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Unlocking solar power potential: a new partnership shines bright

Date posted:
Monday, November 20, 2023

Install group

In the pursuit of a greener, more sustainable future, collaboration and innovation are our greatest allies. The Energy Innovation Centre (EIC) at Red Deer Polytechnic (RDP) is leading the way and now a partnership with Lacombe County is poised to spark new possibilities in the world of solar energy.

"We're bridging the gap between theory and practice, between research and real-world impact," explains Dr. Tonya Wolfe, Associate Vice President of Applied Research. “The Energy Innovation Centre has always been focused on helping industry to explore emerging net zero technologies, and this partnership is no exception.”

The Data Sharing Alliance: A Catalyst for Progress

At the core of this partnership lies the Data Sharing Alliance (DSA). This collaborative initiative, hosted within RDP's Energy Innovation Centre, leverages weather and power data gathered from partner sites around the province and uses it to develop best practices for modeling and installing solar photovoltaic systems optimized for Alberta's unique conditions. 

The DSA has already made significant strides in gathering and aggregating photovoltaic operational data across multiple sites, including two on the RDP campus, one in rural Innisfail and one at the Fortis facility in High River. The recent installation of an eGauge at Lacombe County’s site will provide a direct line to their solar array's performance data, allowing it to be shared with the DSA and its members.

"Lacombe County is committed to a more sustainable future, and this partnership is a testament to that commitment," says Jennifer Berry, Environmental Coordinator for Lacombe County. "It's not just about generating solar power; it's about understanding how we can maximize it efficiently.”

About Lacombe County’s Solar Panels

In spring 2021, Lacombe County installed a 115.2 kWh solar PV system on their public works building roof. The system is comprised of 288 solar modules, 144 DC optimizers and two inverters, and is conservatively estimated to produce 122,100 kWh/year of electricity in the first year.  

The power generated has offset the electricity usage between the administration and shop buildings by approximately 17 per cent annually. It also allows Lacombe County to produce renewable energy, lower its carbon footprint and lead by example in the community. The system was designed and installed by SkyFire Energy, and was made possible through a rebate through the Municipal Climate Change Action Centre, which covered 30 per cent of the project costs.  

A Solar-Powered Network

By fostering partnerships like this one with Lacombe County, the Data Sharing Alliance seeks to expand its scope and gather a broader spectrum of data from various locations in Alberta. The benefits of participating are many. Partners receive up-to-date data analysis on the performance of their solar installations, can compare their system's performance to other locations across Alberta and even gain predictive analysis of future output, all made possible by the experts at Red Deer Polytechnic.

"By expanding our network, we're creating a repository of knowledge," says Wolfe. "This data isn't just for Red Deer Polytechnic; it's for everyone who's interested and invested in a cleaner, more sustainable future."

How It Works: A Gateway to Solar Insight

The process is seamless and secure. The eGauge, which is an energy meter, is installed in a logical sequence after the inverters of the PV system. It requires an internet connection via ethernet to transmit the data. Collected data remains accessible to RDP researchers and DSA partners through a secure website login account. Here, partners can monitor their own system's performance and delve into trends from other DSA locations.

Wolfe sums up the partnership and the DSA's mission: "It's all about fostering knowledge, building connections and working together to make solar energy a viable solution for Alberta."

Moving forward, Wolfe expects the DSA to continue to evolve and eventually include other alternative energy technologies such as heat pumps, geothermal and wind.

“The synergy of these partnerships is creating a ripple effect,” she says. “We’re connecting RDP’s investments in renewable and alternative energy systems on campus to applied research and, in turn, industry adoption of these technologies.”

RDP’s commitment to this avenue of applied research is evidenced by the nearly 4,200 solar panels installed on campus. The panels, along with a combined heat and power unit, generate 60 per cent of the Polytechnic’s power. The campus also hosts a battery storage system, and there are plans to install two heat pumps soon.

"The solutions we can offer our partners like Lacombe County are not just theoretical – they are derived from real-world situations and data gathered from our own power systems," Wolfe emphasizes.

With the installation of the eGauge and the collaboration with Lacombe County, the Data Sharing Alliance is set to redefine what's possible in the world of solar energy. It's not just a partnership; it's a beacon of innovation that promises to illuminate the path to a brighter, more sustainable tomorrow.

If you’re interested in joining the Data Sharing Alliance, email innovation [at] rdpolytech [dot] ca (innovation[at]rdpolytech[dot]ca) to get in touch with the Energy Innovation Centre.

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Photo (l-r): Jordan Nakonechny, Environmental Coordinator, Lacombe County; Dean Bye, Electrical and AEL Lab Technician, RDP; Lee Hodgson, Electrical Contractor, Hodgson Enterprises

For media inquiries, please contact:

media [at] rdpolytech [dot] ca (Brent Forster)

Communications Strategist - Corporate


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