“Solar Compass” project to bring embedded solar tech to campus

Members of the Solar Compass team at the installation site. Left to right: Michael Mehta, Claire Irvine, Cheryl Kabloona, Brandan Dallamore, Ben Giudici, Tavis Knox, Carley Rookes, John Church. (Bill Hadgkiss)

Members of the Solar Compass team at the installation site. Left to right: Michael Mehta, Claire Irvine, Cheryl Kabloona, Brandan Dallamore, Ben Giudici, Tavis Knox, Carley Rookes, John Church. (Bill Hadgkiss)

TRU will soon be home to an innovative piece of solar technology that will both take care of some of the university’s energy needs and make for a prominent piece of campus architecture.

Solar panels will be embedded into the paved decorative compass that lies in front of the Arts and Education building after being awarded a $36,000 grant from the TRU Sustainability Grant Fund.

According to the team of students, staff, faculty and community members led by Geography professor Michael Mehta, who applied for the grant, the compass will feature glass plates thick enough to be walked or driven on with an embedded photovoltaic layer to collect energy from sunlight.

The group says that the solar modules embedded in the compass will generate enough energy to power 40 computers operating eight hours per day. The panels have an estimated service life of 25 to 30 years. The group also pledged to install a monitoring system and display to show energy production online and inside the AE building in real time.

“It’s a pretty small amount, relatively speaking. It would be less than one per cent of our overall use. It’s more just a chance to showcase the newer technology,” said Jim Gudjonson, TRU’s Director of Environment and Sustainability.

Solar Earth Technologies from Vancouver will be donating the panels, which are valued at approximately $60,000 Mehta said.

A rendering of what the installed Solar Compass would look like from above in front of AE. (Submitted)

A rendering of what the installed Solar Compass would look like from above in front of AE. (Submitted)

The grant from TRU will cover costs including installation and wiring to incorporate the AE building’s electrical system. Installation will be performed by Riverside Energy Systems, Mehta said.

Mehta estimated that the compass could be up and running by the end of August.

“The solar compass is an example of how universities can collaborate with the private sector and non-profit sector to develop sustainable energy technologies that have the potential to make a difference. Only by working together can we unleash the power of creativity needed to make a lasting and significant contribution to a world increasingly threatened by climate change,” Mehta said in a press release.

The solar compass will be one of only a few projects in the world using this kind of technology. George Washington University installed a 100-square-foot solar sidewalk in 2013 and in the Netherlands, a 70-metre-long solar bike path has been operational since 2014.

Meanwhile, a crowdfunding effort in favour of solar roadways has received nearly $2.5 million in donations and the French government recently pledged to pave 1,000 kilometres of the country’s roads with solar panels over the next five years.

Whether it is built into campus pathways or not, solar energy will play a larger role in meeting TRU’s energy needs in the future.

“We are planning on a large solar farm on one of our newer buildings in the next couple of years, or on top of one of our larger buildings. We do have a pretty good size solar panel farm on the Student Union Building,” Gudjonson said.