When students at Okanagan College’s new Centre of Excellence in Penticton plug in their laptops this fall, they’ll only have to look up and outside to see the source of their energy.

The solar energy system at Okanagan College’s newest building is the largest system developed in Western Canada. SkyFire Energy, one of Canada’s most experienced solar EPC contractors, was the project developer for the 260 kW solar power system which is using 1,106 Conergy P solar modules, on the rooftop of Okanagan College’s newest building on its Penticton campus. Generating about 292,500 kWh per year, the solar energy system will help the building – the Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Building Technologies and Renewable Energy Conservation – meet the goal of being energy neutral over the course of an annual operating cycle.

“The solar potential in Western Canada is exceptional. It will take industry leaders, like SkyFire and the Okanagan College, to ensure that this market grows to meet that potential.” – Jared Donald, President of Conergy Canada.

With school back in session and students on campus, the college will have a three-fold benefit from the system. One, the solar energy system will help the College reach the goal of meeting the Living Building Challenge of net-zero energy and water consumption. In the Okanagan’s sunny summer months, the solar energy system will at times exceed the building’s needs and the energy will be fed into the grid. In the winter, the College will draw from the grid to meet the campus’s energy needs. Decreased operating costs in terms of energy consumption are another benefit, but the College will also benefit from educational benefits for students.

The photovoltaic system will be used as a learning tool and integrated into the college’s trades and technology classes. With the interconnection recently completed, students and teachers have already reacted positively to the system.

The Okanagan College Students Union (OCSU), for instance, decided to contribute to the College’s fundraising efforts around the building. Prompting the investment decision was knowledge that  the College was demonstrating leadership in incorporating sustainability into the building and curriculum.

“When you sit down and realize that the power for the projectors and computers is coming from the sun, and that at times the building will produce more energy than it will use, you appreciate how we can use technology and innovation to address problems,” says Cory Nelmes, a student who has been anticipating her first classes in the building, and who is also Financial Co-ordinator for the OCSU.

Apprentice and entry-level electricians being trained by the College will also be able to learn how the system functions, monitor energy production, and see how the system integrates into the rest of the building’s infrastructure and with the municipal power grid.

The decision to deploy solar energy at the campus was an easy one for Okanagan College. The climate and rooftop were ideally suited for solar energy.

“Even as we were planning and building the Centre of Excellence, students and staff were excited by the energy-saving efforts and technologies being employed. Sustainability ranks high among our goals at the College, and the solar energy system on this building is a key component of our efforts,” says Okanagan College’s Director of Facilities, Steve Robinson.

“We at SkyFire Energy are excited to have been involved in another school-based educational system as it will allow the current generation of students to learn the benefits of solar first hand. This installation and Okanagan College training will help to grow the solar industry in British Columbia and Western Canada.  A showcase project such as this one provides an excellent reference point for the industry and raises the bar for photovoltaic installations in Canada,” said David Kelly, an owner of SkyFire Energy. SkyFire Energy chose Conergy P modules due to their low-price, high-performance characteristics, their Conergy-backed warranty and quality control and for the excellent customer service and resources from Conergy technical and sales staff.

“Installations of this size and profile built in Western Canada really showcase the diversity of the Canadian photovoltaic market,” stated Jared Donald, President of Conergy Canada. “The solar potential in Western Canada is exceptional. It will take industry leaders, like SkyFire and the Okanagan College, to ensure that this market grows to meet that potential. We applaud Okanagan College for its environmental leadership and innovative education programs.”

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