Solar arrays illuminate commitment to renewable energy in Edmonton

August 19, 2022

Craig Marple’s family hears about solar energy wherever they go. In fact, they’re getting a little tired of it.

“My wife just rolls her eyes at me now,” Marple laughs.

“When I see somewhere that could handle a solar array or we drive by one of our current projects, I go out of my way to talk about it to my family.”

As the Program Manager in charge of planning and design of City of Edmonton solar projects, Craig Marple sees potential for solar projects everywhere.

Solar in Edmonton just makes sense, he says. The city experiences about 2,300 hours of bright sunshine every year. Once a project is paid off, the sun is a free energy source. Edmonton continues to harness that resource in a big way as the largest rooftop array in Canada is set to come online on the roof of the Edmonton EXPO Centre. 

Edmonton EXPO Centre

The partially completed rooftop solar array on the Edmonton EXPO Centre, July 2022. Courtesy: Reitzel Visuals

“The Edmonton EXPO Centre is a unicorn of sorts when it comes to rooftop solar panels,” says City of Edmonton Program Manager, Brad Watson. “Its size and dimensions, unobstructed sightlines and lack of interfering rooftop infrastructure allowed us to build an array of this size.”

Design on the project began in October 2021 and construction began in March 2022. The team is aiming to have construction complete by November 2022. By the time they’re done, the team will have installed over 5,000 solar modules spanning more than 17,930 square metres on the roof above Halls D-H. To put that into perspective, the average residential array would have 15 to 20 modules.

Phase 1 is expected to generate enough power for one-third of the EXPO Centre’s electricity. It will offset energy consumption equivalent to that of 375 homes or removing about 565 automobiles from the street every year. 

The EXPO Centre’s phase one solar system is expected to last at least 25 years and pay back its investment after as few as 10 or as many as 17 years. Operational savings are expected to be between $290,000 and $460,000 a year. 

The solar panel array at the Queen Elizabeth pool provides about 40 per cent of the electricity the pool use

Up and running

There are six solar panel projects built by the City that are up and running: Queen Elizabeth Pool, the Meadows and Jasper Place Fire Halls, Blatchford District Energy Sharing Service Building, Davies Garage and the Edmonton Convention Centre.

Over the next year, an additional 11 arrays on buildings like fire stations and transit garages are expected to come online, including the Edmonton EXPO Centre.

The solar array on top of the Ellerslie Fire Station in south Edmonton is one of four on city fire halls. The energy it produces is equivalent to removing 24 vehicles from the streets every year.

“Solar gives us good value and allows us the opportunity to install it on a number of projects,” Marple said.

Climate resilience

Of the 17 solar projects built or to be built by the City, 13 will remain in the City’s solar profile, generating more than 3,450 kilowatt hours per year. That’s the equivalent of 322 homes’ annual electricity usage or getting 750 automobiles off the road every year. In the 2019-22 budget cycle, the City invested $16.5 million into solar projects.

As Edmonton transitions to a low-carbon future, the possibility of a solar array will be part of the discussion for every new City building. 

That’s good news for Craig Marple and fair warning for his family. 

“The solar we’re putting in is reliable, and we have a lot of confidence in its success for each of the projects we’re doing,” Marple says.

Editor’s note: The picture at the top of the post, taken on Aug. 18, 2022, showcases some of the 5,745 solar modules now installed on the roof of the Edmonton EXPO Centre. For more information on residential solar in Edmonton, including how to get a rebate for installing your own solar array, visit the Change Homes for Climate Solar Program.