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Posted on September 12th, 2013

Outside the Box – Drake Landing Solar Community

The Drake Landing Solar Community in Okotoks, Alberta, Canada, is the largest planned solar community in North America. Consisting of 52 homes, the community operates on solar-thermal seasonal storage which stores summer heat below ground allowing for the greyer winter months to be power self-sufficient at a 90% rate. The collective runs on 800 solar thermal collectors that gather energy in the form of electromagnetic radiation from the infrared and ultraviolet spectrum wavelengths.

Now this might cause you to remember that great ‘70s hit by The 5th Dimension, “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In”:

Let the sunshine, let the sunshine in, the sunshine in
Oh, let it shine, c’mon
Now everybody just sing along
Let the sun shine in

Or maybe it doesn’t…  During an average summer day, the collectors amass 1.5 megawatts of thermal power which is then directed to an anti-freeze like substance that runs through an insulated piping arrangement known as a collector loop. The loop connects the entire neighborhood and transfers energy to a heat exchanger which then heats the water in a short-term storage tank. The heat exchanger resides in the community’s Energy Centre, a 2,500-square foot building located in the corner of the community.

An overview of the Drake Landing Solar Community. The layout of the housing structures and roads resemble your average planned community, but the power source is nothing like our typical power infrastructures. Image courtesy of DigitalGlobe, captured by the 50-cm color satellite, WorldView-2, on September 4, 2011. Photo enhanced by Apollo Mapping.

During the warmer months, water is transferred from the short-term storage system to the borehole thermal energy storage system. As the heated water travels through the piping, it warms the surrounding earth, raising the ground temperature to 175 degrees Fahrenheit. To aid in the maintenance of heat retention, the borehole thermal energy storage system is covered with sand, high-density insulation, a waterproof membrane and clay. During the colder months, heated water passes back through the collector loop to the short-term storage tanks, and then is piped into the community’s 52 homes, warming them to the desired temperature. Once that temperature has been reached, an automatic valve shuts off the transfer and the remaining water stays heated in the short-terms storage tanks.

In 2011, the Energy Globe World Award was given to Drake Landing and it was recognized as the greenest community in Canada. The residents of the community get something else – an average monthly heating and power bill of sixty dollars. In a master’s thesis that was done through Queen’s University in Alberta, Canada, the researcher found Drake Landing Solar Community saved an average of 110 gigajoules, which is a roughly 30% reduction in heating expenses annually, not to mention the significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. And while Canada may be setting the standard for North America, several European countries have been raising the bar for quite some time when it comes to solar energy production – specifically Germany, with 50% of the total European capacity. Canada has hopes to catch up with those across the pond, but there have been some issues with regulations and certification in recent years that are only now being resolved.  So, pun intended, the future is bright for solar communities in Canada. Time will tell when the first significant solar HOA is set up in our own nation.

Justin Harmon
Staff Writer

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