Solar compass paving the way for a more sustainable future

The Solar Compass project as seen on Monday, Oct. 9. (Juan Cabrejo/The Omega)

TRU’s solar compass project is wrapping up construction and offering not only a renewable energy source, but marking a milestone for sustainability on campus. The project will use the existing compass on the sidewalk outside the Arts and Education building as a platform for the new technology.

“The inspiration initially came from using that shape, but it’s also symbolic in a way, because a compass points you in the direction that you want to go. It’s pointing us in the direction of a future based on sustainability,” said Michael Mehta, a geography and environmental studies professor at TRU.

Mehta is the project lead and faculty advisor on the solar compass project.

“There will be 62 solar modules on the compass running radially from the centre and it’ll look quite dramatic,” Mehta said.

The compass modules each produce 80 watts of power, making it approximately a 5,000-watt system.

“Annually, at a horizontal angle that is totally flat, we estimate that it will make about 5,100 kilowatt hours per year of electricity. That 5,100-kilowatt hours per year is equivalent of running one, maybe two, of our computer labs with printers full time,” Mehta said.

Mehta said that he wanted to work on the solar compass project for a variety of reasons, but the main cause was to showcase the advancements that have been made in sustainable energy.

“Solar can be more advanced and more integrated than people think. We usually think of solar as something that’s on a rooftop or maybe in a field. In those instances, it’s often out of sight and as a result, it’s not top of mind,” Mehta said.

According to Mehta, one great way to keep solar in people’s minds is to integrate it into existing infrastructure like a road, a driveway or in this case a sidewalk.

“It demonstrates very clearly, because people see it all of the time, that we’re in a renewable energy era. I’m very interested in making people aware of our options and think innovatively about these technologies,” Mehta said.

Mehta adds that integrating solar energy can be much more aesthetically pleasing than just placing panels on a rooftop or in a field.

“I like to think of the compass, because it’s really high tech and also beautiful, as an illustration of where art meets science and where science meets art,” Mehta said.

Mehta expects the reaction to the compass to be mostly positive, but he does anticipate some students to be skeptical of the logistics of the project.

“People are naturally and rightfully asking questions about how it will fare in the winter months, will it be slippery, can it be maintained,” Mehta said.

Mehta said that by having the compass on campus it will be like a live lab for students to conduct research and find answers to people’s questions about solar energy. The solar sidewalk that was installed in the summer in front of the daycare was a good logistical test run for the solar compass project.

“It’s there and it’s been making power since July. People have had a chance to walk on it, to see it,” Mehta said. “We had my students skateboard over it, so I think it’s just a matter of familiarity and comfort level.”

Mehta adds that he hopes there will be an opportunity to expand upon the solar sidewalk and the solar compass, and integrate more solar technology into existing infrastructure at TRU.

“We are in a naturally solar rich environment here in Kamloops, we have some of the best solar potential in Canada and the conditions here are really ripe for expanding that,” Mehta said.

You can see the solar compass for yourself outside the Arts and Education building.