Posted on July 28, 2014 by Christopher Thrall

The July 29 Edmonton Journal devoted a feature article to the Performing Arts Centre’s solar panel array.

From the Edmonton Journal

Solar storm: ‘Big, bold, black and beautiful’

By David Howell

Solar design engineer Gordon Howell points to the solar panels on the fly tower at the visually striking new Camrose Performing Arts Centre. Photograph by: Tijana Martin, Edmonton Journal

Solar design engineer Gordon Howell points to the solar panels on the fly tower at the visually striking new Camrose Performing Arts Centre. Photograph by: Tijana Martin, Edmonton Journal

Solar design engineer Gordon Howell gets poetic as he describes a striking new addition to the Camrose skyline.

Solar photovoltaic modules have been integrated into the exterior walls of the fly tower on the new $24-million Camrose Performing Arts Centre.

There are 488 modules in total, making it the largest building-integrated solar PV system in Canada. And in what is believed to be a first, the modules adorn every side of the tower, even the one that faces north.

“Not each module is exactly the same colour as the other ones,” says Howell, managing partner of Edmonton firm Howell-Mayhew Engineering, as he gazes up at the building’s west side.

“The mood of this wall, in particular, changes as a function of the clouds and the sky colour and the angle that you’re looking at it.

“I’ve seen it light colour, I’ve seen it dark, I’ve seen it in intense black. Now you see it a little bit mottled, because of slight imperfections in the modules. And as the sun comes around to the west, you’ll see different colours.”

The 550-seat performing arts centre, due to open later this year, is on the University of Alberta’s Augustana campus in the heart of Camrose.

A multipurpose space for drama and musical productions, it is a joint project of the U of A, the City of Camrose, the Alberta government and other partners. The 23-metre-tall fly tower will be used to raise sets and fly curtains above the stage.

Howell, who designed and developed the $560,000 solar PV system, calls it “big, bold, black and beautiful.”

It is one of several features – others include LED stage lighting and high-efficiency boilers and chillers – that have helped the project win four sustainability awards.

Michael Madsen, the U of A’s senior project manager, says the fly tower was originally to be finished in composite cement siding, but the design was later modified so that solar PV modules would form the building’s skin.

Madsen says it was “almost a pragmatic decision” to use the modules on all four sides, because using another siding system for the north wall would have had an impact on costs.

“It also was a bit of promoting our latitude on the planet,” he says.

“We do get sunlight to the northeast in mornings and the northwest in evenings during the summer months, on either side of the summer solstice.”

The fly tower has 77 PV modules on its south side, 120 on the east, 99 on the north and 192 on the west. Each module, about 1.6 metres tall and one metre wide, contains 60 solar PV cells.

The PV cells convert the energy in solar radiation into electrical energy. Photons of light hit silicon atoms in the cells and knock electrons free. Wires pick up the free electrons and carry them into the circuit.

Each module is rated at 250 watts, meaning that each one can energize five 50-watt light bulbs under very bright sun and cold air temperature.

In total, the system is rated at 122 kilowatts, but Howell explains it won’t ever achieve that because the sun doesn’t shine on all four sides of the building at once.

Electricity generated by the modules is fed into a bank of inverters where it is converted from direct current into alternating current. From there it goes into the building’s main electrical system. The solar PV system will supply about 20 per cent of the building’s annual electrical energy consumption, saving about $10,000 a year in utility costs.

At times when demand is low – for example, mid-week when no events are being held – it will generate enough electricity to run the whole building and feed excess back into the grid.

“We don’t expect that to be very much at all, but there will be times when that will happen,” Howell says.

Madsen says output data from the solar electricity system will be accessible on the web.

“We have lots of people wanting to write papers and do studies,” he says. “The university always likes to have something to study.”

Howell hopes the building will be studied by others around the world who are keen to further develop electricity generation using the solar resource.

“I think the process of this building is going to be very fascinating because it’s showing to the engineers and architects who are not in the solar industry that we can put (PV modules) facing all sorts of other directions. It doesn’t have to be perfectly oriented. It’s opening up the thought processes and the discussion points for a much wider exploration of where it can be put.”


Posted in Augustana Campus, Featured, Fine Arts, Sustainability. | Permalink

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