Building Solar

​The sun is a free, limitless, carbon-neutral source of energy that in just one hour produces enough energy to meet the world’s needs for a year. Solar power has a bright future, and its popularity will continue to grow in an increasing number of locations in North America.
 

POWER AND POTENTIAL

Solar power has become a more affordable option for electricity than some traditional forms of generation. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the cost of solar installation has dropped by more than 70 percent since 2010.

“Solar provides some cost certainty for our clients,” says Andrew Moles, PCL’s director of Solar. “With solar power, clients get a locked-in rate of electricity guaranteed for 20 to 30 years. This means that monthly electricity costs won’t fluctuate—unlike fossil fuel prices, which change depending on supply and demand.”

The environmental benefits of generating clean energy are also attractive. The sun doesn’t produce harmful by-products, and it’s a renewable source of energy, thus reducing clients’ overall carbon footprint. “For clients looking for sustainable energy solutions, solar truly is a step forward in making the world a cleaner place to live,” says Moles. “We see this as a very positive aspect for our clients and the environment.”

The beauty of solar is that it’s scalable and provides a viable way for many clients to control energy costs, offer amenities to their patrons and employees, and become independent from grid failure. Clients who don’t use all the energy from their solar project can, when possible, sell the excess power back to the grid and gain an additional revenue stream.

SOUTHGATE SOLAR 

Southgate Solar in Holstein, Ontario, is built on grazing land where sheep keep the grass trim and help reduce client maintenance costs. While the rolling hills in Holstein are perfect for grazing sheep, they aren’t ideal for solar projects, which are best suited to flat areas. To tackle the terrain, the project team worked directly with a manufacturer to design custom racks (hardware that holds the solar panels) that follow the curves of the hill. The racking reduced the need for ground leveling by more than 200,000 cubic yards, saving money and time, and reducing environmental impact. 

The team used PCL’s off-site manufacturing expertise and in-house modular construction facility to build the operations and maintenance buildings for this project. The controlled factory environment enabled the project team to do more work concurrently, while improving quality and safety, decreasing waste, reducing costs, and shortening the project schedule.

SUMMERSIDE SOLAR AND BATTERY ENERGY STORAGE SYSTEM   

The goal of the Summerside solar project on Prince Edward Island was to integrate solar power with other energy sources in the city to reduce electricity consumption. By installing a solar array to power the city’s largest community center, the facility now saves more than $100,000 annually. These communities aren’t connected to a major power grid and instead rely on diesel for power generation. The project is a model for how remote communities can incorporate solar technology to lower electricity costs and generate clean energy for their everyday purposes. “This was a first-in-Canada initiative to demonstrate what’s possible in remote communities and other localities leading the way,” says Moles.

When it’s sunny in Summerside, the battery energy storage system (BESS) stores excess energy from the sun in a battery. BESS components go hand in hand with successful solar systems. That way, none of the generated energy goes to waste, and there’s a reliable backup on cloudy days when solar panels generate less power. In the event of grid failure, the BESS also provides backup power for facilities that rely in part on power from the grid.

ANGLE LAKE STATION  

The Angle Lake Station in Seattle, Washington, proves that solar power generation is not limited to large-scale utility projects or sun-rich locations. The new light rail transit facility has earned LEED® Gold certification for its sustainable design and construction, a first for the client. The project team installed a 60-panel, 14-kilowatt solar array on the platform canopy. These panels provide the station with up to 18,000 kilowatt hours of power per year. The sustainable station also has energy-conserving escalators that slow when not in use. The Angle Lake Station is just one example of the innovative ways solar can be incorporated into any project, even north of the sunbelt.