Old Ottawa East harvests solar power

PHOTO BY MARY KIRBY-GALL

The large solar panel  next to the Riverdale Transformer Station on Main Street celebrated its first anniversary this spring.

The panel system is special because it is a ‘dual tracker’, which means that it follows the sun’s movement across the sky throughout the day, 365 days a year, said Owen Mahaffy, Energy Ottawa’s Director of Energy Generation.

Mahaffy provided an overview of the 10kW Solar Tracker’s capabilities and benefits.

A computer program uses the system’s GPS coordinates to start a motor drive in the Solar Tracker’s base that readjusts the position of the panels every 10 minutes. This allows it to generate at least 40 percent more power than a conventional fixed-mount systems.

The generator was made in Woodbridge, Ont. by Sentinel Solar Corporation. It has other features that make it ideally suited to our climate.

Early in the morning, before the sun comes up, it tips itself to a vertical position. In winter, such a movement allows it to dump any snow that may have accumulated overnight.

Also, because the solar panels have  a large surface area (27 x 33 feet), in strong winds the system will automatically move to a horizontal safety position.
Last year it survived two major windstorms without damage.

The generator is connected directly to the Hydro Ottawa distribution system and all of the output is under a 20-year power purchase agreement with the Ontario Power Authority at 64.2 cents per kilowatt-hour.

While this type of generator is more expensive than the fixed-mount type, the extra production will eventually more than offset the initial expense.  From the time it was installed in late March until early November, 2011, it generated 13,500 kilowatt-hours, enough electricity to power two to three households over the same period.

Its peak daily output until now-  120kWh-  occurred on May 10, 2011.
Additional sites at Hydro Ottawa substations are currently being evaluated.

With dwindling fossil fuel resources and an ever-increasing energy demand, countries will have to rely more and more on renewable energy sources, such as solar panels.  While the electrical power generated by the single Solar Tracker on Main Street is relatively little, similar installations make positive contributions towards harvesting the sun’s untapped, clean, renewable energy.

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