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Opinion

5 year study by NAIT shows angle of panel is more significant than snowfall in Northern Alberta

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  • Study looks at impact of snow and angle of solar panels Old Man Winter takes a lot of flak in Alberta for everything from costly heating bills to frozen car batteries. But when it comes to the impact on solar panels, winter gets an unjustified bad rap.
    A five-year study led by NAIT’s Alternative Energy Technology program found that snowfall on photovoltaic solar panels results in about a 3% energy loss. That’s significantly less than the 20% drain that industry had traditionally estimated despite a lack of data.
    Tim Matthews, a technologist and one of the leads on the study, says the results will improve modelling used to estimate solar energy production that determines return on investment. Ultimately, that means a win for consumers.
    NAIT launched the reference array snow study in 2012 with the City of Edmonton and Solar Energy Society of
    Alberta. A system of 12 solar modules was installed atop the Shaw Theatre on Main Campus to not only measure the impact of snow on the system, but also how the tilt of each module affects energy production.
    “The rule of thumb throughout industry was to design a system as if it had no snow and then wipe 20% of energy production off the slate – we’re going to lose 20% because we’re in Canada,” says Matthews. “Everybody was terrified of underestimating the impact of snow and latitude [on energy production].”
    They found that the angle of the solar panels has a far greater impact on energy production than snowfall. Solar modules were fixed at six different angles – 14, 18, 27, 45, 53 and 90 degrees – which represent roof pitches commonly found on commercial buildings and homes. Six modules were cleared of snow every day, while the remaining six served as a control.
    The least efficient was the module set at 90 degrees, like a wall-mount system, which saw a 24% loss in performance. The
    module tilted to 53 degrees was most efficient, which confirmed an industry standard that solar systems are optimized when tilted to the equivalent of a city’s latitude.
    The ideal angle for maximum production with snow accumulation was 45 degrees.
    Matthews cautions that even five years worth of data is a small window when dealing with fluctuating variables such as
    weather. But for a homeowner or business who already has historic data on their energy consumption, the tilt and snow impact clear up what had been a cloudy picture in predicting the cost-benefit of solar.
    “Having this information raises the level of precision when it comes to engineering, design and production modelling,” says
    Matthews. “A company that’s doing solar installation and design can go to a client and say, ‘This is precise. You can take this to the bank.’”
    Crunching five years of data The work of crunching through all the data fell to students (and now grads of the class of ’18) Christian Brown and Jackson Belley as the basis of their final course project, or capstone.
    That’s no mean feat considering energy performance data was collected from all 12 solar modules every five minutes every
    day for five years – enough to fill 6,000 spreadsheet files.
    “It was an insane amount of data,” says Brown. “That was not quite half, maybe the first third of the project. Months of work. It was a lot of learning.”
    After five years of getting up at all hours to clear snow from the reference array – including Christmas – Matthews is glad
    to be rid of that daily chore. For anyone who operates a solar system, he cautions that snow should only be cleared if it’s
    safe to do so, such as on a flat commercial roof.
    “Should you clean the ones on your [pitched] roof? Heck no,” he says. Nor does he recommend asking a contractor to
    remove it. It’s just not worth it for the minimal gain in power efficiency from a snow-free solar system.
    “Our recommendation is that it makes no sense. One hour of time from a professional or an apprentice is just not worth
    it.”
    Data was gradually exported by day, month, season and year, making it more digestible and user-friendly for industry,
    government and institutions, but also the schools and not-for-profits, who are interested in the information.
    The study’s interim findings are available online, while the students’ final report with datasets will be published on the
    Alternative Energy Technology program page this fall. It’s expected to be a hot commodity. (Anyone can request the data now).
    “The amount of requests that we get [for the data], it’s obvious people are interested and they want to know how does snow
    affect solar modules,” says Belley.
    Brown adds it’s a pretty cool feeling to work on a class assignment that has a major real-world impact. “The idea of solar won’t be as much of a gamble any more.”
    Plans are also in the works to submit the findings for peer review and publication in a scientific journal.
    After reading this report and remembering that both the Province of Alberta and the City of Red Deer are looking into a program that would pay for the program and be billed via your property taxes over 10 years.
    The province and the city were very much forward thinking, I would offer and if snow loses only 3 % of power it does make more sense. Right?


