanaimo’s aquatic centre

NANAIMO – The city is doing a feasibility study on harnessing solar energy at Nanaimo Aquatic Centre, its largest energy consumer.

It’s not the beach, but Nanaimo Aquatic Centre could still benefit from the sun.

The City of Nanaimo is studying what it would take to harness solar energy at Nanaimo Aquatic Centre.

Aquatic centres are the city’s biggest users of energy. Twenty-five per cent of the city’s entire electrical consumption and 74 per cent of the natural gas it uses went to Beban Park and the aquatic centre last year, city statistics show.

Electricity was also the city’s biggest energy cost in 2015 at $2.6 million, followed by natural gas at more than $620,000.

The city already collects thermal solar energy to warm water for Vancouver Island Conference Centre and to a small degree, the Service and Resource Centre, but it currently doesn’t have panels to offset electricity – one of the things it’s now looking at for the roof of the aquatic centre.

Scott Pamminger, city manager of infrastructure planning and energy, said solar panels were studied about seven years ago, but the cost was still high and the payback was about 30 years, around the same as the life span of the equipment.

He said the city wants to be close to on par with how much it’s buying electricity for, and it was able to buy electricity far cheaper than what solar panel systems could have produced it for.

This new look comes as the price of solar panels have come down and it’s clean renewable energy and it promotes green methods of electricity, according to Pamminger, who also pointed out commercial and residential B.C. Hydro rates are going up.

The aquatic centre’s roof is large enough to accommodate enough panels to offset about five per cent of the electricity the building uses.

“It’s like people using electric cars, it’s a very clean way of transportation and we’re just trying to show that we are looking into renewable energy sources,” Pamminger said.

The study is expected to be done this month and will include budgetary pricing, cost benefit, pay back and feasibility of connecting a small system to the Nanaimo Aquatic Centre.

The study would also help the city if it applies for grants. A complementary study on solar panels for Nanaimo Ice Centre is being done by Energy Solutions for Vancouver Island.