Friday, 13 October 2017

Racing against old man winter to complete installation of the Solar Compass

As snow fell in many parts of Kamloops last night, contractor Matt Cardinal and his team worked hard into the evening to get our Solar Compass much closer to completion. Some edges still need work, mid-clamps screwed down, and caulking and grout work for finishing. Electrician Amie Schellenberg and her team are working on finishing off the electrical work inside, and if all goes well we will have our electrical inspection done next week.



Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

The Solar Compass is profiled in The Omega

The Solar Compass was profiled in TRU''s student newspaper, The Omega. The article states:

TRU’s solar compass project is wrapping up construction and offering not only a renewable energy source, but marking a milestone for sustainability on campus. The project will use the existing compass on the sidewalk outside the Arts and Education building as a platform for the new technology.
“The inspiration initially came from using that shape, but it’s also symbolic in a way, because a compass points you in the direction that you want to go. It’s pointing us in the direction of a future based on sustainability,” said Michael Mehta, a geography and environmental studies professor at TRU.
Mehta is the project lead and faculty advisor on the solar compass project.
“There will be 62 solar modules on the compass running radially from the centre and it’ll look quite dramatic,” Mehta said.
The compass modules each produce 80 watts of power, making it approximately a 5,000-watt system.

To read the full article click here.

CBC Radio-Kamloops Story About The Solar Compass

The Solar Compass project was featured on CBC-Radio Kamloops.




In this story you will hear from students involved in the project, electrician Amie Schellenberg, and project lead Michael Mehta.


Click here to listen.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

TRU's Solar Sidewalk Featured In University Affairs

An article in Canada's preeminent academic magazine, University Affairs, profiles our solar sidewalk system at Thompson Rivers University.




To read the article, click here.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Update on construction progress

The Solar Compass ground work is complete. Channels have been carved into the existing concrete surface, a vault has been placed in the centre as a pull through for wiring, conduit has been laid and brought into the building, and bridge work has been completed to support modules where they come together across channels. Tech cable has also been run inside the building to eventually connect micro-inverters to a nearby electrical room.


Photo credit: Dean Airini from TRU

PV Wire will be pulled through conduit on Thursday, and the process of mounting the modules will also start that day and likely continue on Friday and possibly the weekend.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

The Solar Compass Project Has Started

With the help of dozens of volunteers [including many students from TRU's trades programs and other parts of campus], generous corporate donors, and the hard work of Trevor Wilson of Con-Ex Civil Contractors, the Solar Compass is beginning to take shape.



Trevor Wilson

Here's a nice story about the project.


Friday, 15 September 2017

Some Early Observations On Performance Of The Solar Sidewalk

As a pilot project, the solar sidewalk was designed and built to provide experience and data prior to building the full Solar Compass on campus at Thompson Rivers University.

It was intentionally placed in a challenging location to test the limits of the technology with respect to shading from trees, buildings, and parked cars. If it can work in this location, solar sidewalks and perhaps even solar roads can work almost anywhere.

Each of the 16 modules making up the solar sidewalk is composed of 20 solar cells, and each solar cell is individually optimized with a shunting diode to bypass cells that are shaded or otherwise obstructed.

To build the solar sidewalk we connected together 4 sets of 4 modules in series with each set going to its own dedicated micro-inverter.

Since the Sun's path creates shadows at different times of the days on the sidewalk  we are able to assess using an online monitoring interface just how these impairments influence power production.

Below is an example of the shadowing that is common on the solar sidewalk. When this happens, the group of 4 modules in that series drops off significantly in power production while the other modules outside of that shaded zone make power.


As the angle of the Sun changes throughout the day relative to the solar sidewalk, the shadow pattern shifts. By the end of the day, all of the module sets produce relatively the same amount of power. The screenshot below is from our monitoring equipment and it shows how things begin to balance out throughout the day. Cell level and micro-inverter level optimization is what makes this project truly special.



Thursday, 14 September 2017

CBC Interview On The Solar Sidewalk

Project lead Dr. Michael Mehta speaks with CBC's Jenifer Norwell about the solar sidewalk. To hear the interview, click here.



