Over $5 million for alternative energy

barbara black

Andreas Athienitis leads the cross-Canada Solar Buildings Research Network, which also includes three other Concordia researchers: Louis Lopez, Ted Stathopoulos and Radu Zmeureanu.

Photo by andrew dobrowolskyj

With fuel prices rising and the demand for alternative energy sources growing exponentially, the Solar Buildings Research Network could not have come at a better time.

Twenty-four researchers from 10 Canadian universities have joined forces to develop the solar-optimized homes and commercial buildings of the future.

The federal government’s financial support, provided over five years, comes from NSERC’s Strategic Network Grants program ($4.8 million), Natural Resources Canada ($430,000), and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation ($250,000).

The network is also counting on the involvement of Hydro-Québec ($75,000) and more than 20 other Canadian industry partners, all with an interest in using solar energy in buildings.

The principal investigator and scientific leader of the Canada-wide network is Andreas Athienitis, professor in the Department of Building, Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Concordia University Research Chair, Tier 1.

Just consider this: The solar energy that falls on the roof of a typical home far exceeds its energy requirements. That means there’s potential for that building to achieve, on average, zero net energy consumption.

The trick is to optimize the useful heat, electricity and daylight produced. The Solar Network has been hard at work on the task for almost a year now, but this first NSERC network to be based at Concordia was only announced by Science and Research Canada on May 30.

“We made the case to the international review panel that the Solar Network was a national need and of strategic interest to Canada,” Athienitis said.

“Now, for the first time, there is a concerted effort to perform advanced research on solar energy utilization in buildings while improving the overall building performance.”

Athienitis focuses on integrating solar photovoltaic, solar thermal, and daylighting technologies into buildings. He is also developing innovative solar facades and roofs integrated with heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems.

“My group takes a holistic view of solar energy utilization, encompassing energy efficiency and, if possible, energy-positive buildings with a high-quality indoor environment,” he explained.

“The traditional approach was to separate energy efficiency from solar energy utilization. We worked hard to convince our partners that our integrated approach worked and we succeeded.”

Solar power could displace artificial light with natural light in commercial and institutional buildings, conserving energy while providing employees in these buildings with a better working environment. Solar power is also fail-safe.

“We still remember the widespread damage cause by the ice storm of 1999, possibly the costliest natural disaster to hit Quebec,” Athienitis said. “Homes with photovoltaic roofs would have provided enough power to keep them in operation, preventing most of the damage.”

With sustainable solar products becoming more readily available at lower cost, Canada may be able to compete with countries such as Japan and Germany, who are significantly ahead of other developed industrialized nations in this technology.

“Solar power is sustainable and can solve our energy needs,” Athienitis said. “The sun is what makes life possible on Earth.

“Sustainability does not have to come at the expense of our quality of life. With smart solar energy utilization, we can readily improve the quality of our built environment while meeting sustainable development constraints.”

Concordia will host the Canadian Solar Buildings Conference this summer. It will be the 31st conference held by the Solar Energy Society of Canada (SESCI), and the first by the Network. For more information, go to www.solarbuildings.ca