Solar Colwood; Constructing Sustainable Homes

by Paula Steele 

It started with a question: How do you encourage 6,000 homeowners to make their homes more energy efficient? The City of Colwood had just completed its Community Energy and Emissions Plan, which identified that energy retrofits to existing homes would help the community reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, as well as creating local jobs andreducing home energy bills.

The Mayor’s Task Force on Energy and Economic Growth, led by Councillor Judith Cullington, applied to Natural Resources Canada for funding to demonstrate whole community change, backed by an extensive partnership. The idea was built on a successful venture by the T’Sou-ke Nation, now “the most solar community in Canada,” which had installed solar thermal (hot water) systems on many residences and an extensive solar photovoltaic array that feeds electricity back into the grid. 

In January 2011, the City of Colwood received a grant of $3.9 million from the federal Clean Energy Fund for its Solar Colwood program, a demonstration of whole community change to energy conservation and renewable clean energy. Most of the funding provides thousands of dollars in incentives for homeowners and businesses to retrofit homes with solar hot water systems. However the program also includes demonstrations of solar photovoltaic, electric vehicle charging infrastructure, ductless split heat pump, and smart home technologies. The resulting program is putting Colwood on the map as a “green learning university city.” “Although the program is still fairly new, Colwood has already made a name for itself as an innovative and learning community,” says Cullington. “We hope others will follow our lead.” 

Savings and Benefits 

Installations of solar hot water and ductless split heat pumps are making a difference to homeowners’ energy costs. One happy homeowner tweeted: “20% savings on my energy bill!” Another refers to solar hot water as her “RRSP,” providing her with cheap hot water well into her retirement years. 

Colwood resident Keith Encinas agrees. Accessing a full slate of Solar Colwood grants to install both a ductless split heat pump and solar hot water heating, Encinas looks forward to the coming summer when he estimates his family of seven will be enjoying “free hot showers thanks to the energy of the sun.” Other Colwood residents are following his lead. As of January 31, 2012, just six months after the launch of the program, contracts have been signed for 21 solar hot water systems and 46 ductless split heat pumps. 

To access the incentives, home and business owners are first required to complete energy assessments that provide customized suggestions on how to improve the energy efficiency of their home or business. Options may range from upgrades to lighting and insulation to airsealing and space or hot water heating. According to City Engineer, Michael Baxter: “Though we are promoting solar hot water and ductless split heat pumps through the Solar Colwood incentives, any move towards improving building energy efficiency in Colwood is a move in the right direction.” 

Award Winning Partnerships 

The Solar Colwood program works with the Province, BC Hydro, T’Sou-ke Nation, Royal Roads University, the WestShore Chamber of Commerce, Camosun College, developers and others. 

The collaboration among Solar Colwood, BC Hydro and Royal Roads University won the 2011 Climate & Energy Action Award for Public Service Organization and Local Government Collaboration for innovative partnerships. Based on Solar Colwood data, Royal Roads University students are exploring the “social diffusion” rates of solar hot water systems throughout Colwood, quantifying the residential energy savings gained from solar hot water systems, identifying the impact of an increased EnerGuide Rating on home valuation. 

Job Creation and Local Economic Investments 

Tom Lundrigan of AmeriSpec, a Certified Energy Advisor conducting home energy assessments, and James Smyth of Pacific Solar Smart Homes Inc., each attribute their recent growth in business to Solar Colwood. Each recently hired new staff in order to keep up with the demands of the program. James Smyth hired Ed Hale, a recent graduate of the CanSIA solar hot water installation training certificate program. Hale completed his training along with five other First Nations members thanks to sponsorship funding from Solar Colwood. Ed Hale, a member of the T’Sou-ke Nation, was inspired by the success of the recent solar thermal and solar photovoltaic installation on his reserve and when the opportunity to train in the field of clean renewable energy appeared, he jumped at it. “I could have gone to the oil rigs,” said Hale, “but at the end of the day, I like to look back and see positive results from my work, so that I can feel connected to the sustainable ways our ancestors lived.” 

Solar Colwood hopes that over the course of the three year program the community will be able to look back and see positive results – for homeowners in reduced energy bills, for local businesses in capacity building towards a green economy, and for the environment in the form of reduced greenhouse gas emissions, cleaner air and a healthier community that has moved towards energy conservation and renewable clean energy.

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For more information see www.solarcolwood.ca To book a showroom visit, contact J. Scott, Solar Colwood Program

[From WS March/April 2012]

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