Tuesday, 12 September 2017

The Shape Of Things To Come

Our team is working hard coordinating the installation of the Solar Compass to be built on campus in the next few weeks. This project is based on the installation methodology developed during the solar sidewalk project, and it will turn this space in front of the Arts and Education Building into a renewable energy showcase.

The location currently looks like this.



But it will soon look like this!



Monday, 11 September 2017

Guided tour of the solar sidewalk - Sunday September 24 between 11-2

The solar sidewalk project team is proud to be part of a special weekend event known as Green Energy Doors Open.

Between 11AM-2PM on Sunday September 24 you can join us on a guided tour including a behind-the-scenes look at the technology and how it works.

You can find the Solar Sidewalk by referring to the following map. Due to construction on campus, only the Westgate access off McGill Road is open.



To learn more, and to see a list of other projects on tour that weekend, visit the following webpage of the BC Sustainable Energy Association. The registration site for this tour can be found here.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Canada's First Solar Sidewalk Built at Thompson Rivers University

On July 27, 2017, construction of Canada's first solar sidewalk began on campus at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops. This 16 module sidewalk is approximately 40' long and the 1.28 kW DC array is expected to produce around 1300 kWh/year. It is a grid-tie system which works without batteries, and it is connected directly to House 4 - the home of the university's Office of Sustainability. We are going through BC Hydro's net metering program.

The solar sidewalk is the prototype for the much larger Solar Compass project that will start at the end of September 2017. It provided our team with an opportunity to develop a quick, low-cost, and aesthetically pleasing installation methodology that takes advantage of existing infrastructure.

Here's the sidewalk before installation. We intentionally picked a challenging location with lots of shade from trees, buildings, and parked vehicles to test out the technology. In the real world, things get in the way!


With the help of a local concrete company, a channel was cut into the existing sidewalk. This channel is approximately 2" deep and 5" wide. It is the raceway for our wiring.


Oliver Zimmermann from Solar Earth Technology (below) hand fabricates bridges from recycled plastic 2X4s. These bridges provide support between modules across the span of the channel and allow us to create a continuous watertight seal around the modules.


We were lucky enough to have two electricians and one electrical engineer working on this project including TRU electrical foundations faculty member Amie Schellenberg, Ben Giudici from Riverside Energy, and staff electrician Gord Setka. Three dedicated TRU electrical students also did a lot of the grunt work. Thanks Eli, Cody and Bryan. Here's Amie working on the wiring.


Once the surface was prepared and wiring connected, the modules were ready to be glued down. They are only 1/4" higher than the existing sidewalk.



For the sidewalk we decided to frame the entire array with stainless steel. Using conductive metals like this required that the equipment have a common and continuous bond. Here's a photo of the first module with bonding. You'll see a bonding ribbon that connects to a green wire that ultimately goes back to the equipment located in the basement of House 4. A big thank you to Harrison Industrial Contracting Inc in Kamloops for donating the bonding ribbons for this project. They responded instantly to our last minute search for these items to keep the project moving forward.



The solar sidewalk project is also located in front of the university's Daycare Centre. Here a youngster tried out the sidewalk in bare feet. He was one of the first people to ever walk on it! The surface of the modules is designed with a surface texture that gives them excellent slip resistance.


Project lead Dr. Michael Mehta stands beside the sidewalk after a long first day of work.


And, the team from Solar Earth Technologies look on proudly at their newest project. They kindly donated the modules to the university, and have worked closely with the project team to make this a reality after 2+ years of development and planning. From the left to right is Brian Johnson, Oliver Zimmermann, and Dr. Jason Wang.


One of the unique features of the solar sidewalk is that the modules have been specially designed for pedestrian traffic. Normally, a solar module used on the ground - where shading and debris are common - would suffer from significant power loss. These modules have cell-level optimization and each of the 20 cells per module have something called a "shunting diode" to bypass cells that are shaded. This prevents the entire module from experiencing reduced power output. You can see the little rectangles in the corners of each cells - these are the diodes.


Here's what the finished solar sidewalk looks like with its stainless steel frame. For the Solar Compass project we are going frameless!


Solar modules produce DC power yet homes and businesses typically use AC power. The wiring from the solar sidewalk goes underground through conduit into House 4 where it runs into a set of micro-inverters to make the power usable. We used recently released, high-performing micro-inverters made by Enphase Energy called the IQ 6+.  Here's what they look like when all the wiring is done. There is also an internet-based monitoring system that will be made public soon.



