Drake Landing a model for Whitehorse study

Environment: Okotoks solar community considered in Yukon capital

By: Don Patterson

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Mar 20, 2013 06:00 am

A feasibility study is underway to see if the solar heating technology used in the Drake Landing community in Okotoks can be successful in Whitehorse, Yukon.
A feasibility study is underway to see if the solar heating technology used in the Drake Landing community in Okotoks can be successful in Whitehorse, Yukon.
Wheel file photo

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An Okotoks subdivision’s world-leading solar energy technology could be copied to heat a new residential community in the great white north.

A feasibility study is underway to see if the solar heating technology at the heart of the Drake Landing community can be successfully used in Whitehorse, Yukon.

Doug McClenahan, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) research and development manager, said they’re looking at how well a system would perform in the Yukon city, how much it would cost and in what size of home.

“It would really be an exceptional test to build a project up there, but it’s worth evaluating,” he said.

The Drake Landing community is a joint partnership between Natural Resources Canada, the Town of Okotoks, ATCO Gas, developer United Communities and home builder Sterling Homes. The 52-home community was built as a pilot project to test the unique solar heating technology. Solar panels installed on garages behind the homes are used to heat a fluid, which is then pumped underground during the summer months to store the heat. In the winter, the stored energy is then used to heat the homes in the community and natural gas is used to top up additional heating needs.

NRCan, ATCO Gas and the Whitehorse municipal government began work on the Whitehorse study in November and it’s expected to be completed in June. NRCan has contributed $20,000 towards the project.

McClenahan said they are looking at two different sizes for a potential Whitehorse project. One would see between 500 to 600 multi-family homes built as apartment buildings or possibly with town homes included. The other is a larger, 1,000 home community with a larger mix of apartments, town homes and possibly some single-family houses.

If they decide to go ahead with a project in Whitehorse, McClenahan said it would need to be built to a much higher density than Drake Landing.

“When you look at how you can make something like this go forward on a commercial basis, higher density is better,” he said.

A solar community such as Drake Landing in Whitehorse will need to be able to make the most of the sun’s rays when it’s shining. Sunlight is scarce during the winter in Yukon when the sun only shines for a few hours a day, but it’s also plentiful during the other half of the year when it’s sunny almost all day.

As a result, McClenahan said a solar energy system in Yukon will require a much bigger underground storage field because it will need to store as much heat energy as possible in the summer months because of their shorter days in the winter.

Laura Carlson, corporate communications advisor with Yukon Electrical Company, said they have to find the best way to harness the solar energy they get in the winter.

“It’s more the angle of the sunlight, it’s not necessarily dark here, but the sun stays very low in the horizon,” she said. “To optimize solar panels to capture usable energy during the time period just doesn’t work as well as it would to optimize it for, obviously, the summer when we have a tremendous amount of sunlight.”

The already high cost of energy to heat homes in the north is actually an advantage for the use of Drake Landing’s solar technology in Whitehorse.

Carlson said solar energy is also more attractive and competitive compared to other traditional energy sources available in Whitehorse.

She said they don’t use natural gas to heat homes in Whitehorse and other options are limited. The main energy sources for heat are fuel oil and there is a rising reliance on electricity for heating. This is putting more pressure on the territory’s electrical grid, which is not connected to the rest of the North American power grid, said Carlson.

“We’re looking for other options for heating in the north,” she said.

Okotoks officials are looking forward to seeing how the technology proven in this community can now be applied elsewhere.

Okotoks Mayor Bill Robertson said Whitehorse is a good place to study not only the feasibility of using the Drake Landing technology, but also how to take it to a new level.

“If they’re able to (use solar energy) when the sun is at the lowest, when there is no sun for a few months and use the energy from the sun when there is no sun, that is phenomenal,” he said.


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