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TRU solar project blazes technological path

March 14, 2016 11:37 A.M.
TRU Solar Compass team includes, from left, Michael Mehta, Claire Irvine, Cheryl Kabloona, Brandan Dallamore, Ben Giudici, Tavis Knox, Carley Rookes and John Church. (Bill Hadgkiss)

A decorative compass in front of TRU’s Arts and Education Building will be soon generating solar energy, a “solar roadway” project believed to be the first of its kind in Canada.

The new technology involves thick glass plates that can be walked or driven on and have an embedded photovoltaic layer. The team will install these modules into the pavement at the entrance to AE building, within the decorative compass that is there already and gives the project its name,

Now that the Solar Compass project has received $36,000 from a university sustainability fund, the project can proceed. Other campus sustainability projects funded include a conversion to LED stage lights by the Actors Workshop Theatre, solar street lamps and a traditional Sewepemc sweat lodge.

“The Solar Compass is an example of how universities can collaborate with the private sector and non-profit sector to develop sustainable energy technologies that have the potential to make a difference,” said Michael Mehta, project team leader. A geography and environmental studies faculty member, he’s part of a group that includes students, staff and other faculty.

“Only by working together can we unleash the power of creativity needed to make a lasting and significant contribution to a world increasingly threatened by climate change.”

The modules are expected to generate 9700 kWh/year of electricity over the planned 25- to 30-year lifetime, enough to keep 40 computers operating eight hours a day. 

The project has an educational focus, too. A monitoring system will be on display online and inside the AE Building, showing electricity production in real-time with easily accessible historical data. This will be available to a wide range of academic and vocational courses on campus. 

Solar Earth Technologies, a corporate partner based in Vancouver, provides the underlying technology and the product modules used in the Solar Compass project. The company plans to revolutionize the infrastructure of Canadian roadways with their Solar-Powered Roadways and Electric Vehicles (SPREV) system, paving roadways and paths with photovoltaic materials. They will donate the solar modules worth up to $60,000 for the pilot project at TRU and provide ongoing consultation on installation and maintenance. The company has also partnered with the School of Engineering at UBC Okanagan for engineering trials. The solar modules have a photovoltaic layer with PMS (Photovoltaic Mosaic System) technology and are designed for pedestrian and light-vehicle traffic. 

“We are very much impressed by this team’s creativity, efficiency, and particularly its passion and leadership in practicing sustainable social and community growth,” said Jason Wang, board chairman of Solar Earth Technologies. “While walking through the TRU campus, I was excited and moved by many details of designs and decorations that are implemented with renewable energy elements on campus. One is immediately assured that this is a serious campus embracing the spirit of sustainability."

Once commissioned, the Solar Compass will represent a new footprint in the journey towards ubiquitous solar energy harvest and utilization, he added.

Riverside Energy Systems, another corporate partner, will be the consultant and installer of the electrical and PV components for the project, and will provide ongoing maintenance support as required. The Kamloops chapter of the B.C. Sustainable Energy Association (BCSEA Kamloops) is a community partner leading the project’s marketing efforts. 

The Solar Compass joins a small handful of solar roadway examples around the world. SolaRoad, a 70-metre bicycle path with embedded solar panels, has been in operation in Krommenie, Netherlands, since late 2014. A similar project called Solar Roadways is underway in the U.S. The French government recently announced that it will complete 1,000-km of solar roads over the next five years. 

One aspect of the technology is its use of existing infrastructure so that additional land space for solar arrays is not needed. Another advantage is its potential as “smart infrastructure,” which pairs electricity generation with vehicle navigation, embedded lighting and signage, and dynamic wireless charging of electric vehicles.

The project’s video and more information are available at www.solarcompass.ca.

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