Text and photo by Marie Powell
Buildings use a lot of energy. We only have to see a city at night to realize that. Harnessing the sun to power a skyscraper sounds like the stuff of science fiction - but in Montreal, it's becoming science fact.
Concordia University has been a leading researcher into renewable energy sources for at least 25 years. In December, 2008, it became the site of a unique 17-story building that gets its light and heat from solar power. It's called the John Molson School of Business (left), and it's the first of its kind. I saw this building first-hand in June, at a conference on the Concordia campus in downtown Montreal.
At the very top you can see the dark solar panels across the width of the building, called the solar facade. This facade provides provides both heat and electricity, and is known as a Photovoltaic/Thermal (PV/T) application.
On the Concordia website, there's a useful document explaining how the energy system works, complete with flow charts and close-up pictures of the panels (SBRN Demonstration Solar Project). According to this report, the solar panels take fresh air from outside and heat it as much as 20 degrees on sunny winter days, maximizing energy efficiency even in cold weather. That's important because, overall, buildings use about 30 percent of the secondary energy produced in Canada, such as natural gas and oil, and about half of its electricity. I wonder how much energy could be saved, if all of Canada's buildings got light and heat from solar power.
Many partners collaborated on this project, including Concordia's Building, Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), and Conserval Engineering, a company that won a major Renewable Energy award for the PV/Thermal Solar Wall (this link shows an online video of the award.)
Here are some resources to check for more information:
"Concordia to head research into cold-climate solar power technologies" (Montreal Gazette, June 8 2006)
"Innovative Solar Technology Showcased in State-of-the-art Building," by Laura Nichol (NRCan website, March 2009)
SBRN Demonstration Solar Project (pdf document), Concordia website (www.bcee.concordia.ca)