It has become obvious that the human race cannot rely so fully upon fossil fuels for its energy needs for much longer. Such dependency ravages our land, water and air. It endangers other forms of life on this planet and has been shown to be the primary cause of global climate change. For many people, the solution to the destruction caused by burning fossil fuels seemed intuitively obvious: Harness the earth’s natural forces for our power needs instead. After all, the energy provided by wind, water and sun is renewable and unlimited. Unfortunately, harnessing these forces in a practical way – and on a scale sufficient to really provide the power needs of modern living – had long proven unfeasible.
The Drake Landing Solar Community (DLSC) has proven that solar power, at least, can be a viable and clean alternative energy source capable of actually supporting a modern town. This subdivision composed of fifty-two homes, located in the town of Okotoks in Alberta, Canada, DLSC was an experiment in energy efficiency that proved to be an unprecedented success. It is the first community of its kind in North America. Ninety percent of the space heating in each of its homes is provided by solar power during the winter months. It’s estimated that this energy practice reduces five tons of greenhouse gas emissions per home per year.
This community, which saw its grand opening on September 13, 2007 after construction was completed in August, now serves as a model for the rest of the world. Such a successful integration of technology and renewable energy need not be an isolated achievement.
The design of the town utilizes a combination of seasonal and short-term thermal storage. Energy is collected by 800 solar panels mounted to garages throughout the community. On a typical summer day, DLSC will generate 1.5 megawatts of energy. Heat is collected by a glycol solution that runs through an insulated piping system and is brought to the heat exchange (known as the Energy Centre). During the warmer months, the solution is transported from short-term to long-term storage through a network of pipes. The surrounding ground is heated by this action, until it finally attains a temperature of 80 degree Celsius by summer’s end.
The long-term borehole thermal energy storage is heartily buffered by high density insulation, sand, clay and a waterproof membrane. Pipes carry water from here to each of the homes, at which point heat is transferred from the water within the pipes to the surrounding air and then circulated. This system leaves the community’s dependence upon fossil fuels at a negligible level.
That enough abundant solar energy can be stored underground to then be called upon to heat an entire town proves without doubt that the renewable energy that we are offered freely from the sun can sustain our lives without wreaking havoc on the natural world. Fossil fuels will one day run dry on us anyway. The sun will continue to shine and to give us the gift of life as it always has. Our new technology allows us to harness this gift directly and utilize it as a clean alternative to more harmful forms of energy. The success of DLSC proves that.