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Solar parking lot project generates power and interest

Recent 3Phase Power venture offered unique challenges and creative solutions

The City of Prince George has installed BC’s first solar-powered parking lot, and we at 3Phase Power got the honour of designing its electrical panel.

Like an idea straight out of a sci-fi novel, the recent pilot project saw the installation of a 20-square-metre area of solar panels in the parking lot at city hall.

“Essentially, the project is a test to see how the technology performs in northern communities with our colder, snowy conditions,” explains Simon Fandrey, 3Phase sales manager. “So far everything’s working well, but it’s more about seeing how it holds up during the winter.”

The solar energy is converted and tied into the city hall’s electrical system to help meet its energy needs and supply additional power uses, including offsetting energy used at the electric vehicle charging stations in the parking lot.

The actual area is about the size of a couple of parking stalls and looks like it is made of ceramic glass tiles. Photovoltaic cells that make up the solar arrays are about a quarter-inch thick and have a gritty finish.

The installed panel is designed to currently produce a maximum of 22 kilowatt/hours of energy per day. For comparison, BC Hydro says the average BC household uses about 900 kilowatt/hours per month (approximately 30 kilowatt/hours per day). It’s expected there will be a slight drop in energy output in the winter, but cloudy days and snow still produce light energy, though it’s diffuse rather than direct.

A challenging and unique undertaking

The project was proposed and funded by YCS Holdings Ltd., a Northern BC construction company, and Wattway, a branch of a French civil engineering firm that focuses on solar technology. Prince George’s Lakewood Electric called us in to work with them and Pittman Asphalt to implement and install the solar arrays.

We designed the panel that converts the solar cells’ DC power to AC and ties into the existing electrical system.

“We’ve designed and hooked up many solar arrays in remote, off-the-grid oil and gas systems,” says Dwayne Donaldson, senior designer with 3Phase Power. “But this was the first time we’ve worked with the ‘solar road’ technology. It was really interesting finding out about the equipment and expertise behind it.

“It was a good challenge for us, because while they have similar components, they’re made for European installations, so we had to come up with other CSA-approved and locally sourced solutions. Also, we were limited to a maximum 2000-wattage output for research reasons.

“There was a bit of a learning process, but they were very happy with our suggestions and impressed with the final results.”

What the future holds

This is the only project of its kind in BC so far, but we’re excited to see the technology become more commonplace in the future.

“It’s great to be involved in coming up with clean energy solutions,” notes Simon. “I can see it being very conducive to places like the Okanagan, where there are so many sunshine hours.”

While the expenses involved at this point make it a large undertaking, it’s still a worthwhile venture to be involved in.

“It’s exciting to think about using ‘dead space’ around roads and buildings to offset our energy needs. And as the technology becomes more common, it will become more affordable. From the concept to the design, it’s pretty cool, and we’re happy to have been part of the team.”

For more information on the specifics of the project, contact Simon Fandrey at simon.fandrey@3phasepower.ca.