Our team is now getting ready for a 64 module array - the Solar Compass. It will be located here on campus.


Thank you to our team of volunteers, Solar Earth Technologies, TRU for funding the installation of this project through a sustainability grant, and our community partner - the Kamloops Chapter of the BC Sustainable Energy Association.

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Article in the Vancouver Sun - Solar road surface to be tested on TRU

The following article about the Solar Compass was published on April 25, 2017.
Researchers at Thompson Rivers University are installing Canada’s first solar electric road surface in Kamloops.
Michael Mehta’s Solar Compass Project will embed 64 super-durable solar panels right outside the main doors of the university’s Arts and Education Building.
“The system will produce enough power to run 40 computers in that building, eight hours a day, 365 days a year,” said Mehta.

To read the full article click here.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

A news article about our project

The following story examines in more detail our solar road/path project.

The first solar road in Canada will be built this summer at the Thompson Rivers University campus in Kamloops. 
The Solar Compass Project is due to be installed in June, a year later than expected as newer technology was made available after plans were made. 
Dr. Michael Mehta, the professor leading the project, says this a chance for Kamloops to be on the front lines of a new technology and sustainable power. 
“What we’re really doing is creating the foundation for future smart roads,” he says. "Universities should be about learning and innovation, if we can’t do it here, where else can you do it?"
To read more click here.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Installation of the Solar Compass is on-schedule for later this Spring

The Solar Compass engineering team met with the leadership team of Solar Earth Technologies yesterday to go over final installation details.



We have narrowed down the methodology for installation of the 64 solar modules and made some key decisions.

We have decided to go with a 11mm thick version of the encapsulated polymer module in black. This module is undergoing certification testing and it's our hope that this will be complete over the next 6 weeks. Each module will contain 50 cells in a 5 X 10 configuration. Note the textured surface to reduce dramatically the risk of slipping. This will likely have more traction than the existing concrete in the area.


We also discussed wiring, optimization, and inverter options and are currently leaning toward the use of micro-inverter technology for fault detection and power production diagnostics.



If all goes well, by this Spring or early Summer we will have Canada's first solar road/path in front of the Arts and Education Building at TRU. Below is a photo of the Solar Earth Technologies team at the Solar Compass location.





Tuesday, 18 October 2016

An interview with Jason Wang from Solar Earth Technologies

On October 4, 2016, the Solar Compass team had a meeting to go over the new generation product that we'll be using here on campus. A lot of discussion unfolded on the advantages of this new product, timelines, and alternative methods of installation.

Cheryl Kabloona, a team member and community partner with the Kamloops Chapter of the BC Sustainable Energy Association, interviewed Jason Wang about the project. You will hear from Jason about the role of his company, the development of different generations of the product, and learn about his passion for this project from this video.


Saturday, 17 September 2016

New generation product under development for the Solar Compass

The Solar Compass project continues to evolve and it will be the beneficiary of a new generation product currently being refined and tested.

Our corporate sponsor, Solar Earth Technologies, has put together a new generation of the solar photovoltaic mosaic.

The first generation product used laminated tempered glass to enclose off-the-shelf solar cells and a texture etched onto the glass for anti-skidding properties.

Solar Earth Technologies has decided to replace that approach with a new generation of the product. This new approach involves using lighter and more flexible materials for encapsulation of high efficiency solar cells. There are many advantages to this new design including:
  • More reliable anti-skidding properties.
  • Higher transparency and therefore higher solar PV conversion gains.
  • Greater robustness to environmental changes.
  • Easier installation and maintenance due to weight savings.
  • Better adaptation to shading situations on the ground.
Solar Earth Technologies will send this new product  for ETL qualification for our project.

As a result of these changes, the new product will not be available for installation this Fall and we will need to wait until the Spring of 2017 when weather is more suitable.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

The opportunities and challenges of solar roads/paths

Here’s a wonderful story about the Solar Compass project at TRU, where art, architecture and future-driven solar technologies converge to inspire a transition to a renewable way of living. 

Tom Bennett of the British Columbia Sustainable Energy Association interviews Dr. Michael Mehta about some of the opportunities and challenges associated with moving forward this exciting new project.

