By Kristian Rasmussen
A valley town is the site of a scientific study to garner a greener grid.
Liz Brennan, a Masters of Science student in sustainable energy development at the University of Calgary, is looking to make Canal Flats the topic of her research thesis on building a community energy system.
Ms. Brennan is concentrating her research on Canal Flats because the town represents a traditional Canadian small town and has several natural benefits when it comes to renewable power. She wants to be able to apply her research to other small towns that could also benefit from a green grid.
“Canal Flats has tons of wind on Columbia Lake and the Kootenay River is right there,” she said. “In terms of looking at renewable energy there are a lot of possibilities.”
A community energy system is an electricity grid that is powered by renewable energy sources, like solar and wind power, and is built close to where electricity is being used.
Such systems are designed to service smaller communities that are separated from urban areas and require less power. The close proximity of the energy sources help to save energy by cutting power line loss, which results from transporting energy over long distances.
When power is generated at a traditional power plant, it has to travel on large transmission lines and is then reduced to run along smaller distribution lines in towns and cities, and further to enter a home, Ms. Brennan said.
Every time a power line is reduced energy is lost.
“If you only have to transfer electricity from a couple of kilometres away then you are looking at a one to two per cent line loss instead of 10 to 20 per cent,” Ms. Brennan said. “It is not that it is that much of a problem per-se, but I think a community energy system is just a better way to create energy.”
Ms. Brennan will be entering all of the data that she collects on Canal Flats into the Renewable Energy Technology Screen software, which is a free program published by Natural Resources Canada.
The software is designed to allow researchers a chance to look at the feasibility of putting towns like Canal Flats on a green grid. The software measures cost, energy requirements and climate, to find out if a project is capable of going ahead.
Along with looking at the financial and technical aspects of green energy, Ms. Brennan is also factoring in the human equation. She will be interviewing random households in Canal Flats and discussing how they would like to see energy produced in the future.
“We will hopefully be able to pinpoint what conditions need to be met for a community to proceed with a project like this,” Ms. Brennan said.
“We want to find what values the community holds that must be respected in order for a development to go ahead that everyone is on board with.”
Community energy systems would not be a major change for the valley because looking for ways to save power and cut costs are already common in the area.
“The Canfor mill in Radium is using a combined heating process for drying wood and Skookumchuk is using a steam turbine for electricity as a byproduct of their process,” the researcher said.
“In terms of interest there is a lot of potential already in the valley because people are already finding out ways of making processes more efficient.”
Expect to see Ms. Brennan around Canal Flats during the upcoming weeks, as she seeks out alternative energy solutions for the community. For information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.