Solar Energy: An Option for Cold Climates?

Have you ever wondered whether solar panels are a wise choice for Edmonton’s climate?  It can get cold and snowy here; you need only your short-term memory to know that!

On February 27, Dr. James Sandercock, Chair of NAIT’s Alternative Energy Technology, presented to a large group of interested citizens at City Hall.  He spoke about the long-term outlook for energy sources and requirements; by 2033 there will be a predicted gap of about 12,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity.  Could this gap be filled using alternative energy sources and, specifically, solar energy?

When we think about installing solar photovoltaics (PV), often we think it’s simply too expensive an option but the price of panels has dropped about 50% in just the last three years. If this trend continues, the cost of electricity generated by solar PV will be the same as that generated by natural gas. In Hawaii and southern Italy, the cost is already equal or, as Jim said, “has reached parity.”

NAIT’s alternative energy program is leading edge, providing students with hands-on learning, including determining the optimal tilt or angle for a solar array.  The City of Edmonton partnered with NAIT in 2012 to install this array.  Jim said that generally speaking, the latitude of a city is a good way to determine the best angle for panel placement.  In Edmonton, that’s about 53o (we are at 53o latitude). And panels perform best when pointing due south. Which makes me stop and think about new home construction, and whether it is necessary for homes to be oriented so the front door faces the street, or should they be oriented to take advantage of natural heat and light, with roofs angled for optimal placement of solar PV panels?  It would be nice to see more neighbourhood designers challenge themselves to consider long-term sustainability when they are at the drawing board.

A question was asked about whether an array could produce enough energy to power a home.  The answer was, “it depends.”  It depends on how much energy you use.  Which is why making our homes energy efficient and installing efficient appliances and forming habits like turning off lights, should be practiced before investing in panels.  But once we live efficiently, and ensure our homes are reaching an EnerGuide rating of above 80, then solar panels might be an excellent choice – which brings home builders into the conversation.  We know they are able to build energy efficient homes, and some are doing that. But as Stephen Mouzon asked (The Way We Green Speakers Series April 17, 2012), why are we building homes to the same standard as California when we have such a cold climate? If you are in the market to build a new home, an energy efficient one will reduce your winter heating bills and summer cooling bills, and improve your home’s overall comfort.

Getting back to whether or not solar panels are suitable for our very cold climate, think about this: have you ever gone outside on a cold winter’s day, only to find you need sunglasses because it is so incredibly bright out? For a more complete answer about whether or not we should consider solar energy in Edmonton , visit The Way We Green Speaker’s Series videos to view Jim’s 40 minute presentation.  You’ll learn lots!


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About the Author
Heather Wheeliker
Heather Wheeliker works in the City�s Office of Environment engaging staff and citizens in improving environmental understanding and motivating us to move Edmonton closer to becoming a sustainable and resilient city.
  1. shirley
    6 years ago

    making our homes energy efficient, is something we all could use, haveing our energy costs cheaper in our homes would be a blessing and a savings on our paychecks i think this is very important.

  2. 6 years ago

    Make sure that you have instructions on how to bundle multiple solar panels together to enable you to get
    more power. Even though technological developments have eased our lives greatly they have
    also generated the need for more power supply. They have a transparent glass cover that
    protects the solar cells from damage and aids in reflection of sunlight onto the cells.


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