Website to Track Solar-Power Output

Largest system in Canada at Exhibition Place expected to boost interest in technology

Thursday, August 24, 2006

If you've ever wondered how solar panels perform in Toronto under a variety of weather conditions and seasons, you'll soon get a chance to find out.

Exhibition Place is creating a website that will let the public monitor, 24 hours a day and in real time, the electricity output of a 100-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system atop the historic Horse Palace.

The $1 million pilot system, unveiled Tuesday during Green Day at the Canadian National Exhibition, is the largest in Canada and is likely to grow up to 20 times larger if plans to expand it are approved. But officials first need to conduct a feasibility study, including an analysis of the pilot system's performance data.

Dianne Young, chief executive officer and general manager of Exhibition Place, said making that data accessible is key to building confidence in the technology.

"There is a high interest in solar, and if you can really see what the output is, people may take that plunge and buy it for their office buildings or homes," Young said. "This will prove to them that it works."

It will also help people better understand the advantages solar technology offers over other types of renewable energy systems, said Rob McMonagle, executive director of the Canadian Solar Industries Association.

"People don't often understand there's a relationship between peak hours of sunlight and peak demand on the power grid, and this will make that case clearly," McMonagle said.

His point: solar works best on hot sunny days when air conditioners are blasting and putting a strain on the electricity grid. Victoria, B.C.-based Carmanah Technologies Inc., hired to install the pilot system, is also in charge of setting up the performance-tracking website.

Justin Taverna, project engineer at Carmanah, said two Web cameras installed on the roof of the Horse Palace will transmit live images of the solar arrays to the website.

"In the winter you'll be able to see if an array has a blanket of snow on it and, if not, what kind of (electricity) production you get on cold winter days."

The images, also displayed on a plasma-screen TV located outside of the Horse Palace, will offer insight into how cloud cover and different weather conditions affect system output, as well as the accumulation of dirt kicked up by traffic on the Gardiner Expressway.

The system uses conventional solar modules from Sharp Electronics Corp. and newer "string ribbon" modules from Marlboro, Mass.-based Evergreen Solar Inc., both of which are at least 13 per cent efficient at converting sunlight into electricity. The website will track both technologies separately.

Carmanah is using energy-monitoring software from Fat Spaniel Technologies Inc. of San Jose, Calif. to collect and display how much electricity the system is producing and how much of it the Horse Palace is consuming as a percentage of overall energy demand.

The solar-tracking website is expected to go live next month. A link will be available on the Internet at Exhibition Place's website (http://www.explace.on.ca).

The project is part of Exhibition Place's goal of becoming energy-sufficient by 2010, by retrofitting buildings to be more energy efficient and using a combination of wind, solar, geothermal and co-generation technologies.

The solar demonstration is expected to produce 120,000 kilowatt-hours of emission-free electricity a year, and annual savings of more than $10,000.