Energy Manager

Solar project powers retirement home

Oxford Gardens, a 9,900-sq.m retirement home located in Woodstock, Ontario, will be the site of Canada’s largest cooling and thermal heating project. The project is being developed by Proterra Solar, an international supplier of solar thermal technology to the North American renewable energy sector.

October 28, 2010  By  John Gilson

The retirement home, which has 110 residents and 101 individual suites, currently uses a 90 tonne electric chiller. Due to concern of fluctuating energy costs, the management of the retirement home began searching for alternative sources of energy.

“The primary reasons for the project are to conserve energy—by at least 50%–and reduce the building’s environmental footprint,” said Suni Ball, Proterra Solar Project Manager.

Based on a proposal by Proterra Solar, the management of the retirement home went forward with a solar cooling and thermal heating project. The project includes the installation of 162 solar collectors onto the roof of the building. These collectors will absorb the light from the sun’s radiation, which converts heat and then transfers into solar liquid. This heated solar liquid will then be used to heat the domestic water, pool, space heating and to run the absorption.

Implementing this kind of system wasn’t an easy task as solar thermal energy often requires a pool (i.e. “heat dump”) to store excess energy.


“Using solar thermal energy for space heating requires a “heat dump” during the summer months when there is no heating load”, said Ball. “Using this extra thermal energy to generate chilled water during summer months is an excellent way to reduce the capital payback by providing year round operation along with higher savings.”

Despite such difficulties, Ball is optimistic that this kind of technology will spread due to its efficiency, especially in commercial buildings such as malls, and in large retailers like Wal-Mart, where heating and air conditioning are required 12 months a year.

The Oxford Gardens project was partly funded by the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology (BMWi) and the Deutsche Energie-Agentur GmbH (dena)—the German Energy Agency—under the dena Solar Roofs Program, which in addition to funding have provided marketing help and German technological expertise. This foreign contribution is made possible due to the Renewable Energies Export Initiative, which offers support for German solar energy companies wishing to enter promising export markets. Germany is a global leader when it comes to renewable energy.

The federal government, through the ecoEnergy for Renewable Heat program—a Natural Resources Canada program—will also contribute 15%, or $140,000 towards the project. The provincial government will match this funding through the Ontario Ministry of Energy’s Solar Thermal Heating Incentive.

Oxford Gardens can expect to save a lot in energy savings as a result of the project. The retirement home expects to save 40%, or $20,000 per year a month from its air-conditioning bill. For heating savings, it will be approximately 60%, or $40,000 per year.

To ensure that the project was an ultimate success, Oxford Gardens and Proterra Solar made sure that retirement home’s residents were fully involved, making the effort a fully collaborative process.

“The residents are excited and love the idea,” said Ball. “We’ve had meetings with the residents and made sure to include them in the project. Just by living there, they feel they are making a difference.”

Proterra Solar says projects like this have the additional benefit of creating local high-paying green jobs. For example, over 70% of components used for the project will be manufactured in North America, and at least 35% of this will be made in Ontario. Already, the site requires 5-6 plumbers and electricians on an everyday basis.

The opening ceremony for Oxford Gardens’ solar-cooling and thermal heating project takes place on November 9, 2010 in Woodstock. Major political leaders and industrial stakeholders are expected to attend.

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