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    Opinion

    3 wards for the city based on federal and provincial governance models.

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  • An interesting proposal has been suggested for our municipal governance that is modeled after the provincial and federal electoral system.
    Federally we have Members of Parliament (MPs) and one of them is also the Prime Minister. Provincially we have Members of the Legislature (MLAs) and one of them is also the Premier.
    Federally our fine city is divided into 2 electoral districts or ridings both federally and provincially, so we have 2 MLAs and 2 MPs, and anyone could also be our Premier or Prime Minister, or Speaker, Cabinet Member, or Opposition Leader.
    Back to our city’s governance, we elect 9 people currently, 8 councillors and 1 mayor for 1 electoral district. The idea being suggested is 3 wards, 3 councillors each with 1 also being the mayor.
    Population wise and geographically 3 wards would be fairly easy. Using the last municipal census. Approximately 1/3 the population lives east of 30th Avenue so that would make an easy boundary and approximately 1/3 live north of the river, another easy boundary. The other 1/3 would be south of the river and west of 30th Avenue. Easy and already done.
    Now, why would we consider 3 wards over governance of a single entity?
    Look at thhe history of the wards, the services offered, crime rates, return on investments and you can see the reason.
    The east of 30th Avenue ward has, 3 high schools with plans for 2 more, has the Collicutt centre with a recommended site for the next multi-use aquatic centre, 2 emergency services location, and a pickle ball court centre.
    The north of the river ward has no high schools with no plans for any, the Dawe recreation centre, YMCA, and 1 emergency services centre.
    The other ward has 1 high school, 1 college, downtown recreation centre, museum, tennis courts, Michener pool, Westerner, Kinex arenas, curling rinks, a proposed cultural centre, hospital, multiple emergency services to name but a few.
    So it is easy to see the rationale behind and the appeal for a ward system as our city grows in a manner favourable to some and not to others. 3 wards with 3 councillors each and 1 of the 9 would also act as mayor. It works provincially and federally and it would make councillors responsible and accountable for any continued disparities, right?
    It is an option. Just saying.


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    Opinion

    Will Red Deer finally get a seat at the adult table? Do we want a seat at the adult table?

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  • Opinion by Garfield Marks

    “Red Deer needs a Cabinet Minister“, says the Chamber of Commerce. Yes the fact is we need a seat at the table, but do we have a politician worthy enough to sit at the adult table?

    Yes, I believe we do, at least 2. For far too long, Red Deer has been electing invisible politicians, seat warmers, trained seals, caricatures of what we think we want as politicians. People representing in some shallow way what the population wanted, perhaps we want invisible politicians. But that is not what we need.

    The subject came up due to the recent Provincial election but it is the same in all 3 levels of government. Federally, too like Provincially there is a cabinet table that makes the decisions and sets directions and implementation but there is a somewhat cabinet like table municipally, involving a few people including city manager, mayor, downtown reps, developers and others, that kind of set the game plan, at least in my opinion.

    This came up over coffee one day, started when someone asked who decided to spend almost a million dollars of our taxes on a piece of art off 32 Street saying “Welcome to Red Deer”?

    The hypothesis is that there is an inner circle or small group, not city council, that decides what, where and when to do anything in this city. Which subdivisions to build as we seem to be opening up new subdivisions every year while we have trouble filling the ones already on the market, means there must be at least one developer at this table.

    The question remains then about whether the citizens of Red Deer want a seat at the adult table? Do we accept just paying the bills as our only role?
    We spend millions and millions of dollars every year on politicians, for what? Photo ops, ribbon cuttings, welcome speeches and to vote as they are told by the members at the adult tables.

    Will we get a Cabinet Member from Red Deer? I think we might but just 1 at the Provincial Cabinet level, because the table is small and Red Deer is not seen as a major player needing to be heard. As for federal and municipal tables that is not even on the horizon. Just saying.

    The views in the above story are the opinion of the writer’s. 


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