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By Russ Cooper
It’s probably not the first time a researcher has celebrated his or her work with a more than a few Molsons, but this may be the first time one had done so with more than a few Molsons.
When the MB Building officially opened on Sept. 22, Building, Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor and Tier 1 Concordia Research Chair in Solar Energy Andreas Athienitis was in the company of a nearly a dozen members of the Molson family – among others – to introduce to the larger community the solar panel system developed by the NSERC Solar Buildings Research Network (SBRN) atop the new state-of-the-art structure.
The MB Building is crowning jewel is the 300 sq m solar panel system. This is the world’s first fully functional building integrated photovoltaic/thermal (BIPV/T) installation (able to generate both heat and electricity simultaneously) that uses a high-efficiency distributed air inlet technology with this particular configuration in a highrise office building. “The energy system isn’t part of the wall; it is the wall,” says Athienitis, the SBRN’s Principal Investigator and Scientific Director.
The panels absorb solar energy and convert it to electrical energy. At the same time, they also take in fresh air from the exterior and heat it with solar energy, converting it to thermal energy to fulfill a portion of MB’s heating requirements by way of fans behind the panel façade. “Other panels can capture thermal energy, but can’t really use it. Here, we can. It’s a very optimized concept.”
The fans have a nifty secondary function, too; they cool the panels and help them reach optimum cooler temperatures so as to generate more electricity. (The panels can get 40°C hotter than outdoor air.)
When the sun is shining, the system can provide 25 kW of electricity and 75 kW of heat; enough energy to power 1 250 CFL lightbulbs or seven average Canadian homes year-round.
What’s more, when the building’s energy demands are low, the panel system may continue to generate power for export to the provincial electricity network, transforming the building from a passive consumer to a net energy producer – a first for an office building.
Athienitis has had some very capable company to develop the system. Alongside himself and SBRN Network Manager Meli Stylianou, MSc building engineering graduate Brendan O’Neill, who served as the main project engineer, was a key figure from the project’s inception (O’Neill has recently left SBRN for employment in a large engineering consulting company). Also integral were BCEE undergrad James Bambara and BCEE master’s student Mathieu St-Germain, who both helped work on the instrumentation and weather monitoring portions, and will continue with the project.
As well, the project couldn’t have been completed without the help of partners NRCan, PV module supplier Day4 Energy, Conserval Engineering and Sustainable Energy Technologies as well as NSERC research funding.
The MB Building is one of three full-scale BIPVIT projects currently being conducted at the SBRN. The other two are separate-but-related zero-energy houses (see Journal, Dec. 6, 2007); both projects also headed by Athienitis. All three projects are funded by Natural Resources Canada’s Technology Early Action Measures.
These technologies are part of his major initiatives to create zero-energy communities in the future. While many of the details are still under wraps, the goal would be to equip houses in a village or neighbourhood with technology able to generate enough energy for all heating and cooling requirements, and also to generate enough power for one electric car per home.
“When you look at the complete picture, it’s completely tangible,” he explained. “It can be done now, but the question is just cost-effectiveness which can be achieved through our research and demonstration projects.”