FOREST INK: Solar systems help reduce hydropower costs

Jim Hilton

forest ink

I was heartened by the news last week that Urcacho First Nation is building one of the largest off-grid solar projects in Canada. Not only will the project reduce the use of millions of liters of diesel, it could also be a catalyst for the introduction of other forms of bioenergy to complement solar systems.

I’ve been experimenting with solar for over a decade, starting with using six solar panels to power my entertainment venue. While I still heat with wood and use propane for most cooking, I have a refrigerator and can use most of the appliances I use off the grid. I recently took a bigger step and installed 30 solar panels on my home near Williams Lake. The panels have been installed on the roof of my shop and I hope to be connected to BC Hydro this weekend.

For anyone considering adding a solar system while connected to the grid, the biggest decision is whether to go with a microinverter or a more expensive battery backup system. Microinverters allow you to put power into the grid, reducing your use of BC Hydro, but if the grid fails, you won’t be able to use solar power.

Our grid here has been relatively reliable for the past 30 years, but due to the push for heat pumps and electric vehicles and the projected increase in electricity demand, we decided to go with a battery system. Another reason could be if BC Hydro encourages solar customers to reduce costs through such incentives, giving them the option to use backup power during peak usage periods.

I’ve talked to many people who have added solar panels, and none regret investing the money, especially those who are about to pay off their investment and enjoy a significant reduction in their electric bills.

As mentioned above, as the price of solar panels drops and more reliable and cheaper batteries become available, off-grid communities can begin to take advantage of solar systems. Any wood processing facility in the community can supplement solar energy on cloudy days and at night. If wildfire smoke becomes more common and studies show more pollutants are found in smoke and ash, clean-burning biomass facilities will become mandatory.

The latest news describes how high temperatures during wildfires catalyze the conversion of chromium in soil and ash into a carcinogenic form (hexavalent chromium). Some soils, particularly those in areas with metal-rich geology such as serpentinite, appear to be most susceptible. Relatively dry weather after the fire caused levels of hexavalent chromium to persist in surface soil layers for up to ten months after the fire. More work needs to be done to determine if and where these heavy metals are present in soil so firefighters can understand the greater potential hazard during and after fires. Proper masks can help, as heavy metals often attach to particles the size of PM 2.5.

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