10 04 29 The Sun in the Southeast - Jack Heppner

As I pointed out last week, in many parts of the world people are turning to the sun to harvest its energy for domestic use. But is the sun a viable source of energy for people living in Southeastern Manitoba?

To help answer this question, Eric Rempel and I consulted with Lorena Mitchell at Evolve Green, a new business in our city. Mitchell noted that she sells solar systems all across Canada, although only a few remain here in the Southeast.

It seems as though, here in the Southeast, we still need a lot of convincing that looking to the sun for energy is a viable option. Mitchell was quite convincing in her arguments that, in spite of our long, cold winters, the sun can help us out in Southeastern Manitoba.

One way is to install solar panels on rooftops to produce electricity that is then fed directly into the power grid through a separate meter. In effect, you sell the power you produce to Manitoba Hydro, receiving a credit against the power you draw from their grid for your own use.

This use of the sun to produce energy is perhaps the least attractive right now. For one, the payback period at present hydro rates is about 15 to 20 years. And furthermore, if and when the power grid goes down, you are not set up to draw power for home use from your own system. Yet this system is feasible and some people are doing it.

Mitchell said that you get the biggest bang for your buck through the use of solar water heaters. With present technology we are able to capture heat from the sun no matter how cold or cloudy the weather. These systems supply hot water for domestic use as well as space heating.

The good news is that the pay back period for such a system is only five to seven years. And, if you add a small solar system to power the circulation pump, you have access to heat from the sun even when the power grid is down.

But I think there is another possibility that offers an even greater reward and with a shorter pay back period. And that has to do with capturing the heat of the sun in our homes through south-facing windows.

It seems that most homes are presently being built without regard to orientation toward the sun. So we need a new vision to orient all new homes being built in such a way as to maximize free solar energy coming through windows. When combined with ensuring an abundance of thermal mass like cement, brick or stonework in such houses, letting in the light of the sun can be enough to heat an entire house around the clock on a sunny day in mid-winter. A friend of mine is doing it.

Once we awaken to the possibilities the sun has to offer us in the Southeast, the sky is the limit! So let’s look up.