Canadian officials embarked on an ambitious solar project in 2007 intended to test the limits of solar thermal for district heating purposes. What they have learned in nearly ten years of operation has led to significant improvements that allowed the project to reach the incredible milestone of providing 100% of the space heat required by the project’s 52 energy-efficient homes. While Solar America Solutions has historically focused on commercial applications for solar thermal, we are nonetheless impressed by this accomplishment and recognize the value of district heating as a very viable solution in a residential setting.
The Drake Landing Solar Community outside of Calgary consists of 52 rather spacious homes utilizing solar thermal for both space heat and hot water. Heat is provided via a district heating model that collects and converts solar energy to heat energy at a central location and then piped to homes on its circulation loop. What is not needed immediately is stored in one of two borehole storage tanks for later use. Hot water is provided on a house-by-house basis through individual solar powered water heaters and gas supplementation.
If you were to see an overhead shot of the neighborhood, you would see each home with a solar collector panel array mounted to the garage. The energy from those panels benefits every member of the neighborhood through district heating and hot water.
Natural Resources Canada has said that the system provided 100% of the required space heat for the 2015-2016 heating season. That is impressive, to say the least. The neighborhood system was originally intended to achieve a solar fraction of about 93% per year, but improvements to the system have helped Natural Resources Canada achieve the 100% milestone.
Sufficient Heating with Less Electricity
Drake Landing officials are obviously pleased with the results as well. For them, it is all about providing district heating at the lowest possible cost. According to project officials, solar thermal district heating uses 8 to 10 times less electricity than traditional heat pumps, which is important in a region that has year-round heating needs. Even in the midst of summer, district heat is still required in the Drake Landing community.
Officials are confident that the results they achieved during the previous heating season are repeatable. Though they aren’t saying whether they will reach 100% again this year, they are confident that they will start seeing repeat seasons in the future.
What It Means to Us
Here at Solar America Solutions, the importance of Drake Landing’s milestone is not lost on us. We have always believed that the potential of solar thermal for space heating and hot water is greater than anyone knows, which is what has prompted us to design and build our patented SunQuest 250™ solar thermal collector.
Every day, we are hearing more stories about the success of solar thermal for both residential and commercial applications. This motivates us to continue developing our own technology for the benefit of our customers. The further we can push the solar thermal envelope, the better we will be at meeting the needs of a world changing before our eyes.
We believe solar thermal is the future of renewable energy at multiple levels. Solar thermal already represents one of the most efficient and effective ways of generating energy for hot water and space heat on a property-by-property basis, and there is no reason to believe its potential for more widespread applications is limited. It’s a matter of simply scaling up the technology for size.
Our hats are off to Drake Landing and the impressive performance of their solar thermal project. After ten years of developing reliable renewable energy, they have proven that solar thermal both works and is commercially viable.
1. Solar Thermal World – http://www.solarthermalworld.org/content/canada-solar-district-heat-meets-communitys-entire-space-heating-demand