Encouraging energy efficiency and renewable energy on Vancouver Island

Solar PV Demonstration Program

As part of our effort to promote clean, distributed community energy generation, we embarked on a program to help educate interested community partners about the benefits of solar photovoltaic (PV) electricity, in particular how much costs have decreased in the past five years.  Given our northern latitude and often rainy weather, it’s not a surprise that many don’t realize that solar PV makes sense in BC, particularly in the southern part of the province.  In these areas we actually receive more annual sunshine than Germany does, who until recently was a world leader in solar PV power generation.

After a targeted 2016 request for expressions of interest from Nanaimo and area community organizations, municipal governments and businesses, ESVI selected four community partners to work with using these selection criteria.  Once partner selection was complete, the rest of the program was relatively straightforward.  Members of our volunteer technical team visited the first community partner’s sites, discussed their needs and then developed concept design(s) and completed a report outlining the solar PV potential and estimated costs.  To date, one of these original projects is installed, one is at the pre-feasibility report issue stage and the other two are still in the information gathering stage.

Going forward starting in 2017, ESVI decided to continue a targeted Solar PV Demonstration Program but retain Island Community Solar Coop to perform the technical assessment and report preparation.  The first of those assessments, for strata housing development, is now under way.

For current status and details of our Solar PV Demonstration Program projects, please see below.  For a summary of some of the important pitfalls of solar PV to avoid, have a look at this presentation from our 2018 AGM.

Solar PV Installation Specification

To ensure our demonstration projects were successful, we knew we had to have good specifications – the only problem was that since solar PV had only recently gained popularity in BC, there weren’t any comprehensive BC specifications available that covered the broad scope we needed in a concise package.  Luckily, our technical team had previous experience with developing engineering project specifications and so we proceeded to develop our own for solar PV installation.  For more information about the specification and to get a free copy of this comprehensive document go to our Solar PV Specification page.

Nanaimo Foodshare

The non-profit Nanaimo Foodshare building on Pine Street in Nanaimo has been a showcase for energy efficiency modifications and so it was a natural fit for a solar PV installation.  Our concept design suggested that a system of about 2 kW DC in capacity was possible on the roof.

We performed a shading analysis and then determined the approximate amount of annual electricity generation that would be expected using NREL’s PV Watts online calculation tool.

In parallel with the technical assessment, Nanaimo Foodshare applied for and received grant funding from Mid-Island Coop to pay for installation of the proposed solar PV system.

To ensure maximum value for Foodshare, we assisted them by issuing a request for proposals, including detailed specifications, to solar PV vendors and received a number of creative proposals from very supportive local firms.  We then provided Nanaimo Foodshare with a spreadsheet summary of all the aspects of each proposal to simplify review.

In the end, Nanaimo Foodshare selected Osprey Electric Ltd. to supply and install their solar PV system.  The Osprey design consisted of (8) 275 watt mono-crystalline HESPV solar modules, broken into two banks of four modules, along with Enphase M215 micro-inverters, giving a system capacity of 2.2 kW DC (1.8 kW AC).  The system was designed to be grid-tied to the building service under the BC Hydro Net Metering Program.  Local engineering firm Herold Engineering was retained by Osprey to perform a structural assessment.  This was prudent, as it was discovered that the old style roof rafters of the Foodshare building required an increased number of attachment points to spread the system load (apparently this is not normally a problem with more modern buildings that employ premanufactured roof trusses).

Osprey Electric’s team installed all the equipment on a dry day at the end of February 2017 under the supervision of the ESVI technical team.  Within a few days the system was approved by BC Hydro, fully commissioned and generating solar electricity for use by Nanaimo Foodshare!  Sadly, in August of 2017, half of the solar PV system was stolen in a brazen after-hours operation.  Much to Foodshare’s gratitude, the community once again stepped up and Osprey Electric Ltd, Shift Energy Group and others donated equipment, labour and funds to reinstate the solar PV system.  The new configuration consists of a total of (9) 260 watt and 275 watt solar modules and Enphase M215 micro-inverters, giving a system capacity of 2.4 kW DC (2 kW AC).

Like most micro-inverter manufacturers, Enphase has an online application to allow solar PV system owners to view the performance of their system and to download operating data for assessment purposes.  To view the real-time electricity generation of the Nanaimo Foodshare solar PV system please click on the following link:

Nanaimo Foodshare Solar PV System Real-Time Electricity Generation Chart

ESVI is extremely proud of how the community came together to make this first demonstration project come to fruition.  To hear more about this wonderful story, check out the video below, generously prepared by Manly Media:

Nanaimo Ice Center

The City of Nanaimo expressed a keen interest in evaluating the potential for solar PV systems on a number of their buildings so ESVI happily took on the task of assessing the possibilities at the Nanaimo Ice Center (NIC).  The size of this massive building meant that the project would dwarf the scope of the Nanaimo Foodshare project; in fact it ended up hitting the 100 kW limit of BC Hydro’s Net Metering Program!

To date, our technical team has worked with the City and others to develop several concept layouts, assess the lifetime solar PV electricity generation potential using NREL’s System Advisor Model software, complete a preliminary structural assessment and design, request budget quotes from vendors, develop capital cost estimates, prepare financial analysis and find sources of senior government funding suited to this type of community project.  We issued the detailed report to the City in early January 2018 for review.  Pending availability of funding from the City or senior government grants, we may see solar PV on the roof of the NIC within the next year or two!

Confidential Strata Housing Complex 1

This Nanaimo area residential strata complex consumes a significant amount of BC Hydro Step 2 electricity for common area lighting and services.  Accordingly, its technically a great fit for solar PV!  To date, the concept layout has been completed and design criteria have been submitted for owner approval.  The concept layout suggests a grid-tied solar PV system capacity of about 50 kW.  All going well, Island Community Solar Coop expects to have the assessment and report complete early in 2018.

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