To read the article, click here.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Details from team meeting of April 12, 2016

The Solar Compass team had an important meeting on April 12, where we met with four representatives of Solar Earth Technologies, the company that is donating the solar modules.  They toured the campus and we all got a better understanding of the installation process.

At our meeting with the full team in the morning, some very good ideas came up for our promotional efforts.  In particular, we can do a lot with videos: drone footage, time-lapse animation showing the flow of energy, a “how-to” video and GoPro camera are all being considered.  We may also do interviews of the people involved in the project.   

After that, Dr. Junbiao Zhang, of Solar Earth Technologies, gave the group an overview of the company’s products.  In addition to the roadway modules that will be used in the Solar Compass, they’re working on next generation products Solar Deck and Solar Sidewalk.  These will be ready to apply on existing surfaces and can have weight-detecting sensors to activate lights and music.  In designing all of these, the big challenge is to balance three objectives: strength, a non-slip surface, and transparency for maximum electrical generation.

An afternoon meeting with a smaller technical group went into more detail about the installation.  Ben Giudici of Riverside Energy Systems suggested we initiate the application process for one-time safety certification right away.  He also reviewed some wiring options and proposed using optimizers so that, even if one or two modules are shaded, the other modules will continue to produce at full output. 

Brock Nanson, of Certes Applied and Natural Sciences Ltd, and Edward Wang, of Solar Earth Technologies, continued a discussion they had started over lunch, about what kind of foundation will support the modules from below.  It seems that helical piles are the best solution.  This way, height adjustments can be made in future, and there will be air space below the modules for drainage.  
The meeting ended with Solar Earth Technologies taking measurements to order the modules.  The Kamloops technical group will move forward with drawings and engineering on the use of helical piles.

A local distributor for a product called a Krinner Ground Screw will be contacted to explore this option. The following video of their product for solar applications is promising.




Installing the modules into an already-finished surface will not be simple.  But beyond that, the compass shape itself presents special challenges.  Not only do the custom-made modules need to fit the compass points, but also, the installation must avoid destabilizing the pavement surrounding the compass.  We’ll learn a lot as we go.



Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Team Meeting

We had a great team meeting today for the Solar Compass project at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops. Solar Earth Technologies Inc brought a sample of the glass-photovoltaic material that will be used for a solar road/path on campus, and lots of great discussion ensued about marketing/communication, electrical issues, engineering, and options for installation. Such an amazing team - a revolution in integrated solar technology is on the way.




Tuesday, 5 April 2016

France Will Pave Roads With 620 Miles Of Solar Panels

Thanks to a steep drop in the price of photovoltaic cells, you're more likely to see solar panels on buildings as you drive along.

But what if one day you drove on those solar panels as well?

Embedding solar panels in roadways has been proposed before, but the French government may be about to take the most ambitious step toward that goal yet. To read the full article click here.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Story about the solar compass in The Omega

Reporter Jim Elliot from the student newspaper The Omega at Thompson Rivers University wrote the following about the solar compass.

"TRU will soon be home to an innovative piece of solar technology that will both take care of some of the university’s energy needs and make for a prominent piece of campus architecture.
Solar panels will be embedded into the paved decorative compass that lies in front of the Arts and Education building after being awarded a $36,000 grant from the TRU Sustainability Grant Fund.
According to the team of students, staff, faculty and community members led by Geography professor Michael Mehta, who applied for the grant, the compass will feature glass plates thick enough to be walked or driven on with an embedded photovoltaic layer to collect energy from sunlight." 
To read the full article click here.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

CBC article on the solar compass

The following article on the CBC website provides more detail on the project.






To read more go here.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Kamloops BC Now Story

"Four new sustainability projects will be coming to the Thompson Rivers University Campus.


The projects were submitted to TRU Sustainability Grant Fund by faculty members and students. Each submission included an original video.
A total of $100,000 is available for the projects which must improve the university’s operational environmental performance, foster sustainable literacy and campus community engagement, advance applied research and demonstrate the viability of sustainability technologies..." To read more click here.

Article in TRU Talk

The following article in TRU Talk, a newsletter produced by the Thompson Rivers University Faculty Association (TRUFA), discusses the solar compass project. To read the article click here.