RDC’s Quest to Net Zero
Everyone knows that in academic circles a zero is typically a bad thing.
However, this last year Red Deer College has continued to build on its legacy of sustainable projects, and we are now beginning to challenge ourselves further to explore how we could potentially become a ‘net zero’ institution.
This essentially means that all the energy RDC’s main campus needs to power our buildings and infrastructure would be produced on campus from sustainable sources.
Fortunately, we have taken some strong steps to help start this process, as we have invested in a number of alternative energy technologies that help us reduce our demand on external energy sources.
Our first big step was that we have invested in over 3,600 photovoltaic solar panels that are installed in various areas on campus.
Many of these panels are not visible to the public, as they are positioned atop various roofs on our campus. This makes it difficult for the public to comprehend the scale, but our installers have advised us that we likely have the largest institutional solar array in Canada. The new Gary W. Harris Canada Games Centre has over 2,200 panels alone, which covers virtually all the flat roofs of this incredible new facility.
We have also established a modest array in the form of a solar walkway that connects our existing main building to the new Centre. It provides an element of rain and snow protection for people walking between buildings, and at the same time it collects solar energy from the sun to help power our campus.
So during the day, as these solar panels collect the sun’s energy to convert it to electricity, numerous areas of RDC are now essentially ‘star powered’!
Additionally, as we complete our new Residence building we also plan to clad three sides of this building with solar panels.
The other alternative energy investment was a new combined heat and power (CHP) unit that was fabricated by Red Deer-based Collicutt Energy. This unit generates electricity onsite from a natural gas generator, and the waste heat from that process is scrubbed off to help heat water systems in various areas on campus. This type of electricity production is cleaner than electricity generated at coal fire plants, and it allows RDC to further hedge our electricity needs against the potential volatility of the energy markets.
We’re a little over half way to net zero at this point, but this is enough capacity that, at some points in the year, we may be producing power and sending it back to our neighbours.
We have also completed the new Alternative Energy Lab on main campus, and we will be opening it to new programs in the near future. This facility will allow students, staff, researchers, and industry to explore and develop alternative energy technologies. So as the marketplace for sustainable technologies grows, RDC will be ready to lead training and education opportunities in these areas.
Though this recent chapter of our sustainable journey is nearly completed, we are also looking to the future for other opportunities. RDC is working on partnerships with companies like Alberta-based Eco Growth Environmental Inc. They have developed technology that dries organic waste so that it can be converted into biomass feed stock for a gasification boiler system. Essentially, some of our garbage could become heat energy with a system like this.
As RDC continues our net zero and sustainability journey, at some point in the future the only energy coming into our main campus might be from our amazing students, faculty and staff.
Jason J. Mudry is Director of Campus Management at Red Deer College.
This column was first published in Red Deer Advocate on Saturday, October 27, 2018.