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Salt Spring Island 2014, a small group of committed environmentalists got together to raise awareness of the problems of global warming and the need to increase the use of solar power to meet our demands for clean energy. 

Their first project was to install solar panels on the Gulf Islands Secondary School roof. It was to be a community project funded mainly by local donations. The fund raising exceeded their wildest dreams, the money was raised in six months, and the panels were installed in November 2014. The electricity generated by the solar panels is used by the school and the money saved on their hydro bill pays each year for a “Solar Scholarship” to help a graduating student follow a course in an environmentally related subject. 

Forward to the present day, the project has been successfully running for just over eight years and eight happy students have benefited. Since then, the group has undertaken a number of projects on the island, most recently helping with a large solar installation on two sheltered housing apartment units.  This installation is six times the size of the school project, and costs of the equipment have fallen substantially in the intervening period. The cost savings on hydro are helping to keep the rents more affordable for the tenants.

You might ask why the group is championing the use of Photovoltaics*(PV) when we are blessed in BC with an abundance of hydro power?  The answer is that we need to at least double our generating capacity in BC if we are to meet our goals to transition from fossil fuels to the widespread use of electricity for transport, heating and industry.1

Are more dams a better answer?  They are not really an option, certainly not on the scale needed.  Suitable sites are now very scarce and you just have to look at the environmental and financial costs of the Site C dam to understand that more projects like that are a non-starter.  Besides that, the cost of solar-generated electricity is equal to or less than any other currently proposed technology.

One of the criticisms of large solar installations mounted on the ground is that they are often sited on farmland, displacing crops and removing the land from agricultural use.  A relatively new approach is to combine solar installations with crop or livestock production – already used in Europe and parts of the USA, the buzzword for it is agrivoltaics, agriculture plus photovoltaics.  The latest project is to introduce this to BC. The group has leased an area of farmland to carry out trials and hope to demonstrate the win-win of solar produced electricity with good crop yields.  This is a five-to-ten-year project and ground has been broken at the farm to get the land in good shape for our first plantings next year.

The key to all this has been teamwork.  We are a small group of eight or so members, with projects frequently being managed by smaller numbers, however, we have found that a group can accomplish much more together than if we operated as individuals.  Similarly, if you the reader want to help with countering global warming or carbon emissions you might consider joining the CATS team at the Cathedral.


*Photovoltaics or PV for short is the techie word for solar electrics



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