Whispering Willows seniors’ complex has been outfitted with a brand new solar-power system – the largest roof-mounted system in the NWT.
“This is a 60 kilowatt system,” explained Klaus Dohring, with solar energy company Green Sun Rising, who oversaw the installation of the panels on the roof as well as the rest of the system. “It will be able to produce about 80 per cent of the energy requirements for the building.”
The Hub visited the site on an overcast day when the panels were producing enough electricity to power about two typical apartments, and they were only running at about 15 per cent capacity. The system is on a temporary connection for the next few weeks to make sure everything is functioning properly, but will be hooked up to the grid sometime this fall if all goes well.
“We would typically say that the investment would pay for itself within 10 years, but we expect that to be shorter here,” said Dohring, adding that the high price of power in the NWT is the greatest factor in that equation.
Gene Hachey, owner of Northern Energy Innovations, helped with the installation and has his own solar setup at his house.
“This is amazing,” he said. “It’s a benefit to everyone, not just this facility.”
He noted that the residential market is completely untapped in the North, and that the trend of power prices rising as the cost of a solar-power systems is plummeting makes the latter a viable option.
The panels themselves have a 25-year warranty and the whole installation is expected to last between 35 and 40 years. Dohring said the one question he always gets asked is what happens when it snows.
“If the light can go through the snow, it will work,” he said.
He explained the best thing to do is rely on natural cycles to handle cleaning the panels, and if the snow gets so thick the light can’t get through it, to just leave it until it all melts in the spring. The system regulates itself and doesn’t need to be switched on and off, depending on the weather.
The other concern he hears in the North is the lack of sunlight in the winter months. He explained that the losses in the winter as a result of short days are more than made up for in the summer when the sun shines nearly 24-hours a day.
Dohring said there are spacecraft powered by solar technology that have been in space for decades and are showing no signs of failing.
“People always ask me about the harsh climate,” he laughed. “It’s harsh, but it’s still not space.”